Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Master Ratan Chand Kandhari

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Source: The National

Also on: Sikhnet.com 

Christopher Lord – May 29, 2011 

The photographs that document the artist Gauri Gill’s visit to Kabul in 2007 suggest a city that has been left for dead. In black and white, her shots are almost devoid of people: we see an illustrious library greying with dust, a bombed-in palace and a line of cattle seeming to approach its once-grand entrance. Anonymous hands grasp at the cages of the city’s Ka Furushi bird market, as groups of tiny canaries whirr in a startled flapping of wings.

Yet among these sombre images, which form part of her current solo show at London’s Green Cardamom gallery, Gill has exhibited a number of found photographs taken by a community of Afghans who offer a quite different – perhaps unlikely – vision of their homeland. In pairing these together, this latest collection, titled What Remains, reflects on the distance between observation and experience, and the unquenchable longing that comes with displacement.

In 1992, Afghanistan had a 50,000-strong community of Hindus and Sikhs. They were business owners, money-lenders and owned houses with white-leafed orchards. But with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979 and the subsequent Taliban regime, this number has dwindled. There are around 2,000 left. Those with money have fled to Europe; those without go to Delhi.

The Afghan Sikhs displaced to India now exist without citizenship in the Tilak Nagar neighbourhood in the west of India’s capital city.

“I first came to Kabul for a workshop with Afghan photographers who were looking for other ways to document their city beyond war and destruction,” says Gill, when we meet in the London gallery representing her work. “On the way back to India, I landed in Delhi and took an autorickshaw. The driver was Punjabi Sikh – as am I – but his Punjabi was very different from mine. It was mixed with Persian words and phrases, and he explained that he was Afghan.

“He had left in the 1970s when Kabul was quite different from what I’d seen. He described a halcyon, idyllic Afghanistan – a place of blossoms and waterfalls.”

The rickshaw driver introduced Gill to west Delhi’s Afghan Sikh community – referred to as the “Kabulis” by the rest of the neighbourhood – via the Khalsa Diwan Hindu-Sikh Refugee Society. Incorporating a Gurdwara, the Sikh temple, the society runs classes in English, sewing and typing, and the artist began to photograph the day-to-day life of the centre. On a floor laden with thick Afghan carpets and glasses of green tea, Gill listened to the memories of several generations of refugees who remain on visit visas in India and often unable to work.

The Kabulis handed Gill a stack of their photographs, each one bordered with a kitsch, psychedelic pattern (clearly the handiwork of one print shop somewhere in Kabul). In these photographs, she noticed, the city seems warmed by familiar eyes. The children, old people, smiling unknown turbaned men who pose in front of the remnants of Kabul’s romantic past seem deeply entrenched in a city that appears to be collapsing around them and which they would very soon after be forced to leave.

“As they were talking about Afghanistan, this old man came and sat next to me: ‘Even now when I sleep,’ he said, ‘my dreams are of Jalalabad.'”

Gill noted down this line and other recollections that she heard in the Gurdwara, and has inserted them – in fittingly kitsch italics – into the found photographs given to her. In What Remains, she exhibits these alongside her own shots from Kabul, and so presents a fascinating disparity between her impressions and the memories and dreams of a people displaced.

“These are two quite different versions of a place, and show that photographs become fictions if we try to find an authentic representation of a place,” she said.

Some of the statements that Gill collected from the Gurdwara are curious: One anonymous person ponders that someone “must have put the evil eye” on Afghanistan, “like in Kashmir”. Another talks about how Hindus and Sikhs were referred to as “big brother[s]” by the Afghan Muslims, who would trust them to take care of their money.

But most interestingly, a reference is made to the community’s refugee status as “going back to India”. While some Hindus and Sikhs went to Afghanistan from India during British rule of India and post-partition, the community’s presence has been there since the 1500s. Does Gill think that when the Hindus and Sikhs were in Afghanistan, their dreams were of India? “I think it was probably hard for them to let go,” she says. “Now it’s going to be pretty hard for them to let go of Kabul and Afghanistan.

