The Future of the Past – Demystifying the Kabuliwalas

One of the lasting images of the Kabuliwalas in Kolkata comes from the Rabindranath Tagore’s story of the same name. Written in 1892, this story has set the tone for how we perceive the Kabuliwalas (people of Kabul, Afghanistan) and their way of living. But shrouded in mystery, is a well knit community of over 5000 families in Kolkata, whose story does not just begin and end with the 1892 story. In an attempt to bust the various myths about this community The Future of The Past, which is a project envisaged by Team Future that intends to connect the new generation of Kolkata’s artistic youth to its own past and heritage, organized a very special session named, “Breakfast with the Kabuliwalas”.

On the bright Sunday morning of the 20th of March, a crowd of spirited individuals gathered at the legendary Kolkata restaurant, Sabir’s Hotel, near Chandni Chowk metro station. The crowd included people from all walks of life, from school and college students to professionals, amongst them were also the likes of Urmi Basu, Executive Director at New Light India, Swarup Dutta, a highly renowned fashion stylist, and Mousumi Ghosh, head of Future Media School. I went to this event as a part of the Kolkata Bloggers team, who are one of the sponsors of the project. After we were comfortably seated at our tables and provided with tea, the event started, very punctually, with Paramita Saha (Di) at the helm of it. She gave us a very brief introduction to the TFOTP project and the topic for the day. After that, she called on stage Iftekhar Ahsan (Bhaiya), from Calcutta Walks, who also are one of the sponsors of the project. He took us through the events of the day, giving us a crash course on how to approach the Kabuliwalas, should we desire talking to them. After his brief speech he requested Nazes Afroz, a famous photojournalist, who, inspired by the Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala, has captured the stories of Afghans in Kolkata through his photos, to come on stage and take us through his experiences with the Kabuliwalas.

We witnessed a brilliant photo-exhibition by Nazes Afroz, giving us a peek into the lives of Afghans. The photos took us from our tables at Sabir’s Hotel to the homes of the Kabuliwalas, their little haven, the place they have come to call their home. We got to see how they, although thousands of miles away from their homeland, still rigorously follow their traditions; from eating from the same dish, to following all the religious ceremonies with utmost zeal. We also got to know how they still hold their conservative outlook towards their women, and how troublesome it was for him and his partner, Moska Najib, to photograph them.

After his brilliant exhibition, Iftekhar Ahsan (Bhaiya) took the stage once again, this time calling upon us to ask questions to the Kabuliwalas, if we wanted to. There were many Kabuliwalas present at the occasion, coming and going. They also were taking a very special interest at the event, seeing their lives projected on a screen, they seemed delighted. What followed was an amazing interactive session in which various questions were asked, ranging from their favorite sweets to their favorite places in Kolkata, from whether they still wished to go back to their homeland to whether Kolkata is their “home” or not.

After this everybody scattered around, in their own little groups, observing the mundane lives of the Kabuliwalas and enjoying the delicious breakfast provided, which included tandoori roti with mutton rezala, mutton korma, mutton curry and others. Soon after finishing our breakfast, my friends from Kolkata Bloggers and I clicked some selfies and departed with a memory to cherish for the rest of our lives.


Post by – Ankit Agarwal