ULAB hosts colloquium, “From Kabuliwala to the Fall of Kabul: Afghanistan in Popular Imagination”


The Department of English and Humanities, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) has organised a two-day International Virtual Colloquium on October 30 and 31 entitled "From 'Kabuliwala' to the Fall of Kabul: Afghanistan in Popular Imagination".

On the first day of the event today, Research Fellow at the Department of English and Humanities and the convener of the colloquium, Dr Khan Touseef Osman, shared in his opening remarks: "A part of the colloquium consists of a critical contest of university students practising Creative Arts in different media on the theme, 'the flight from Kabul'."

The event began with three Afghan women from a refugee camp in the United States sharing their experiences through the session, 'Afghan Letters to the World'. The first of the speakers, Samira Panahi, spoke about her escape from Kabul while under the terrorising rule of the Taliban. "At one point," Samira recalls, "we heard bomb explosions in the area we had been waiting in only an hour ago."

Khadija Monis talked about how she ended up in different countries after the collapse of Kabul under the Taliban. Somehow, she was the only one from her family who had managed to escape the dire circumstances through an evacuation process. Khadija managed to extract letters from a number of women in the US refugee camp who tell a similar story of woe, of leaving their family, their children behind in Afghanistan. She shared the drastic measures the women of Kabul were being forced to take, like marrying men significantly older than them, in order to escape rape and torture in the hands of the Taliban.

Mina Mushtaq stated that she fled from her beloved country on August 28 as the daughter of an artist whose life remains at risk due to "his work, ethnicity, culture, and heredity." Reading from her father's letter, Mina conveyed, "The Taliban considers [it] [...] permissible to shed my blood and destroy my works." He has requested humanitarian organisations across the globe to work in preserving the survival of Afghan artists and cultural figures.

Acting Vice Chancellor and the Dean of School of Arts and Humanities at ULAB, Professor Shamsad Mortuza, addressed the audience in his speech. "As a Liberal Arts centric university, we do not want to confine ourselves to text alone [...], but it is also important for us to humanise these accounts, like that of Tagore's 'Kabuliwala', the countless others that we come across in contemporary media, to the three women who have just shared their own narratives", he said. 

Professor Imran Rahman, Special Advisor to the ULAB Board of Trustees, followed with his remarks: "Empathy is an integral part of nation-building, it is important for our students to extend a hand to our Afghan sisters now."

Himadri Lahiri, Professor of English at Netaji Subhash Open University (NSOU), India, delivered the keynote speech, titled, 'Images of Afghanistan: Through the cultural lens'. He posits that it is crucial for us, as neighbouring countries and citizens of the world, to think about what the issues prevailing in Afghanistan represent for us at the moment and how we can respond to this crisis effectively. Analysing the images of Kabul that have emerged from prevalent narratives, he discusses how we can interpret, from the position of gender, class and so on, "the world as a text", as well as identifying who is narrating these positions.

Dr Clair Chambers, professor of Global Literatures at the University of York, also shared her thoughts on Afghanistan in the plenary session, wherein she discussed the works of British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was captured by the Taliban in 2001, and the Dutch journalist Bette Dam, who lived and worked in Afghanistan for four years, in relation to how their narrative contributed the country's representation in world literature today. 

Among other sessions, Day 1 ended with a lively round-table discussion on 'Contested histories, continuous memories: "your history gets in the way of my memory"', led by Professor Niaz Zaman, critic, academic and translator, and Professor Himadri Lahiri. The session was moderated by Professor Sabiha Huq of Khulna University. 

The colloquium will reconvene tomorrow to showcase winners of a creative contest and with sessions on Afghanistan's art and heritage, writing the self in Afghanistan, feminist discourse in the country, and more. Speakers will include Professor of English, Lilly Want, of Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir, and Professors Fakrul Alam, Syed Manzoorul Islam, Afzar Hussain, and Sohana Manzoor.