Kabul today, with a population of more than five million, is totally different from the past. Kabul’s Old city with long history, political game changers, rich culture and old buildings which are being replaced by new buildings, still exists today.
In 2010, when I was 12 years old, my family moved from the countryside of Ghazni province to live in the urban city of Kabul. When we arrived, my uncle took me to an incredible journey to introduce me to the city which was supposed to be my new hometown. Purposely he took me to the old city, which was alien for someone like me who was coming from a rural part Afghanistan.
He didn’t tell me so many things; showing presidential palace located a mile away from the old city, defense ministry lies at the back of the palace, financial ministry and Afghanistan’s Central Bank located next to the palace. In all, he said one thing, “Kabul’s old City is the heart of political and financial power of Afghanistan.
I didn’t know at the time about old city of Kabul so many things. That the city is one of the oldest towns in the region. That the city was a battleground for Alexander the Great. That the city fought against invasion of Arabs to introduce Islam in 642 AD. That the city massacred British and Indian troops, around 15,000 soldiers, in 1842. That later in the history, the City put pressure on King Zaher to change political system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1964. And that city stood up against Soviet-backed regime in 1985.
But very few of the descendants of the political game changers remain in Kabul’s Old City. Most of them have fled the country. “Let me count families with ancestors who were raised and died in the town.” Said an old local man. “We are only five families who have origins in the city.”
Most residents of the town have origins in different parts of the country. Many people have come from Kandahar. Many others from Bamyan in Central Afghanistan. The city is a mix of different ethnic groups. Although they are different from each other, they have one common ground; their ancestral homes are not Kabul’s old City.
In the old time of Kabul, people had used to live in different streets based on their occupations. Singers had a famous alley called “Kharabat”. Governmental officials’ street was called “Formulia”. Although the street names remain, people have left.
The early residents of Kabul’s Old City had a rich culture. Some parts of the culture have survived. From Nowaroz festival (New Year) to playing with dogs. And Kit running, for instance, still draws smiles on face of Afghans.
But some parts of the culture have vanished with the people who fled the country. Chub Bazy, literally translated as wood game, for instance, was cheerer of residents of Old Kabul. “Kabul residents were fonder of the wood game than anything else. In the days when the game was popular, in addition to Kabul residents, people from the outskirts of Kabul were spectators of the game.” Mohammad Asif Ahanq wrote in Old Kabul.
In addition, many values, games, and practices of the old rich culture Kabul have faded away and been replaced by a different culture of the new Kabulis. People, who were called Kakaha or Aiyaran, were supporters of poor people. But in today’s Kabul, Kakaha have no signs in the city and young people who are gangs call themselves Kakaha.
More scary part about the old Kabul is old buildings. As long as Kabul remains the capital of the country, residents will be political game changers. Nobody expects people to tolerate the hardships of four decades of war which Kabul residents have faced. Adoptability and flexibility of a culture shows how much it can meet the need of new generations of people.
Old buildings, which are symbols of old city, are being replaced with new, modern construction. In the heart of Kabul, Kabul’s Old City is surrounded by new shops and supermarkets and buildings. Survived Old rowed homes of the Kabul’s Old City. Old schools. Old Mosques and old streets which are covered. These buildings convey names, messages, and history of the city; who there were, and what they did. Unfortunately, the buildings are vanishing into new buildings.
“People who are rich enough destroy old buildings and build new ones.” Said Painda Moahmmad, 70, who has been a resident of Kabul since King Zaher. “Son, the town was fine, but war has turned it to ruins.”
Note: A version of this article appears in print on April 24, 2017, on Page 3 of the Kabul times edition with the headline: Kabul’s Old City Slows Down but Keeps Breathing