The Afghan edition of 'Who wants to be a millionaire?' has the same format and tension-generating background music as the one that made the Mumbai slumkid Jabal and many others rich in superpower India. Okay, so the Kabuli host is a kajol-eyed man in a pathan suit, cap and a stubble (a cross between Govinda and Karan Johar, if you ask me) and the budget for those fancy lights and set designs we had in Kaun Banega Crorepati? seems significantly smaller. But in the episode I was watching during prime time Afghan television after elections overload, a long drum roll later, the contestant's answer happened to be 'Anil Ambani Group'.
I'm still dying to know what the question was. All I know is that the other options did not include 'Mukesh Ambani' and that the guy got it right.
Watching the girls
Speaking of television in Afghanistan, like on the streets outside, Afghan music videos have very few women in them. In fact, in the last four days I've been here, local music videos show the singer (usually backbrushed and a bit on the chubby side) holding forth on the wonders and strengths of Afghanistan and, presumably as eye candy, long-haired boys twirling in a dandiya-without-the-sticks fashion. Nothing wrong with that. But even in my short stay, I have started to look at women in general and Afghan women in particular in a different way. Most of them walking about are decorously scarved ladies with others in the blue chador-tents we're used to seeing in newspapers. But a couple of days ago when I saw a scarved lady behind the wheel of a car, I almost took my camera out to record the anomaly. I figured that this was something that isn't allowed in Saudi Arabia -- never mind in downtown Kabul when the Taliban had their way. Then again, while inside a photo shop in the Charahi Sadarat neighbourhood to pick up batteries for my camera, I find the TV tuned to ESPN and everyone half-surreptitiously following the US Figure Skating Championship. As I wait for my batteries, even I feel that I'm not watching a skater twirling gracefully to the music of Dr Zhivago but something closer to those late-night FTV programmes that I watch back home to follow international fashion. The blokes inside the shop, too, must have been skating enthusiasts.
Veggies in the garden
But inside the Baghe Babur (Garden of Babur, of which more tomorrow), the whole scene is so, well, liberating. Groups of women are sitting under shades gossipping, laughing, lazing about with huddles of men under different shades gossipping, laughing, lazing about.
In this Sunday picnic atmosphere on a Friday, it's easy to imagine that one's visiting the zoo with family or friends, and not the mausoleum of Babur in Kabul. (No, I'm not going to the Kabul Zoo, that journo-in-Kabul's favourite feature story on the terrible conditions of the animals.)
Here, I settle down on the grass with a bowl of 'shor nakhwat', a potato-chickpea concoction with chutneys not unlike alu chaat, but actually closer to the bengali alu bokra. The vinegar mixes perfectly with the the sliced potatoes and, truth be told, I lap up the vegetarian dish after years, oh ok, days of gorging on kababs and meaty variations.