In Pictures: The Kabuliwalas of Kolkata
Their trade may have changed, but their traditions remain the same. Through
communal prayers and dining on the dastarkwhan, the Kabuliwalas have managed to preserve their culture.                
Their trade may have changed, but their traditions remain the same. Through communal prayers and dining on the dastarkwhan, the Kabuliwalas have managed to preserve their culture.                

In Pictures: The Kabuliwalas of Kolkata

In the suburbs of Kolkata lives a little-known community of migrants who once came from Afghanistan – the first of them around two centuries ago.

Kabuliwalas, as they are called, were immortalised by Tagore’s 1892 classic short story revolving around the friendship between the five-year-old girl, Mini, and a middle-aged Afghan trader, Rahmat.

Tagore’s story introduced India to the Afghan community, but partition took a toll on cultural exchanges with travel between the two countries getting complicated.

Inspired by Tagore’s iconic short story “Kabuliwala”, Moska Najib and Nazes Afroz, two journalist- cum-photographers, have captured the stories of this little-known community, whose numbers are close to 5000, in the present times.

I wanted to explore how the community has held onto its culture and identity through the 100 years. And by understanding their ways of connection, I too wanted to connect with my own country – Afghanistan.

- Moska, Afghan by origin but living in India for most of her life.

The city of Kolkata had amazing diversity and it had made me what I am today. But for a few decades, I felt that this diversity was fading fast, which was disturbing me. So by doing this project, I had an opportunity to capture at least one slice of the diversity of this city and in a way it is a tribute to Kolkata.

- Nazes Afroz, Indian journalist with three decades of experience.

The people of Kolkata call them the ‘Kabuliwala’. While the city has become their
new abode, they carry with them memories and belongings of their home.
The people of Kolkata call them the ‘Kabuliwala’. While the city has become their new abode, they carry with them memories and belongings of their home.
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Amir Khan, the leader of the clan, was born in India. Although a third generation
Kabuliwala, he is deeply tied to his heritage.
Amir Khan, the leader of the clan, was born in India. Although a third generation Kabuliwala, he is deeply tied to his heritage.
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					hey are men with distinct features - piercing eyes and rugged face. Dressed in
their traditional attire, they’ve made Kolkata their new home, a city thousands of miles away
from their own homeland.
T hey are men with distinct features - piercing eyes and rugged face. Dressed in their traditional attire, they’ve made Kolkata their new home, a city thousands of miles away from their own homeland.
Armed with spices, dry fruits and attar from their country, the first Kabuliwalas
went from door to door to sell their items. Over decades, they’ve resorted to more lucrative
trades like money-lending.
Armed with spices, dry fruits and attar from their country, the first Kabuliwalas went from door to door to sell their items. Over decades, they’ve resorted to more lucrative trades like money-lending.
 Over the century, various interpretations helped shape a romantic image of Afghans in more than just Bengal.
Over the century, various interpretations helped shape a romantic image of Afghans in more than just Bengal.
 From the corners of his home in the far away land, the Kabuliwala dreams of his
motherland by clinging onto little mementos that had been passed on by earlier generations.
From the corners of his home in the far away land, the Kabuliwala dreams of his motherland by clinging onto little mementos that had been passed on by earlier generations.
In Kolkata, the Maidan remains their chosen ground. Dressed in their traditional
attire - the flowing over-sized salwar kameez - many gather at the iconic Victoria Memorial to
live out a little bit of their traditional passions - flying a kite, Anda Kushti (hard-boiled egg fights)
and performing the Pashtun Attan dance.
In Kolkata, the Maidan remains their chosen ground. Dressed in their traditional attire - the flowing over-sized salwar kameez - many gather at the iconic Victoria Memorial to live out a little bit of their traditional passions - flying a kite, Anda Kushti (hard-boiled egg fights) and performing the Pashtun Attan dance.
In the midst of longing and belonging, the Kabuliwala carries on with his life, until
he is finally is laid to rest in the far away land. For the Bengalis, he’ll remain Mini’s Kabuliwala.                
In the midst of longing and belonging, the Kabuliwala carries on with his life, until he is finally is laid to rest in the far away land. For the Bengalis, he’ll remain Mini’s Kabuliwala.                

The photo exhibition “From Kabul to Kolkata: of Belonging, Memories and Identity”, by Moska Najib and Nazes Afroz will open in Delhi for viewing on Friday, 10 April at 1900 hrs.

Find out more on the #KBL2KOL project on: www.facebook.com/kabultokolkata
OnTwitter :@kabultokolkata
Join in on the conversation by tagging #KBL2KOL

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