I had read ‘Kabuliwallah’, Rabindranath Tagore’s poignant story of a wandering Pathan trader, as part of my school curricula. Funnily, I had not read it in the original Bengali which is my mother tongue, but in Hindi, the story being a chapter in my Hindi Literature course book. But that had not mattered at all, because simply written and easy to absorb, ‘Kabuliwallah’ was one chapter that we were all happy to take exam questions on. And exams questions were what mattered in those days, especially with respect to Hindi and specifically Hindi grammar ( a subject which with it dangerous habit of assigning gender to non living things like tables and chairs, remains a mystery to me till this day)
I have always been fond of reading and in those days I would make it a point to read up both my English and Hindi literature books even before the school reopened for the new session. I would read them, not as chapters to keep ahead of my classmates but as story books, simply for the pure joy of reading. And so I had read ‘Kabuliwallah’ too, long before our Hindi teacher took it up as course material. I had been moved by the bond of affection that blossomed between the ‘Kabuliwallah’, an Afghan dry fruits seller presumably from Kabul and the little girl called Minnie. Aided by Tagore’s vivid narrative, I would picture in my child’s mind the large Afghan dressed in his typical Pathani suit, his broken Hindi coloured with his native Pashto, chatting with the cocky little kid over handfuls of kishmish and kaju. And when, at the end of the story, the now grown up Minnie is unable to recognise and acknowledge her old friend, I would actually feel miffed with the girl and indignantly question as to how one could forget so easily.
And to this day, I have always pictured an Afghan in my mind as this giant with the gentle heart, the ‘Kabuliwallah’ who carries in his jhola an imprint of his child’s palm and for their smiles, bribes little kids with fistfuls of kaju, kishmish, akhrot and khubani .......
“On 16 December 2014, 9 gunmen conducted a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The militants entered the school and opened fire on school staff and children, killing 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren, ranging between eight and eighteen years of age. Two of the gunmen were Afghani.”Can you tell me where the Kabuliwallahs have all gone ?