I am writing a blog post after almost three months, “May the Force be with me”.

The morning of 20th March saw a convergence of some amazingly spirited individuals at the legendary restaurant, Sabir’s Hotel, at Biplabi Anukul Chandra Street, Machuabazar, near Chandni Chowk metro station. The occasion was “Breakfast with The Kabuliwallahas”, one of the many sessions of The Future of The Past project, which aimed at busting myths about the dying heritage of the community of the Kabuliwallahas (people of Kabul, Afghanistan). I went to this session as a part of Kolkata Bloggers team, who are one of the sponsors of the project which has been envisaged by Team Future.

The session was scheduled to start at 8 AM, and this being my very first heritage event, I did not have any desire to be late so I woke up at 6 AM (this was a big deal, because the previous night I was up partying, celebrating India’s victory over Pakistan in the T20 World Cup match). Thereafter it was a long wait before my friend, Abir Bhattacharjee, arrived at my house from where we took the journey together to our destination, Sabir’s Hotel. It took a little asking around and walking to reach the desired location. We reached at 7:55 AM (very much on time, rather very punctual), and saw a bunch of people standing outside. On going inside I searched the place for familiar faces, and I was lucky to find all of my friends from Kolkata Bloggers hunched together at a table. Before I proceed any further, at this point I would like to give a very brief description of how Sabir’s Hotel looked; my first impression of the place was that it was lively, bustling with all sorts of people. On letting my eyes wander for a little longer the place seemed to be opening itself to me, embracing me with a touch of the forgotten past, which seemed so appropriate given the occasion.

After we were all comfortably seated, we were served with tea (which honestly did not taste good), and shortly after that the session started with Paramita Saha (Di) at helm of it, introducing us to the project and the topic for the day. She then handed over the microphone to Iftekhar Ahsan (Bhaiya), of Calcutta Walks, sponsors of the TFOTP project. He guided us through the events of the day and taught us the ways with which we were to approach our Afghan bhais if we wanted to talk to them and ask them questions. Then, he called on stage Nazes Afroz a renowned photojournalist, who, inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala, has captured the stories of Afghans in Kolkata through his photos.

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Nazes Afroz during his photo exhibition. He explains the importance of memorabilia in a Kabuliwallaha’s lives.

In his presentation Nazes Afroz went on to talk dearly about the Afghan families, over 5000 in Kolkata, who have come to call India as their home. He talked of their journey, from Kabul to Kolkata, of their belonging, their memories and their identity. His photos gave us a peek into the well knit community of the Kabuliwallahas, and their social transformation with changing times. He spoke at length of how they have settled here, but their roots still lay in their home town. Nazes mentioned how, although settled thousands of miles away from their homeland, they still have deep rooted connections with their traditions. From eating from a single dish, to celebrating all their religious ceremonies, they have formed a little home of their own in this vast expanse. He also went to say, how they still are very conservative in their outlook towards women, and the opposition he and his partner Moska Najib (another famous Photojournalist) had to face when they wanted to photograph their women.

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After Nazes Afroz’s brilliant exhibition, Iftekhar Ahsan (Bhaiya) took the stage once again, this time to call upon us to ask questions to the Kabuliwallahas. He called upon stage one of the Kabuliwallahas from the audience to answer our questions while Iftekhar bhaiya acted as a translator. Various questions were asked ranging from their favorite places at Kolkata, to their favorite sweets, to their fondest memory of their homeland and whether they wished to go back to Afghanistan someday. One very interesting thing that I got to know from the QnA session was that even though these people possess all the documents that prove their Indian citizenship like Aadhar card, Ration card, PAN card etc. they still haven’t been awarded Indian Citizenship by the government. I could see the plight in the eyes of the Kabuliwallaha when asked if he would like to return to his “watan” someday. He replied with a smile, “kaash” (I wish).

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In conversation with a Kabuliwallaha.
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Although they posses all kinds of documentation, the Kabuliwallahas still don’t enjoy Indian Citizenship. Photograph : Nazes Afroz and Mosika Najib

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