Recently a New Zealand PRT team in Bamiyan recovered a giant 500 Kg bomb lodged at the foot of one of the Buddhas. (Read the full news story here.) Apparently, the bomb was originally dropped by the Russians and had not exploded. Later, the Taliban tried to use it to explode the statue. The stubborn bomb once again refused to go off.
The story inspired the following:
The Buddha’s Smile
The Russian MiG-23 circled overhead the mud-walled compounds of the valley and turned around to face the pock-marked cliffs on its north side. Sound of gunfire echoed throughout the valley. It could have come from any of the hundreds of caverns surrounding the tall statues carved into the cliffs. Any of them could provide the dreaded Mujahideen with a commanding view of the valley. For days the Ukrainian pilot and his team of fellow pilots had fought an agonizingly long and slow battle with the cliff-hangers, those mysterious residents of the holes in the cliff.
The pilot found the tenaciousness of these fighters exasperating. Even more exasperating, however, were the statues themselves. Standing tall and proud, their serenity and majesty seemed to be uninterrupted by the sound of the flying fighter-bombers or the gunfight. It seemed as if these wonderful fighting machines, the MiGs, on whom many a nameless and faceless factory worker had labored in the steelworks of Stalingrad were insignificant trifles to the Buddhas. In the presence of the Buddhas’ grandeur, the pilot felt insignificant and small -flying at the headlevel, the pilot could not seem to stare down these huge, old monuments. How could the Buddha’s keep their solemn peace amid such carnage and the sound of steel was beyond the pilot.
It was now late in the afternoon and time to return to the base . The pilot radioed other fighters in the sortie and ordered return. Another inconclusive mission, the pilot thought to himself. A waste of precious time and resources, and above all, a dent in the military superiority of the mighty Soviet armada. As his fellow fighter planes were ascending the valley on their way to the base, the pilot had an idea -almost an afterthought. He radioed the others to go ahead and made a turnaround himself. He had decided to forever remove that condescending look from the Buddha’s face -and thereby deliver a message to the untiring warriors of the valley. This was the age of steel, and the victory of iron over mud and earth -of which everything seemed to be made in this valley amid high mountains. The pilot was determined to seal that victory symbolically, by demolishing the earthen image of the Buddha.
He thought of lobbing missiles straight at the Buddha’s eyes, but then thought better of it. Instead, he would make an offering to the alter of this self-important monument -he would offer what his comrades called the “Giant Pumpkin” in Russian, the 500 Kilogram bomb used to demolish fortified buildings and steel-reinforced infrastructure. Needless to say, the Giant Pumpkin had not seen much use in Afghanistan. But here was its chance to glow.
Smug and with a hint of a smile on his face, the pilot approached the smallest of the cliff’s statues. The closer he got, the higher rose the horizon. Refusing to be intimidated with the grandeur that usually awed him, he got even closer. A small red light in the panel in front of him began to go off. He ignored it and kept closing in. He could see the folds of the Buddha’s robes now, and the finer features of her huge face. If anyone was standing far enough in the valley at that moment looking at the Buddha, they could see that a small bird of some sort was flying straight into her face.
Just when it was clear that any closer and the plane itself would go up in flames, the pilot pulled at the steering gear and pushed a little red button with his right thumb. The bystander at the distance could have observed that the bird had made a sizeable dropping of a metallic texture. Content with himself, the pilot flew away and circled at a safe distance from the cliffs, his eyes and ears trained for the impact. He began to lose patience. The bomb was not going off. The fuel monitor on the control panel now indicated orange -he could barely make the flight back to Bagram. He turned to take one last look at the bomb and noticed the Buddha’s face. It still carried that serene composure. Infuriated, the pilot bit his lips, made a lewd remark, and began pulling away.
Later that day, as the sun was setting, one could see a large gathering of people surrounding the bomb site and marvelling at the shining mass of iron that had refused to explode.
High above them, her face awash in the soft light of the early dusk , the Buddha was smiling.