‘Kabuliwala, O Kabuliwala’ calls the little girl Mini to a Pashtun Merchant named Rehmat who sells dry fruits in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). They strike a bond, a bond untouched by expectations. Rabindranath Tagore’s timeless story – Kabuliwala is a testament of kindness, compassion and unspoken affection. Adapted for motion pictures several times, Kabuliwala’s story is relevant even in current times.
Recently a new Bollywood motion picture – Bioscopewala teaser was released on Youtube. It is based on Tagore’s Kabuliwala and will see the Afghani resident in a new profession as Bioscopewala. As 2018 marks the 137th birth anniversary of Tagore, penning my thoughts on Kabuliwala will be a compliment to legacy of Tagore’s writings. Bengali literature has its own sweetness. Soaked in nostalgia, the short stories give a glimpse of Bengali culture, customs and traditions. Whether it is Saratchandra’s Parineeta or Bankim Chandra’s Anand Math, the literature of old times were a medium of social awakening. Kabuliwala’s story too belongs to that age where society was changing after independence.
Rahmat Khan, an Afghani resident makes his living in Calcutta, selling dry fruits. While roaming the streets of Calcutta, he passes by house of little Mini. By a strange curiosity, little Mini calls the Kabuliwala and hides away in her room. Initially Mini is scared of Rahmat Khan but in the second meeting she breaks the ice and starts chattering with the Kabuliwala Rahmat Khan. Mini’s father is the narrator of the story and it is he who allows the bond to grow stronger. An innocent bond forms between little Mini and Kabuliwala. Since Rahmat Khan is far away from his little daughter, he pampers Mini like his own child by offering her dry fruits. Unlike Mini’s father, her mother disapproves of Kabuliwala’s presence in Mini’s life. She is scared that the Afghani may kidnap her daughter and sell her off. Fate takes a cruel twist and Rahmat Khan is arrested for killing a man in a heated rage. Several years’ later Rahmat Khan is released after completing his jail sentence. Before returning to his home, Rahmat Khan longs to meet his little Mini. To his surprise, Mini now a grown up young woman doesn’t recognizes her guardian friend ‘Kabuliwala’. Mini’s father offers Rahmat Khan some money so that he can return back to his motherland. He longs to return back to see his daughter who must have grown up.
Tagore’s Kabuliwala captures the emotions of the immigrants who go far away to other cities to earn money for their families. Despite being homesick, they try to find happiness in small moments around them. What connects readers to Kabuliwala is the innocent bonding of little Mini and her guardian friend Kabuliwala. She finds a confidante companion in Rahmat Khan in whom she can share her childish emotions. Even Rahmat Khan finds a company in Mini who reminds him of his own daughter. Nowadays readers don’t get to read such stories rich with such emotional content as Kabuliwala. Things have changed a lot in recent times. To earn money and name in an alien city, an immigrant needs identification proof, income details, residential proof to prove his existence. Tagore wrote the character of Kabuliwala based on a real Afghani living in Calcutta. Even today Kabuliwalas reside in Kolkata earning a living for their family.
The role of Kabuliwala was immortalized by legendary actor Balraj Sahni in 1960 movie adaptation of Tagore’s classic story. Recently Epic Channel telecasted ‘Stories by Tagore’ which featured the story of Kabuliwala. The television show was directed by Anurag Basu. The upcoming movie – Bioscopewala will feature senior actor Danny Dengzopa as Afghani Bioscopewala based on the character created by Tagore.
This article was a small effort on my side to celebrate 125 years of Kabuliwala’s story penned by Tagore.