Friday, 19 June 2015

Kabuli walla

Asha read me one of the short stories from her English curriculum this year.  It was Rabindranath Tagore's KabuliwallaA touching story of a Bengali bhodralog gentleman and an unlikely relationship with a Afghani street vendour.

What cut to the core was on one hand the genteel language, one that mirrored the persona of the cultured, upper middle class narrator somewhere around the turn of the century.  Strangely, Tagore' prose somehow brought to mind PG Wodehouse.  Every word assured, a light tone, but as the story unfolds you see into the heart of the narrator - and what you see is the love of a father for a daughter - and the love of a father for a fellow father.  

Asha read to me while I did the dishes - and as she came to the end of the bitter sweet tale, my eyes were moist.  The good sorrow of knowing that in the midst of a hideous swirl of inhumanity, the sparks of love still gleam at times.  

And of course the old link between India and Afghanisthan shows up in the story - even in those days the issue of the 'Great Game' was being discussed. 

I told Asha that her school friend Joanna's Daddy - our very own Vasu Vittal - had spent formative years in Kabul where his father was posted as part of the government of India help to the Afghans in those days.

The 'Kabuli-walla' of the story sells dried fruits.  I remember as a boy when we passed through Kabul going 'overland' that Mum and the others stocked up on nuts and raisins which had been almost unheard of luxuries to us in India.   Kabul to the 8 year old me was a beautiful city with many trees and parks.  What it really was has been lost in the shrouds of forgetfulness - but a few stray images still flicker in my mind.

I feel a stab of guilt - maybe that is too strong a word - let me say regret... that my daughter and sons have still not left this country to explore the world beyond.  One of the lines in Tagore's story says it beautifully:

These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of dreams, --the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home, with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds. 

When will our kids get some of the wonderful treasures we had as children to travel and see other lands?  It all seems so impossible now that we are sort of 'grown up' - but let us see what the next bend in the road holds for us all...

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