“One of my previous series was called The Americans, which was looking at several generations of south Asian-Americans. Even when there isn’t a longing for a place, there are pulls, distant bonds that tie you to a place.”

So much of What Remains gravitates around this notion of longing. How does our relationship with a place change when we’re forced out of it rather than by our own choosing? “People are taken from one place and placed somewhere else. Then, in this case, there’s a double jump of history and they’re brought back – often against their own choosing. I think this element of choosing is key. Some of them didn’t choose to go to India, and feel quite bitter about the way they’ve been treated there.”

Gill hosted a series of writing workshops for the children of Khalsa Diwan Hindu-Sikh Refugee Society: “I was very interested to see the raw response of the kids when asked about Afghanistan and see how they would filter this experience.”

Some of these texts are included in the show, and range from rapturous adoration for an unknown Afghanistan, probably drilled into them by their parents (including a strange tale of the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan strolling through Kabul), through to bewilderment about the state of their country today.

“In some ways, I wanted all these versions to come in and contradict each other,” says Gill, referring equally to the haphazard, scattered placement of the images and texts on the gallery wall. “History is hard to hold on to solidly. But these are all little fragments, and not representative of the entire Kabuli-Sikh experience.

“It’s a case of how ordinary people get swept along in massive changes and how that translates through generations.”

What Remains marks the return of a series of exhibitions begun by Green Cardamom’s founder Hammad Nasar in 2009. Titled Lines of Control, these shows – which took place in Dubai, London and Karachi – explored notions of both the chaos and creative kiln found in countries that undergo various different forms of partition.

Gill’s solo show is part of the latest Lines of Control series, which will culminate in a huge group show of works at Cornell University in New York state in 2012.

“The people of this community had to pack up and leave their shops, their homes, and yet still hope to go back,” says Gill. “But now they have to face the fact that they have to be in this new place, and in that sense there’s a sort of partition: people are picked up and thrown into some other country somewhere.”

The artist continues: “Part of this is really about the modern world. There are two levels to globalisation, those with agency are free to move around on their own will and means. But then there’s another side in which people are forced to move to big cities.” This economic migrancy, Gill observes, is as much about internal partitions as the changing ideologies that have shredded Afghanistan’s multifarious cultural fabric. She talks about this constant beating drum of people moving in search of economic or social stability.

“The world in a way is all connected but there are also people who have to pay the price,” says Gill. “I envy those who have lived in the same house for 20 years.”

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Bollywood beauty Celina Jaitley who made her film debut in 2001, says her fans will see another side of her in upcoming film Accident on Hill Road.

“I can confidently say that whatever people have seen of me so far, they would see the other side of me in this movie,” Jaitley told PTI.

The actress believes that it her best performance as yet.

“I think it has taken five years for me to grow as an actor. It was all about going for the right script. I never went for banners per se,” she said.

The former Miss India, who debuted in Feroz Khan’s Janasheen opposite his son Fardeen, proved her acting skills in movies like No Entry, Tom Dick and Harry, Golmaal Returns and Paying Guests.

Accident on Hill Road, directed by Mahesh Nair, will release on December 31. The Nair’s directional debut is a drunken driver’s hit-and-run tale, that besides Jaitley, stars Abhimanyu Singh and Farooque Shaikh.

The movie shows how Shaikh and Jaitley cross path after a road accident. What happens thereafter forms the crux of the film.

Jaitley, born in Kabul to a Punjabi father and an Afghan mother, said she was groomed to be a soldier as she comes from an army background. Her father, V K Jaitley, is a retired Colonel and her mother, Meeta, an Afghan Hindu, was a nurse in the Indian Army.

“I was groomed to be a soldier but we plan something and something else happens,” she said.


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Afghanische Hindus Csomo TV

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Elissa Bogos 10/28/09

Through centuries of conflict, fortunetellers have been a steady source of consolation for Afghans. Some date their practice to the time of Alexander the Great, whose army sought out soothsayers during its conquest of the region. Today, falbins, as they are known, operate in Kabul out of small shops, shacks or on street corners outside mosques and shrines. Their popularity is persisting, despite the occasional police sweep and criticism from mullahs, who believe their practices to be un-Islamic.

