Afghanistan has perhaps always preferred to live with uncertainties. The eminent Bengali writer Syed Mujtaba Ali had to quit the country overnight while on a visit in 1927, threatened by political upheavals.
Amitabha Ray spent some time in Kabul between 2007 and 2008, as a representative of the Government of India on a United Nations mission. Living a risky existence in an unsettled country he was nevertheless awestruck by its unique landscape, ancient heritage and the natural warmth of its people. Kabulnama is his tribute to those years, sharing personal moments of anxiety, lending a glimpse into the life of the common Afghan. It is a rare journey along the highs and lows of the land and the times. There is camaraderie amidst chaos in this story of a battle-worn nation in a urged land, lending a ringside view of its natural beauty, history, culture, travel, food and people.
Amitabha Ray (b.195 5) obtained a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Bengal Engineering &amp;amp;amp;amp; Science University (formerly B.E. College, Shipboard, Calcutta University) as well as a post-graduation degree in Social Development Planning &amp;amp;amp;amp; Management from University of Wales, Swansea, UK. He also holds a post-graduation in Transport Economics and Management.
Amitabha Ray is a senior official with the Government of India. He has a long experience of around three decades in areas of planning at a national level, appraisal of important projects and public- private-partnership initiatives. His varied exposure also includes assuming the responsibility of working with the Ministry of Economy, Government of Afghanistan in an advisory capacity as a part of the UNDP assignment.
He has authored a number of books and articles in leading journals. Some of his books are widely acclaimed with large readership and multiple reprints. Apart from novelty of themes, his works are immensely informative and intellectually thought provoking. His natural affinity towards works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez has inspired him to bring out a lot of books on and about this literary genius.
The present book is a result of his on-site experience and enormous research during his stinting Kabul. In fact, it is already published in Bengali under the title Kabulnama. The book provides an eclectic account of many facets of culture, life and contemporary issues of Afghanistan.
Milan Brahmachary is based in Delhi. He did his post graduation in economics. An avid traveller and nature lover, learning languages is his hobby and he commands a fari grasp over three foreign languages- Spanish, French and Chinese-apart from English. while being naturally fluent in hindi and his mother tongue Bengali. Creative writing and translations are some of his other passions. Born and educated in Kolkata, Milan Brahmachary works for the government of india.
The landscape of Afghanistan is predominantly characterized by its large tracts of dusty, desolate and barren land crisscrossed by intermittent valleys, plateaus and patches of sparse vegetation, its series of rugged and dull mountains and their mysterious caves and caverns. Consistent with its dreary landscape, Afghanistan is engulfed in deep-rooted problems of abject poverty, acute scarcity even of bare essentials and widespread hunger.
It is a common belief that these problems are at the core of breeding terrorism in this part of the globe. But the hypothesis ignores the very fact that starvation or scarcity alone cannot induce common people to terrorism; there have to be some external factors to act as catalysts and trigger the process. A sizeable part of the globe otherwise would have been under the threat of active terrorism, especially when about one-sixth of the global population still grapples with starvation on a daily basis. There is, of course, no denial of the fact on my part that a fairly large section of people advocates the 'magic power' of terrorist activities in unshackling people from the bondage of poverty and hunger. Such advocacy often attempts to legitimize terrorist acts by coloring them with religious hues and associating them with ideological romanticism and access to martyrdom.
A majority of people who had lived in Afghanistan in the first decade of the twenty-first century held the above view. Nevertheless, the country, especially its capital Kabul has a large section of foreigners who continue to live there. They are there in their own responsibility and at their own risks; however, grave anxiety about an uncertain future continues to gnaw them. Perhaps Kabul has always preferred to live with uncertainties and risks. Even in 1927, things were not different and the eminent Bengali writer Syed Mujtaba Ali - a literary legend in his own right - had to quit the country overnight - leaving behind his personal belongings - because of threatening political developments in Kabul. Over the years, Kabul has seen scores of visiting Indians, some on official postings or assignments and others as a part of cultural exchange programmers and so on. Being one of them had given me the unique opportunity of perceiving the ground realities, going through chilling experiences of threats to life, living an overall risky existence in a war-torn country and enjoying the natural warmth of the common people.
The very moments of anxiety and uncertainty are difficult to pen, if not impossible. Given that, Kabulnama is a humble effort on my part to share my aberrant experience in Kabul.
Kabulnama was originally written in Bengali. Overwhelming response and repeated requests from well wishers prompted the venture of translating Kabulnama in English. Its nota literal translation of the Bengali text but is an edited, fresh attempt at presenting the original views and contents to today's reader.
Kabulnama is not a travelogue; it is an account of my personal experience of working and staying in Afghanistan for a while and my personal perception of the country pitched against its unique topography, climate and socio-cultural backdrop, for which I have used information from various authentic sources. The facts and figures in this book often refer to the period 2007-08 in Afghanistan - the duration of my stay in that country and the time spent in the writing and publishing of the original Bengali book.
I express my profound gratitude to Prof. Anil Acharya for his unstinted support in bringing out the Bengali original.
My sincere thanks go to the publisher of the present English version, Mr Bikash Niyogi, the translator Shri Milan Brahmachary and the editor Ms Mohua Mitra. I t would be impolite of me if the continuous support and constructive criticism extended by Prof. Nirrnalkanti Bhsttacharjee are not acknowledged at this juncture as the publication of the English version of Kabulnama has been his personal mission.
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