Delhi’s Khirki village: Home for Afghani refugees

As temperature in Delhi hovers around 50 degree Celsius, Farid Khan, from Kabul, Afghanistan, longingly cherishes the pleasant weather of his homeland. “It never used to be so hot there,” he says, sitting in the corner of a narrow lane in Khirki extension, an area that has become no less than ‘little Kabul’, with the presence of thousands of Afghan refugees in the locality. In the tapered lanes, just opposite one of Delhi’s most expensive malls, the colours and aroma of Afghani culture and cuisine, provides a welcome respite from the cacophonous muddle in the area.

From Afghanistan to India

Most of the Afghani residents in the South Delhi village of Khirki Extension have been settled here by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), while some come here to avail cheaper treatment facilities in Delhi. Khambar Ali, a 66-year-old man from Mazar-i-Sharf, is in Delhi from last one month, for his knee joint surgery. He talks about the scarcity of medical facilities and supplies in Afghanistan. His mother also had a spine surgery at a city hospital here. In his homeland, he has been working as a driver for 40 years, and will be leaving for his home in a month, after the completion of his treatment.

Farid Khan (46) from Kabul and Khambar Ali (66) from Mazar-i-Sharif

But for thousands of others Afghanis in the area, it’s no less than a home now. Farid khan, 46, runs an Afghani cuisine restaurant in the basement of a building. He came to Delhi from Kabul, seeking shelter in 2010. He moved here with his children and wife. “I think of Delhi as my home now, I get everything here which I used to get there, what I don’t get here is my mother, whom I don’t get to meet,” he says. His mother stays in Kabul, with his brother’s family. When asked, if he gets a chance to go back to his homeland, he says, “Delhi is my home now, as it gave me shelter when I needed it. I have many friends here now. I don’t want my children to go through the same hardships, and hope they would make a decent living in India.”

Wahid-Ullah, 46, also runs a small shop in the area. He recalls how in 2014, things started worsening in his home town and he had to move to Delhi for shelter with the help of UNHCR, with his three children and wife. He is waiting for the day, when UNHCR will take him back to his home-land and when peace will return in Afghanistan.

Partners Sayed and Hamid, who run Green leaf restaurant in the area, recalls the time when his friend was injured in an explosion and lost his arms and legs. He used to work as a sales manager in a telecommunications company in Kabul. He used to fear for his and his family’s life every day before leaving for work and one day decided to move to Delhi, where already some of his relatives were living.

While for most of them physical displacement led to several hardships, but gradually, they have been able to establish a stable life and are hopeful of a better future for their next generation. Abdul Ma-an 18, son of the owner of Malviya Nagar’s popular Afghani outlet, Afghan Restaurant, who  is from Mazar-i-Sharif, moved here when he was 10 years old with his family. Currently, he is studying in a public school in the area. He recalls the tale told by his father, about his struggle with the language and no place to live. He wants to complete his graduation and help his father in his business.

Foodies’ Delight

Lanes of Khirki village adores an aromatic flavor, thanks to the traditional cuisine of Afghanis. Wahid-Ullah, is brilliant in making tandoori naan in the Afghani style, which is best served with tea. He has many regular Afghani customers who take his bread. He talks about how every Afghani household had a tandoor in it.  Farid’s restaurant also serves afghani delicacies and is an absolute treat for food lovers. While working on tandoor, he says Kabuli pulao, chopan kebabs, karahi shinwari chicken are the must-try food here. Green leaf restaurant, another Afghani cuisine based restaurant run by two partners Sayed and Hamid, also serves Kabuli pulao and kebabs as specialty. He plans to expand the reach of afghani cuisine to other areas of Delhi. For teenager Abdul Ma-an, the specialty of his father’s restaurant is murgh mussallam, whole chicken with skin is marinated with spices and then grilled on low flame for 3-4 hours.

It’s an altogether different world out here. Though, quite naturally, many of them still yearn for their motherland, but the warm and welcoming Afghani’s have made Khirki their new home. Their hardships have given them a new spirit to start life afresh and they look towards a promising future for their children.

(Photographs by Shrikant Kukreti)

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