A small row of falbin shops lines a quiet side street near downtown Kabul’s Shaw-e-Du-Sham-Shera Mosque. Said Reza, who has been practicing fortune telling for 15 years, sits in his small shop surrounded by books and stacks of paper bearing charts with Arabic numerals written in red ink. The charts, he says, are to help determine which Koran passage is appropriate for a client. Many of Said Reza’s customers come to him for health reasons, and he can readily locate Koran passages that will assist those suffering from stomach aliments, toothaches and migraine headaches.

For stomach problems, Said Reza says he submerges a piece of paper with a verse of the Koran written on it that roughly translates, “You are the crown in the world and the afterlife.” After drinking the water, the customer places the wet scrap of paper somewhere, often in a nook in a wall in their home. “Then, they become better. The Koran is better than a doctor,” Said Reza says.

Norandorseng, a Sikh who was born in Afghanistan and says he worked with the Afghan government in security during the Communist era back in the early 1990s. Now, he spends most days sitting on the floor of his shop in Kabul’s Karte Parwan neighborhood where he sells traditional Indian medicine and tells fortunes. “Muslims come to me with their problems because they trust Indians,” he says.

Narender Singh

Norandorseng, a Sikh fortuneteller with a shop in Kabul's Karte Parwan neighborhood, says Muslims come to see him for help because people trust Indians. He admits he himself doesn't believe in his work but does it to make a living. (Photo by Elissa Bogos)

“The first question I ask customers is whether or not they trust me. If the answer is yes, I begin work and give them a verse from my book that they will then put under their pillow. If they say no, I tell them to leave my shop,” Norandorseng added.

His book, written in Punjabi and full of numerical charts, is not a holy one, he said, going on to express disapproval of falbins who use the Koran. “The Koran is so holy. When they give a Koran verse to a customer to help them with, for example, a heart condition, if the customer is not cured, then he becomes angry and will curse the falbin and throw the piece of paper with the holy verse on the ground.”

Norandorseng suddenly takes on a serious look. “I don’t actually believe in what I do; only Muslim people believe in this. I’m just forced to do it to make a living,” he admitted.

For 75-year-old Mullah Matghaus of Kabul, falbins are not to be trusted. Though the bedridden mullah writes Koran verses for people suffering health and psychological ailments, he emphasized that he uses only the Koran — no dice or other objects — to help a visitor. “If I go to the mountainous Panjshir Valley and I ask a falbin to tell me which mountains are full of emeralds and gold, they won’t be able to do it. No one can. These men who are working as falbins are doing wrong,” he said.

Said Ahmad, a native of the Panjshir, has worked as a falbin for 30 years. Over a cup of dark tea, he said that he entered into his line of work because his grandfather was also a falbin. Out of his six brothers, Said Ahmad is the only falbin. “My father chose me because of my memory,” he said.

Said Ahmad confesses that he owns a restaurant and doesn’t need the income from being a falbin, but that he continues to practice because he likes it. Some would say he is good at it.

Ramin, a spiky-haired teenager, says he has been coming to Said Ahmad with his mother since he was a young boy. “My mother had a baby last month, and the child is very small. But we keep coming to Said Ahmad for help, and my little brother is getting better. I believe in his work 100 percent,” he says. Said Ahmad’s eyes become bright as he again recites the Koran passage that he gave Ramin for his little brother, the words tumbling rhythmically from the falbin’s lips.

When another customer enters the shop, Said Ahmad asks him his name and hands him a set of old, bronze dice inscribed with Arabic letters. The customer throws the dice and the two men look at the upturned letters and laugh. Putting on his glasses, Said Ahmad matches the letters to a mathematical table and then consults the Koran. He raises his eyebrows, his customer staring at him intently. “Listen well,” he begins.

