It is 9.30 a.m. and the shops have just started opening at Lajpat Nagar’s busy Central Market. But there is a flurry of activity in one particular makeshift shop located at the far end of the market. For 50-year-old Fadratullah, an ethnic Afghani who works in the shop, it is the busiest time of the day.
A queue of ethnic Afghanis has already started gathering outside the shop waiting to buy the famous Afghani naan (bread) that Fadratullah is baking. He has been working in the shop for the past 25 years. Though morning is the busiest time for him, he looks forward to it everyday.
For, this is the time when he gets to meet his fellow countrymen and also make new friends. He knows many of them by their first names. It is not only the Afghanis settled in Delhi. Over the years this small shop has developed a loyal clientele of Indian customers who swear by the Afghani bread that Fadrutullah makes.
“I have been coming here for over a decade now and have become good friends with the Afghanis working in the shop. The bread made here is one of the best that I have had and goes well with any type of Indian curry,” says Kamal Shani, a resident of H-block, Lajpat Nagar. Fadratullah came to Delhi from Afghanistan when he was 25-year-old. “Delhi feels like home now. I have become more like an Indian in my demeanour. I like it here. I married an Indian. My children were born here. They go to a government school,” he says.
He says that his children have known no other home. “For them Delhi is like their motherland. They speak fluent Hindi, have Indian friends and celebrate Indian festival. I don’t think they will like to leave this place now even if given a choice,” he says.
Najiya is another young Afghani who has been living in Delhi for the last 10 years. “I have been living here for a decade and have started enjoying the colorful Indian festivals and the culture. My husband and I have a printing press. We are doing quite well. We know we would be able to provide a better life for our children here.Though I like it here but if given a chance I would like to go back home. After all Afghanistan is my motherland,” said Najiya, who runs a printing press in Okhla.
The capital is a home away from home for Fadratullah, Najiya and many other ethnic Afghan refugees living here since the past decade. Having their own business or working in restaurants, hotels or as interpreters and salesperson, the Afghani community has integrated well with the local culture.
There are over 9,000 Afghan refugees living in Delhi. A majority of them fled following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many others came after the Taliban regime came to power. In Delhi, the Afghani community is mainly settled in and around Lajpat Nagar, Jungpura and Bhogal.
Idris Foshanjee, 25 came here from Herat in Afghanistan when he was eight-year-old. Though he went back to Kabul in early 2000, he returned to Delhi soon after and started working in the Afghani restaurant in Krishna market, Lajpat Nagar. “I came back because it is much safer in Delhi. Also our culture is similar in many ways. I have made many friends here and feel at home,” says Foshanjee.