August 1, 2010 1:02:35 am
Haggling in Pashto with vegetable vendors and breaking Afghani bread in small eateries,Afghan refugees find a home in Bhogal
There is no such thing as forever. That’s what the Afghan woman tells me. It’s in the now that her new life in Bhogal in the city is unfolding.
She won’t tell me her name. But she will tell me how in her three years of living in the neighbourhood,she has learned to roam around the crowded alleys of Bhogal,chatting with passersby in Pashto,putting henna on her hands,buying Afghan bread from the bakery on her way back home. There is so much of the lost homeland in these streets with their ungainly buildings,the noise and din of the market,its vendors,its tailors.
She had come as a refugee first fleeting the volatile homeland with a bundle of nostalgia.
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But the smells and the faces that greeted her were familiar. Perhaps a part of what she wasn’t ready to let go was here in the country of her refuge. Bhogal is one of the three neighbourhoods in the city where Afghan refugees have settled in Delhi. According to the UNHCR,the number of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers,including Sikhs and Muslims,are over 11,000. Most of them have set up base in Lajpat Nagar,Bhogal and Tilak Nagar.
A year ago,she and her family started the Kabul Restaurant in Bhogal. Maybe she will stay here for years,her now expanding into months,years,a lifetime. Not that her ears are straining to hear Pashto. Across the street from her restaurant,the vegetable vendor is an Afghan. If she haggles for a bargain,it is in her language,
This is as good as home, she says. We live here together. Here in Bhogal where our folks have been living for 15 years,we have created our infrastructure,our support system.
In Bhogal,next to Jangpura,an Afghan restaurant and an Afghan bakery are signs of the community’s integration in an alien land. While the children attend neighbouring schools,Afghan locals say the police are quite helpful and they face no problems in renting houses.
In the evenings,the men gather outside the bakery and smoke. The nanwai has become the focal point in the neighbourhood,a sort of anchor for young Afghans who hurry to the bakery to buy the bread before dinner.
At dusk,a young Afghan man sets up a chicken soup koisk outside the bakery,the aroma of garlic wafting from the aluminum container.
Groups of women crowd around the vendors that set up shop on Tuesdays,the day of the weekly market in Bhogal where dozens of men and women descend upon the neighbourhood with their treasures–clothes,jewelry,trinkets,quilts,covers.
Bhogal,a predominantly Sikh locality,has narrow lanes flanked on either side with small,cramped living quarters. Most Afghan refugees have found accommodation on the first and second floors of these buildings. The rents are cheaper than in the neighbouring Jangpura and the community,a close-knit one,mostly sticks together.
Ainuddin aka Mullah Jan,one of the owners of the bakery that opened a few months ago,has brought pieces of his former life from Takhar province in Afghanistan,little trinkets–a tapestry,porcelain dishes,old pictures. He is looking for a bride here and as is common in Afghanistan,he is willing to pay the bride price.
It has always felt like home to India. I like being here. This is not much different from our country. Here,they let us be, he says. I could spend a lifetime here.
Even the Lajpat Nagar landscape is dotted with Afghan restaurants and bakeries. Once they have found the anchor in these eateries–food is the first step towards recreating homeland in bits and pieces,through flat bread and chicken soup and Afghan momos– the refugees say they can cross over to Delhi,embrace its myraid cultures,and yet feel rooted in their own.
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