Editor’s Note: Elissa Bogos is a journalist and photographer based in Kabul.


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BBC Interviews Chit-Ram

Chit-Ram is a famous percussionist from Afghanistan who is member of the Afghan Hindu community. Listen to an interview by BBC in Dari (Persian).

Chit Ram - BBC

Chit Ram - BBC

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The capital has a vibrant Afghan community, with characters from poets to gangsters and every subdivision in between

By Reza Mohammadi – guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 May 2009 15.00 BST

When I first moved to London, I found it intriguing that it was actually possible to speak Farsi there. I stayed in Hyde Park, and around my hotel there were numerous Iranian restaurants. Walking on London’s streets, one could easily find people who spoke Farsi. In the north and west of the city, about 70% of taxi drivers are either Afghan or Iranian. So it didn’t take me long to meet many fellow Afghans, and be introduced to their restaurants, eateries and associations.

In general one is not allowed to drink alcohol in Afghan restaurants. But on the positive side, you can eat as much qabuli rice as you want. Even complicated dishes, such as ashak and mantoo, are not impossible to get hold of.

Over time, I discovered Afghan shops, where you can find poetry books, music, foodstuffs and sweets, even smoked meat. Afghans have a special taste for disorder. Products are categorised and shelved in such a manner that only an Afghan can find. The chaos represents a specific mental order that is inscrutable to outsiders. Later, when I started attending Afghan gatherings, this familiar disorder became even more obvious. Afghans have a liking for being late. If a party or a ceremony starts at 8pm, they arrive at least two hours later.

Afghans very rarely drink alcohol openly in public. But at wedding ceremonies, they leave the wedding hall either one by one or in groups and secretly drink in the safety of their cars, returning to the ceremony with serious airs. It was during one such ceremony that I saw the Afghan poet, Birang. He was the only one to always drink openly, and in that state of perpetual intoxication, was speaking about the past, history and literature.

A few months later, news of his suicide reached me. It was received with accusations in the Afghan community, as his suicide meant that he had died as an unbeliever. Inevitably, the community took his poor body, which had never set foot in a mosque, to a mosque, and prayed for him.

The majority of Afghan funeral ceremonies are male only. Inside the mosque, you’d find in addition to the faithful, leaders of the former communist party of Afghanistan. These are the ones who, despite having spent a lifetime fighting mosques, are now making a show of their Muslim credentials.

When the sermon ends, the attendees gather outside, talking and blocking the street until police disperse them. The crowds divide into separate groups in line with ethnic origins, tribal affiliation or the city of origin. They go back home, to restaurants or coffee shops where they continue discussing politics.

The divisions are both serious and profound, so much so that it is impossible for an Afghan belonging to one group to praise the work of an individual outside it, or to acknowledge a positive deed by an individual in a different group. The others are generally seen from every perspective as useless traitors, or spies. Even poets and filmmakers are categorised in this manner, regardless of the content of their art. On the surface they could be treated with respect, but the suspicion of the other will linger on.

In general, the Afghan community in London is divided into three main groups, the Islamists, the communists and the royalists. These main groups are subdivided; the Islamists are divided into pro-Taliban and anti-Taliban, supporters of the mujahideen and, finally, those who are politically neutral.

The communists are equally divided into the old factions; Khalqi, Parchami and Maoists, and then subdivided into supporters and opponents of Dr Najibullah. The pro-mujahideen group is divided into supporters of the various factions; the Islamic Association, the Islamic Unity and the Islamic Party. Then there are the supporters of regional power-holders such Masoud, Esmael Khan, Akbari, Khalili and even Mohaqeq.

The list of subdivisions are endless. There are regional and tribal groupings; the Pashtuns have their own group, as do the Hazaras, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks. When there’s a nightly event of music or poetry reading the audience reflects the poet or musician’s tribal, regional or party affiliation. Naturally, the number of those who pass through all the filters is small.

