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A first-person account of Afghanistan’s troubled history

Whether in real life or fiction, most Indians have grown up knowing (of) kabuliwalas. When global superpowers chose Afghanistan to stage their war drama, India became too close to the violence geographically and metaphorically. News outlets as well as social media provided the headlines and snapshots: the retreat of the US military, an unstable government, and its takeover by Taliban amid chaos. This first-person account, The Fall of Kabul by Nayanima Basu, is an in-depth view of the country’s troubled history, a ground report from a media person and an insightful and deeply personal record of those turbulent days.

In a sense, the book is a journal and a unique travelogue on adrenaline; instead of sightseeing there’s war, ambush, automatic rifles and dead bodies. The menace of the situation is so palpable that it seems foolhardy of the author to have ventured into zones from which the strongest flee, despite well-meaning diplomats and media personnel dissuading her. Yet, she connects to the place, the people, their travails and the human spirit indomitable despite utter uncertainty. Further, she outlines, in stunning clarity, the role of other nations in the internal politics of Afghanistan.

It’s such a subcontinental story: only to us can it make sense that army soldiers had been at their posts despite months of no salaries. The common man ventures no opinion unless paid handsomely in dollars. While people fear for their lives, they go about their business mimicking normalcy. Hours from loss of homeland, livelihood, family, future and security, folks seem resigned, yet dignified in their hopelessness. To their conversations, they bring sparks of optimism. Over and over, the question from unexpected quarters: will I get a visa to India? Once it is someone from former premier Hekmatiyar’s inner circle.

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