The Kabuliwalas of Kolkata | 101 Heartland | 101India

The Kabuliwalas from Tagore’s story still live in Kolkata. A hundred years after Tagore’s Kabuliwala walked these streets with his bag of cashews and raisins the community of Pathans have made a life for themselves in the city’s bylanes. Named after the city of their origin, Kabul, the Kabuliwalas have integrated seamlessly with the city that they now call their adopted homeland. They get along famously with the Bengalis, the Marwadis, the Catholics and more that make up the melting pot that is Kolkata’s culture.

Today, over a hundred Khan families live in what are called ‘Khan kothis’. The Pashtun people traditionally run family businesses selling almonds, pistachios, walnuts, fabrics, etc., a heritage passed down for generations. Many of the members of the earlier generation, however, did not care to pursue an education. This is changing, with the latest generation going to good schools in the city.

Do these people ever feel like returning to Pashtunistan? Not really, says Yasmin Nigar Khan, President of the All India Pakhtoon Jirga-e-Hind, and adopted great-granddaughter of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. The Pathans who came to Kolkata found happiness here. India is their home now, and they love their adopted homeland.

101 Traces looks at the last of anything: ethnic communities, folk craftsmen, disappearing trades, forgotten people. It sketches portraits of these unique individuals, locked in a battle they cannot win: a battle against the future. Together, they represent the dying whispers of ancient heritage and traditional individuality. As India moves towards homogenized global pop culture, 101 Traces honors the people, the objects, and the skills that connect us to our ancient identity.

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