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Ramzan days in Marlboro Country

world Updated: Aug 23, 2009 01:39 IST
Indrajit Hazra

It's the first ‘normal’' day in Kabul since I landed. It’s also the first day of Ramzan here coming a day before it does in India. Cultural dissonance continues as my driver points out that I shouldn't be smoking during Ramzan. Which brings me to the no-holds-barred chugging that takes place practically everywhere in Kabul. If you're a man, you smoke inside a restaurant, inside a cab, in a polling station, and going by the packets of 'Pine' cigarettes strewn at the entrance of a mosque, before and after prayers. But it's quite amazing how this Marlboro Country simply stops smoking while fasting during Ramzan. Once the fast is broken, I guess all the men folk rush for their lighters till sun-up. How's that for a genuinely civil and effective move against smoking?


Locals call it 'The Strip'. And once I'm there, that long asphalt road that could have very well been a runway, with glitzy (by Afghan standards) 'wedding halls' on either side of it, I realise the Las Vegas connection.

At one end of The Strip, there's even a replica of the Eiffel Tower hogging the limelight of one roundabout. And why shouldn't it? Considering that it's bang in front of the Sham-e Paris Hotel, although some signs on its facade have done away with the hyphen in the name as if making a strong point against French foreign policy. Apart from the Sham-e Paris with its very-faux Egyptian motif running down its blue glass windows front, there are other aspiring and smaller Kabuli versions of Caesar's Palace in Vegas — like the Qasre Zinatek Kabul, outside which a dead mule lies on the roadside. I quickly think: if in the Godfather killing a man's Arab horse is a sign of bad things to come, what could killing a man's Afghan mule here signify?


As I witness my first traffic snarl in Kabul (a healthy sign here that signifies that all is hunky dory), I stop at a roadside snack-on-wheels. The man is frying a paratha. I ask him what he's frying and, realising I'm from Hindustan, he tells me it’s samosa. I politely tell him that we make samosas very differently in India, not a wide flat wrap that is more like a paratha. He looks slightly hurt so I ask for one of his samosas. It tastes like paratha and with a leek kind of veggie with the potato mash and the deep fried dough armour, it’s delicious. I ask him, this time cunningly so as not to hurt his feelings, what his samosa is called in Afghanistan. “Bolani,” he replies with a smile, before quizzing me about Amitabh Bachchan.


Tired of listening to and finding only Hindi (Afghans call it Urdu) filmi music everywhere, I finally found Afghani music on the main street of Charai Tora Bazhan. CDs of Afghani Pashtoo Da Atan Geet Mala are sold from carts even as their owners are listening to Mohammad Rafi on their cassette players. Most popular among the Afghan singers seems to be a lady called Naghma (whose name means 'melody' in Dari). On the cover of one album she's dolled up as a Pashto tribal belle, looking not unlike Basanti in Sholay.