And yet, despite divisions and subdivisions, Afghans stand out for their excellent business sense. Their presence is conspicuous, even though the majority of them arrived in England only a decade ago. Many of them own their own shops. In Shepherds Bush, about 70% of the shops are owned by Afghans and nearly all shop owners started by running stalls.

But despite such pleasure and interest in hard work, business and politics, Afghans feel little desire to participate in London’s cultural events. You’d be hard pressed to ask an Afghan for the address of a theatre, or talk about the latest film. Even among the student community, which is fairly large, there is little interest in London’s cultural life.

Some young Afghans have formed a gang known by the abbreviation ABB; Afghan Bad Boys.

When I asked the members why they had organised themselves into a gang, they cited the main reason as the negligence of police in regard to the killing of young Afghans by other gangs. Be this as it may, the gang’s numbers are growing day by day and the youngsters’ way of dressing, manner of speaking and attitude towards each other is evidence of a lost space between the English culture in which they failed to integrate and the culture of their ancestors of which they have only a vague notion. This confusion has resulted in those who are not part of the gang turning to religion; these include Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

Each one of them strives to appear as the member of the family most loyal to the ancestral faith and traditions. And so, London’s Afghans are even more Afghan than those who live in Afghanistan. The only difference is that their Afghanistan is a frozen memory mixed with their own imagination and nostalgia for a faraway and little-known homeland.

This article was translated by Nushin Arbabzadah


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Afghan Hindu and Sikh Families

Following is the list of last names (zaat) for Kandharis, Kabulis and Hindus and Sikhs of other regions of Afghanistan. The list is not complete. If you’re an Afghan Hindu or Sikh and your last name is not listed, please contact us and we will include it in the list.


Last Name Group
Kandhari Speaking
Arenja Kandhari – Dhakray
Busri Kandhari – Uthradhi
Chhabra Kandhari – Uthradhi
Chanra (Chanana) Kandhari – Dhakray
Chawla Kandhari – Uthradhi
Chicher Kandhari – Dhakray
Chowdhari Kandhari – Dhakray
Gandhi Kandhari – Dhakray
Gawri Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Ghambir Kandhari – Uthradhi
Goswami Kandhari –
Gurditta Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Kapoor Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Khanija Kandhari – Uthradhi
Khurana Kandhari – Uthradhi
Kitara Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Kukreja Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Loond Kandhari – Dhakray
Luthra Kandhari – Uthradhi
Luthra Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Makar (Makkar) Kandhari – Dhakray
Malhotra Kandhari – Khatri
Marocha Kandhari – Uthradhi
Mata/Matta Kandhari – Uthradhi
Muthreja Kandhari – Kabuli Bazari
Nareng Kandhari – Dhakray
Narula Kandhari – Dhakray
Pawa Kandhari – Uthradhi
Soni Kandhari – Dhakray
Vadwa Kandhari – Dhakray
Vohra ?
Vermani Kandhari – Uthradhi
Sindhi Speaking Kandharis
Kabuli Hindus
Gaba Shikarpuri
Farsi (Tajiki) Speaking

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This Above All – Khushwant Singh – 09/01/2007

Harami. That seems to be the keyword of the most absorbing work of fiction I have read in recent years. The word means bastard. The novel, of which it is the keyword, is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Bloomsbury). It encapsulates the story of Afghanistan over the last 25 years. It is built around two women — one of whom is Mariam, the illegitimate child of a maid-servant through her master who has already three wives and nine children. That part of the story is set in Herat. She is married off to Rashid, a cobbler and shoe-shop owner in Kabul. The other woman is Laila, who becomes Mariam’s co-wife. She has a sex escapade with her lover, Khalid, a few days before she is married off to become the cobbler’s second wife. Nine months later she bears a daughter, Aziza, also a harami or bastard. Before I conclude the story, let me say a few words about my own impression of the country and its people.

