Spirits run low in Delhi's 'Little Kabul' on Afghanistan's Independence Day

Spirits run low in Delhi’s ‘Little Kabul’ on Afghanistan’s Independence Day

Spirits run low in Delhi’s ‘Little Kabul’ on Afghanistan’s Independence Day


For Afghans living in India, August 19 is a milestone day with the community getting together to mark their country's Independence Day in a foreign land

For Afghans living in India, August 19 is a milestone day with the community getting together to mark their country's Independence Day in a foreign land. On Thursday, however, days after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, the mood at Delhi's 'Little Kabul' was anything but celebratory. This 'Independence Day' was not about the spirit of freedom but fear that their war-ravaged homeland was back under Taliban control, Afghans at Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal and Hazrat Nizamuddin said as they anxiously followed events on social media, television channels and other media outlets.

From restaurants to departmental stores, the spirit of freedom, otherwise peaking on the anniversary day, was running low. Sharifa Ashuri, 23, who had moved to Delhi from Kabul in 2015, after the death of her father, said what is happening in Afghanistan is "weighing heavy on our minds". At a restaurant in Lajpat Nagar, where she works to make a living, she scrolls through social media feed to read about the situation in her country. Her colleagues, also Afghans, huddle around her to watch videos, purportedly showing the Taliban roaming on the streets.

"My father worked in the military, but he was later killed. My mother and I along with other family members then moved from our village in Parwan province to Kabul and then to India as we didn't feel safe there. We feel safe in India," Ashuri told PTI. At most of the restaurants in the area, the mood among the Afghan nationals was sombre on what would have been the 102nd anniversary of their Independence Day.

Kabul Delhi Restaurant in Lajpat Nagar-II, otherwise brimming with guests and known for offering choicest Afghan delicacies, only had very few patrons in the afternoon who ate quietly in a corner. The 17-year-old restaurant, named after the capital cities of India and Afghanistan to signify the cultural connect of the two countries, is one of the preferred culinary destinations in Delhi to enjoy Afghan cuisine like Kabul Uzbeki, kofta chalao, qawrdagh (mutton fry), qorma kofta, and firni (desserts). A framed picture of Jami Masjid of Herat is hung on the wall, and a period drama plays on TV screen with low volume, but no special menu for August 19. Mohammad Shafique, another resident of Lajpat Nagar who had moved to Delhi from Kabul in 2016, detests Taliban. "They are hardliners and they won't let women have education or freedom. Right now, they are trying to appear moderate or reformed as they have to form a government. My Afghanistan as it was, is no more, my country has been destroyed," he rued.

"What to think of Independence Day celebrations when your brothers and sisters are living in fear in their own homeland," Shafique said. Afghanistan had achieved Independence in 1919, overthrowing the British colonial yoke, with Amanullah Khan being its first sovereign ruler, a revered figure among the Afghans. Ashuri, wearing a black T-shirt which reads 'Paris', and sporting a tattoo near her left wrist, said she shuddered to even think of the fate of women in Afghanistan.

"I feel comfortable wearing a pair of denim or a T-shirt in India, but in Afghanistan, I will be shot dead now, if the Taliban see me in this dress," she said, as she fixed a dupatta over her head. Ashuri and her co-workers, four Afghans, two Iranian chefs and an Indian chef, try to keep the mood light so that no one feels tense, even though the situation is having a psychological impact on their minds. "How can you avoid it, the news about the developments is everywhere, from Facebook to YouTube. My friends had messaged me the day Taliban had overrun Kabul," she said. Ijazul Haque Durrani, 23, her co-worker, looks calm but a storm is raging inside him.

"My parents are camping at Kabul airport, since the day the capital city fell to the Taliban. Since, my father had worked odd jobs for the US nationals in Afghanistan, the Taliban had warned them of dire consequences of they continued to work, so he fled home," he said. Durrani rued that two days ago he had spoken to his parents on phone, but now the mobile phone is coming switched off. The battery must have run out, don't know what will happen to them, he said with a sense of worry.

"I am safe here and have chosen to not have a long beard. In Afghanistan, right now, I will be forced to grow long beard. So, I am still free here in India," he added. Sheikh Ali, in his mid-50s, prays, sitting on a wide 'dastarkhwan' -- a traditional sitting arrangement for eating -- at Chopan Kebab Restaurant, but his optimism about Afghanistan's fate has run dry. "I came to Delhi a month ago, with a family member for his medical treatment. The visa expires in two months. If India accepts me, I will not go back," he said. Ashuri, when asked the meaning of Independence for her, pointed to her tattoo, and said, "Birds! That's what freedom should be. Maybe, one day, I will fly to my dream city, Paris, from Delhi if not from Kabul".

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