Images of India : The ‘Kabuliwala’ Afghans of Kolkata…

img0010Thousands of Afghans have lived for decades in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). In 1892, Rabindranath Tagore wrote the iconic short story, Kabuliwala. It was the tale of a man from a distant land – Afghanistan – living in Calcutta. Over the past century, this interpretation has helped shape a romantic image of Afghans in Bengal and beyond. Dressed in their traditional attire, they seem at home in a city which is thousands of miles away from their homeland. The name from Tagore’s story is still in use and the Afghans of Kolkata are called Kabuliwalas, which means “people of Kabul”. While the city has become their new abode, they carry with them their distinct traditions. Armed with spices, dry fruits and attar (perfumes) from their country, the first Kabuliwalas went from door-to-door selling their wares. Over the decades, they have moved to other businesses, including setting up tailoring shops in the city’s Burrabazar area. Age-old customs and traditions link the generations and have kept this little-known community going. Today, there are only 5,000 Kabuliwala families in Kolkata, a city of 16 million. Though born in Kolkata, many lead the life of “stateless” people without any citizenship documents.