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‘I prefer sex movies. You are okay with that?’

On my last day here I also meet a dirty middle-aged man called Abdul Raouf. I ask him whether there's any Afghan movie going on in a hall. "What do you want to see? A romantic movie? A lafra (trouble) movie?" I tell him that I'd prefer the latter. He suddenly says, "Frankly, I prefer sex [he uses the English word] movies, writes Indrajit Hazra.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2009 23:53 IST
Indrajit Hazra

On my last day in Kabul, I meet Saad Mohseni, chairman of the Moby Group, and one of the three Mohseni Bros. who in 2004 started what has today become the largest media group in the country. I'm in his office to do a story on Tolo TV, Afghanistan's biggest and most popular private television channel that's been pushing the envelope and changing the way at least the pretty conservative but increasingly aspirational middle-class sees itself. Saad, who like his brothers migrated from Australia, is a pretty cool guy and very soon, as is often the tendency of pretty cool guys, starts asking me the questions about my tribal origins. “So has Calcutta improved? Is the Metro there working?” He tells me that he loves Delhi and keeps visiting once every three-four months and stays at the Imperial Hotel on Janpath. “Delhi's quite beautiful,” he says, adding that he reads the HT on the net (“It's the best newspaper in India”; hurrah!). The conversation moved to Delhi vs Bombay. Saad finds the energy in Bombay quite thrilling. Not taking sides, I tell him that Delhi's no longer the 'Punjoo town'; it's the new Bombay. He nods and asks me whether I could ever go back to Calcutta. He responds to my reply: "I can't go back to Sydney either."

Sex films & Mr Raouf

On my last day here I also meet a dirty middle-aged man called Abdul Raouf (the third Abdul Raouf I've met in almost a week). He's a tough little man who runs a shop selling carpets, clothes and trinkets on Kabul's version of Janpath, Chicken Street. Once again, he's the typical Afghan who can't badmouth Pakistan enough. Speaking better Urdu (read: Hindustani) than me, he tells that the "ISI are behench**s". He uses the same charming epithet to describe "Pakistani Taliban" and goes on to explain that if I'm caught on the road to, say, Mazar-e-Sharif by the Afghan Taliban, they would definitely let me go as I was an Indian. The Pakistani lot would, and he runs his finger across his throat, "will chop your head off". I suddenly see him smiling at me as he takes something out of his pocket and puts his hands between his seated legs. "It's Ramzan but I get real hungry during the day. This helps me," he says before popping a ball of hashish under his lower lip. He asks me whether I drink and have booze back in my room. Personally, he prefers beer. I ask him whether there's any Afghan movie going on in a hall. "What do you want to see? A romantic movie? A lafra (trouble) movie?" I tell him that I'd prefer the latter. He suddenly says, "Frankly, I prefer sex [he uses the English word] movies. You're okay with that, aren't you? I'm not going to lie." I gulp and say, "Sure" and change the subject to: "So how were things under the Taliban?"

Photo finish

Ram Prakash is the famous 'Hindu' photographer and owner of the Ram Prakash Digital Photo Studio at Kabul's Charahi Sadarat. I have tried to get an appointment with him but the man is simply too busy. Born and brought up in Kabul, Prakash reportedly has the best archival photos of Kabul life since the time of the Soviets through the Taliban era right uptil today. But getting him to meet me is a nightmare. He says it's a holiday on the first day of Ramzan and I should come the next day.

When I land up, he's manning the store which is packed with customers. I introduce myself and he looks at me blankly and says, "I'm way too busy now and I have to pack up and go home by 8. Come next week?" I don't bother to explain that I'm back in the land of his ancestors the next day this time. I see a laminated photograph behind the counter on the wall. It's Ram Prakash in a very cordial moment with a bloke in a blue turban and wearing a big smile. I figure it's too much of a hassle to run for Indian prime ministership just to have a proper conversation with Kabul's most famous photographer.

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