“Kabuliwala” by Tagore is a tale of a heart-rending friendship between a 5-year-old Bengali girl Minnie and an Afghan moneylender, Abdur Rahman or Rahamat. The story beautifully ties a bond of mutual affection and the unconventional relationship between the two.
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The inception of an Odd Friendship
The voice of the story is lent by father of Minnie. Rahamat, who is a hawker of dry fruits and shawls from Kabul, frequents the Bengali locales where Minnie and her family reside. He was a strapping, turban-clad man and fascinated Minnie.
One day she called him from the window of her house. But as he approached closer she got startled and ran back inside. Minnie’s father talked to Rahmat and learned about his family in Kabul. He introduced Minnie to him with the title of Kabuliwala. To make her more comfortable Rahmat offered some dry fruits to Minnie. He started calling Minnie Khuki (a child).
As their friendship blossomed, Minnie and Rahmat started meeting and interacting every day. Rahmat narrated stories of his homeland to Minnie and the young girl happily returned the warmth with her own innocent tales and playfulness. Kabuliwala listened to the young girl with great intent and relish.
Misfortune Overtakes the Kabuliwala
However, the maidservant of Mini’s parents started filling the ears of Rama, Minnie’s mother regarding the Kabuliwala’s true intention. Soon, Minnie’s mother grew suspicious of this flourishing friendship and feared that Rahmat might even kidnap and sell her daughter. She also stopped paying Kabuliwala for his goods.
On the other hand, Kabuliwala’s woes were magnified as he got arrested for stabbing a customer after getting involved in a scuffle. The tiff started due to the non-payment of a Rampuri shawl that the Kabuliwala sold to the customer. The customer denied having ever bought the shawl and that caused Rahmat to lose his control.
During the trial, he confessed to killing the man even after being advised against it by his lawyer. The judge decided to reduce his punishment to 10 years imprisonment after being impressed by his honesty. After getting released several years later he went to see Minnie.
Return of a Friend
To his surprise, a lot had changed and the day he arrived was actually Minnie’s wedding day. But when Minnie’s father realized his presence, he asked Rahmat to leave the premises owing to his ill-fated and inauspicious absence.
Kabuliwala obliged but while leaving offered some raisins for Minnie. He also showed a scruffy piece of paper with a handprint of his daughter that he left in Kabul. Seeing that her father’s heart melted and he called Minnie. Mini was dressed and embellished like a bride but was too apprehensive to meet her long-forgotten friend.
Kabuliwala was taken aback to see a girl he could not recognize and struggled to cope with the reality of the time he lost while imprisoned. He was tormented by the thought of having lost his own daughter’s childhood. She would have been a grown woman like Minnie.
Minnie’s father understood his precarious condition and offered him enough money for a safe trip back to Kabul and a reunion with his own daughter. Even Minnie’s mother, realizing her misjudgment, extended the money she saved for Minnie’s wedding ceremony.
Minnie’s father set aside a portion of the wedding expenses like lights etc in order to arrange 100 rupees for Rahmat. In a way, they could sympathize with the plight of another parent longing for his long-separated daughter.
The fundamental message of the story is that people have the ability to do good as well as bad to others. Often, it is easier to side with our fears and suspect someone who is not like us. It can be different skin color or a different language.
But if we are patient with people and try to understand their situations and problems then we can find some common ground. They go through the same emotions and conflicts as we do.
They are also faced with difficult choices like us. Therefore, we must show empathy for their struggles if we expect to receive the same from them In the end, we all live to make each other’s life easier and worth living.