One of Rabindranath Tagore's most popular short stories, Kabuliwala, will be told once again in film. In this new remake, Mithun Chakravarthy will reportedly play the titular role of Rehemat, an itinerant merchant from Kabul, Afghanistan, who strikes an unlikely friendship with a 5-year-old girl during his yearly visits to Kolkata. Though it is fiction, Tagore uses this poignant tale to paint us a picture of 19th-century Kolkata. The city had become a refuge for Afghans escaping the war and violence in their homeland. Through most of the 19th century, the East India Company waged a series of wars in the region a quest to extend their empire beyond the golden province of Bengal. John Burke's photographs of Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War were among the earliest ever taken of the country.
Our country and its boundaries have altered quite a bit since Tagore wrote Kabuliwala in 1892, but its themes still feel relevant today. “Set against a backdrop of ideas of female emancipation, internal political strife and the drawing of borders in Afghanistan and migration in 19th century India, Kabuliwala tells a cross-cultural story. At the heart of the tale though is a recognition of our shared experiences as people. In many wonderful ways, Tagore’s stories remain timeless.” That's how Avehi Menon, former Archive Director at Sarmaya, described the short story.
In 2020, as part of Sarmaya's Spotlight on Bengal, we asked our team to name their favourite works by the most iconic Bengali of all time: Rabindranath Tagore. Every year on the 9th of May, India celebrates this Nobel Laureate's birth anniversary as Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti. Dip into Team Sarmaya's recommendations, which span the gamut from philosophical treatise to poetry to prose, to (re)discover this literary colossus.