काफिले बसते गए, हिंदोस्तां बनता गया ..
My first memory of the Kabuliwalas is not from the eponymous story by Rabindra Nath Tagore or the Bollywood portrayal of a tough but large-hearted Pathan (remember Pran in Zanjeer?), but through a relationship nurtured by one of the most potent friendship-makers in India -Cricket.
In the early 90s we had tenants from Afghanistan on the ground floor of our home in Patna. They were refugees from the war ravaged country who had scattered to distant lands in search of daily bread. They were mostly males, although I remember seeing some female relatives that had visited them once and spoke neither Hindi nor English.
Every morning, the Khans would set off on their bikes for the day’s work; they mostly traded dry fruits or were in the business of lending money on interest and would come back by the evening. They had an Indian cook who would cook non-vegetarian food for them everyday, having non-veg everyday was the ultimate form of luxury I could think of in those days. I would wait specifically for Bakrid when they would send platefuls of mutton as gifts to all neighbors. Mutton would be all that we would be having for next two days.
For children, the burly Khan uncles were very friendly gentlemen, very likable in appearance and jovial by nature. We used to play cricket on evenings and even though they were much stronger than us, they were always extra careful to not to bowl too fast or hit the ball too hard, for the fear of hurting us. Often, we would be treated with dry fruits and an occasional ride on their bikes.
Calcutta has always been home to anyone looking for a refuge without looking into their race, religion, caste or creed – something that I truly love about the city. After more than 20 years, this video triggered memories of some happy times long bygone. I wonder if the Kabuliwalas of my childhood are still around or have moved to greener pastures …