From Kabuliwala to the Fall of Kabul: Afghanistan in Popular Imagination

deadline for submissions: 
October 5, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh

With the recent fall of Kabul, Afghanistan has resurfaced in political and critical discourses. The “Graveyard of Empires” as it is known, the popular imagination of the country has been a source to draw courage from for subalterns the world over. Its crucial geopolitical location has often made it a site for global scuffles of major powers as we witnessed in Rudyard Kipling's Kim and its backdrop of the Great Game. We have also often seen how Hollywood’s Orientalist lenses transformed the country into a site for fulfilment of neocolonial American desires—Rambo vanquishing the Soviets almost single-handedly in the background of the Cold War. 

For us in South Asia, the figure of the Afghan has often exerted a lot of popular appeal. From Rabindranath Tagore’s “Kabuliwala” to the recent Bollywood item number “Afghan Jalebi,” we have seen our imagination of the exotic and romantic being played out in creative media. And then there is Syed Mujtaba Ali writing autobiographically in Deshe Bideshe (At Home and Abroad), familiarizing us humorously with the Afghan everyday. His enormous popularity till today has also made sure that characters like Shabnam, the eponymous heroine of his novel, continues to inspire romantic emotions. It was only in 2014 that a Bengali-origin author took a more nuanced and critical look at the Afghan situation and the country when Zia Haider Rahman published his celebrated novel In the Light of What We Know.

The perennial conflict in the country, especially the Taliban taking over Kabul and its subsequent toppling by the US following the 9/11 attack, has found poignant representations in creative media. Khaled Hosseini’s novels and some of their adaptations on screen not only represent the traumas and tribulations of common Afghan people, especially minority Hazaras, they also give us a localized view of the complexity of the Afghan situation with its factionalism, warlord culture, international espionage, sexual abuse of children and so on. All this has started resurfacing in traditional media too following the recent coup of the Taliban with particular concerns for women’s freedom in the new regime. The ease with which they took over Kabul after around twenty years of US-supported intermission has managed to confuse the international community, further problematizing the old critical binary between the “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” in their minds.

At the international virtual colloquium on “From Kabuliwala to the Fall of Kabul: Afghanistan in Popular Imagination,” we would like to have engaging conversations on the issues outlined above and many others. We invite 10-minute individual poster or paper presentations and/or 40-minute panels of two/three presenters on the following themes and beyond: 

  1. Khaled Hosseini on pages and screen
  2. "Kabuliwala" on pages and screen
  3. Syed Mujtaba Ali and the Bengali experience of Afghanistan
  4. Kipling, colonial and neocolonial desires
  5. Revisiting In the Light of What We Know
  6. Afghanistan and women
  7. Truth, Trauma and Literature
  8. Post-9/11 literature
  9. Heritage, culture and the Taliban   
  10. Hollywood, Bollywood and Afghanistan
  11. The binary between the “freedom fighter” and “terrorist”

Abstract length: 150-200 words
Deadline: 5 October 2021
Subject: “Individual abstract submission for the ULAB Afghan colloquium” or
“Abstract proposing a panel for the ULAB Afghan colloquium”
Notification of acceptance: 12 October 2021
Registration: FREE