I went to Afghanistan over 50 years ago on a Unicef assignment to write on its medical services in the country. I started with Kabul — a shed for an airport, a hotel in which I had to share my room with my photographer, ramshackle bazaars, and not a single building worth seeing. Chaikhanas served lamb or chicken cooked in animal fat (roghan); there was one cinema, which showed Hindi films, but you could not sit in it without being suffocated by the smell of roghan. Every Friday, vehicular traffic, made up of donkey carts, tongas and taxis, came to a halt as roads had to accommodate the spill from the mosques during the afternoon namaz. But fruits like sarda, garma, pomegranates and grapes were the sweetest I had ever tasted. The men would be tall and handsome and would walk ramrod straight; the women would be draped in burqas from head to foot. Everyone was over-courteous in speech. However, despite all the embracing and kissing, there was little warmth. It was the same across the country to Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Ghazni, Bamiyan and Herat. But what I resented most was being addressed as “Lale”. Most Afghan Sikhs were money-lenders.

Although Kabul nestles in the hollow of low-lying hills, there was little about the over-sized town that deserved the praise showered on it by Saib-e-Tabriz, which inspired Hosseini in finding a title for his beautiful novel:

One could not count the moons

that shimmer on her roof

Or the thousand splendid suns that

hide behind the walls.

I returned to Afghanistan three years later — a swanky new airport, a five-star hotel, lots of beautiful women without hijab working in offices, more cars on the roads, new schools and colleges, hospitals and so on. I was impressed with the rapid pace of development. I wrote a booklet called Aryana to Afghanistan. Aryana was the old name of the country. Afghanistan was what it was shaping up to be — a modern Islamic republic.

My hopes are belied. Hosseini’s novel tells you why Afghans are split into several ethnic groups: Pakhtoons, Hazaras, Tadjiks, Uzbegs and many others. They speak two languages: Pashto and Farsi. Their clan loyalties are stronger than their nationalism. They come together only when foreigners occupy their country. After expelling the foreigners, they resume their clan warfare. They drove out the Soviets. They drove out the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedin and taliban. Then went for each others’ throats again. Kabul was fair game for all of them by turns. They fired rockets into crowded parts of the city and killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Entrenched in the mountains, they took potshots at any moving object as target practice. They came into the city, raped women and slaughtered men. Taliban enforced its medieval codes — every woman was to wear a burqa, no woman could go out alone, schools for girls were closed down and women were forbidden to work outside their homes. Anyone caught indulging in adultery was sentenced to death.

Hosseini tells his grim story through the cobbler Rashid and his two wives Mariam and Laila. Both girls were in their teens when Rashid, already in his forties, acquired them. Mariam was rejected by her own father; she saw her mother’s body dangling from a branch of a tree before she was forced into a nikah and put on a bus bound for Kabul. Since she has several miscarriages, Rashid marries Laila, without knowing that she is pregnant. He ill-treats both of them till they decide to flee to Pakistan with Laila’s children. But they are handed back to Rashid who tries to throttle Laila to death. Mariam saves her by clobbering Rashid on the head with a shovel and killing him. A taliban court tries her and sentences her to death. She is then taken to a football stadium with the stands crammed with spectators. Her executioner courteously addresses her as sister and asks her to lower her head. When he hacks it off, the crowd roars, “Allah-o-Akbar”.

It is as spine-chilling a tale as I have ever read. Some of it is reminiscent of Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, about a country that could be great but is not. It is mostly about cruelty towards women. The author puts it succinctly: “like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”

It is hard to believe that Afghanistan produced the likes of Romi Jamaluddin Afghani, the principal ideologue of pan-Islamism, the current president — the suave, urbane Hamid Karzai — as well as an author of the calibre of Khaled Hosseini.

Disarming logic

A bright young lawyer was pleading for his client on trial for burglary: “Your Honour, the evidence shows that my client did not enter the room at all. He merely inserted his arm through an open window and took a few trifles. His arm being only part of himself, why should you cause his whole body to suffer because of one offending member?”

“Very well,” said the judge with a twinkle in his eye, “Your logic is good. I therefore sentence your client’s arm to one year in jail. Your client may accompany it or not as he pleases.”

Whereupon the defendant unscrewed his cork arm, laid it on the judge’s desk and walked out.

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)

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