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Some Afghans have named their daughters Tulsi

July 10, 2008
Three weeks before the Taliban attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul in the worst terrorist attack in Afghanistan since 2001, dancer Astad Deboo performed in the Afghan capital.

The first artiste to perform in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, Deboo, who was honoured with the Padma Shri last year, relives the memorable week he spent in Afghainstan. A first person account, exclusive to

A trip to Afghanistan was always on my agenda. I wanted to visit Afghanistan because there was this invitation from my friend Sandeep Kumar, who is the deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy. Moreover, I had been following the political situation of the country right from the time of the Russian occuaption and their withdrawal; then the takeover by the Taliban and their subsequent ouster.

I also wanted to compare notes with the trip I made to Vietnam during the war in 1971, and my trip to Cambodia in 1971, travelling from Thailand to Phnom Penh. The experiences were very different -- in Vietnam and Cambodia, I saw the actual fighting take place whereas here in Aghanistan I had only stories to listen to from people who had been a witness to the situation or were covering it.

When I knew that I was finally going to Aghanistan, I suggested a dance performance because I knew that by offering to perform I would get to meet not only artists but a whole range of people. I finally did meet a lot of interesting people -- from the Afghan man on the street, to students, local hotel owners, the boys who worked there, chauffeurs who drove me around, security men who were assigned to me, journalists, NGOs, diplomats, ministers, musicians, college professors and filmmakers. I also met the Afghan online producer of The Kite Runner and listed to the interesting stories he told me.

Sandeep had mentioned that there would be no money and I told to him it did not matter. I wanted to share my work with the people of Afghanistan. I would be the first contemporary dancer to perform in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

I left Mumbai for Kabul on June 14. I flew from Mumbai to Delhi, Delhi to Kabul. Indian Airlines is the only Indian airline which flies to Afghanistan. There were a lot of expatriates, diplomats and businessmen on board the flight.

I left my passport at the hotel reception -- the receptionist said he had never seen such a thick passport -- dumped my bags and quickly left to take a look at Kabul.

I was surprised to see such a well structured city. The roads in Kabul are terrific. My driver was in his mid thirties and he had seen it all -- the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban, and the war with the United States. People were very curious that I was Indian. Bollywood and its happenings are the rage in Afghanistan. To my surprise, the soap Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is the most popular serial there. Women look up to Tulsi, the main protagonist. She is so well-liked that some people have even named their daughters after her.

After I returned to the hotel, I went to its coffee shop. It was buzzing; people kept going in and out. Men and women sat at separate tables. I noticed that none of the women wore burqas. Even on Kabul's streets, some of the older women wore burqas, but none of the young girls did.

Image: A fort, originally built by Alexander the Great, dominates the landscape of Herat. Photographs: Astad Deboo

Also read: 'May God not put any country in the fire that we were in'

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