WHEN I FIRST SET MY EYES on the manager of the new ‘Afghani School’ in Jangpura, he has his back to me as he fusses over a brass statuette of Saraswati. Bent over a cabinet next to the reception, Prawal Mani Tripathi dusts the metal, replaces the old garland and fumbles through the drawers for incense sticks, turning his head from time to time to gently chide his staff for not sufficiently respecting the gods.
The Afghani School looks out over Bhogal, a multiethnic ghetto abutting Jangpura on the east. A few shops away Afghan Burgers once stood. Across the street one can see signs for Kabul Restaurant and Kabul Medical, and if it’s mealtime, a long queue at the famous Afghan bakery. Bhogal is one of three neighbourhoods in Delhi where the city’s roughly 11,000 Afghan refugees (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) have settled. The refugees began to arrive in the early 1990s to escape the chaos of post-Soviet Afghanistan and continue to make their way to Delhi to this day. The close-knit community in Bhogal, comprising 300 odd families, has tried to replicate the feel of their distant homeland.
The receptionist tells me that the Afghans in Bhogal are tired of the constant interest in their lives, and that it would be kind of writers and journalists to leave them alone. She adds that their “concerned person” is out for 10 days.