New Internationalist

Kabul lives

November 2007

In April 2007 Indian photographer Gauri Gill went to Kabul, Afghanistan, with the writer Shuddhabrata Sengupta. They explored some of the many histories that are still alive in a city that has come close to total destruction.

We started with the old, exotic city, with its own street of birds – Ka Farushi – which has everything from singing Bulbuls to fighting partridges. I’m sure it looked the same a hundred years ago.

We skirted around the glittering new ‘Pakistani-style’ homes owned by warlords in the élite neighbourhood of Wazi Akbar Khan, where they don’t like being photographed at all. Many of the Sikhs in Karte Parwan came to Kabul because they were desperate to return ‘home’ from India. In the ‘Russian’ part of town the buildings reminded us of Delhi apartment blocks built in the 1970s.

We visited Sakhi cemetery, a vast graveyard in a valley that also serves as an outdoor park. It is the most poetic graveyard I ever saw, with as many gravestones as there are homes on the hills behind it – seen from a distance the two forms echo each other. On holidays – Afghans only have Fridays off – the place is well used by people to relax, walk about, play, eat, chat, pray. In the middle I found a little weekend fair, complete with Ferris wheel and merry-go-rounds.

Gauri Gill
The bird market in Ka Farushi Gauri Gill

Gauri Gill
The Shah M Alam Bookstore Gauri Gill

Shah M Alam Bookstore is an institution in itself. The young owner won’t tell you what he thinks of The Bookseller of Kabul, but he was happy to download a lot of Afghan pop music for us on his super-fast computer. Upstairs, the older generation was seated on a carpet on the floor, drinking green tea, doing the accounts, old-style.

We saw new restaurants with their empty outdoor bar chairs. Afghans are forbidden entry to the decadent expat villa restaurants, since these places serve alcohol. Foreigners drinking wine and eating foie gras were scattered through all the rooms of ‘L’atmosphère’, a huge colonial home. From the inside it was hard to imagine the guards with their Kalashnikovs outside the high walls and ubiquitous barbed wire.

One morning we drove out to Paghman, following a bicycle race that had started at Darulaman Palace. It was sponsored by a cellphone company and had a huge enthusiastic turnout – boys and girls came from far-flung provinces to participate. We wished to avoid the more obvious images of war and the destruction of a city that looks like such a civilized paradise in old guidebooks. But it was hard. So many great old buildings, museums and libraries were simply shells. The streets were flooded with second-hand cars spewing smoke. Old mud huts ran up the hills higgledy-piggledy, lacking drinking water or any kind of sanitation.

And in Darulaman Palace Bart Simpson made an appearance.

Gauri Gill and Shuddhabrata Sengupta

Gauri Gill
Distributing the prizes at the end of the bicycle race in Paghman Gauri Gill

Gauri Gill
Graffiti in Darulaman Palace Gauri Gill

This column was published in the November 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on Kabul lives

Leave your comment







 

  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews

Multimedia

Videos from visionOntv's globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Essay

All Essay

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 406

New Internationalist Magazine issue 406
Issue 406

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.

Subscribe