Sadia’s Memoirs, Culture & Food of Delhi: A fascinating account

A reader’s review for “Jasmine & Jinns: Memories & Recipes of my Delhi” by Sadia Dehalvi, Harper Collins India publication, 2017

A two hundred eleven pages account on the culture of bygone days Shahjahanabad, author memoirs, & an encyclopedic collection of diverse recipes. The title “Jasmine & Jinns” came up from author’s childhood memories of her ancestral “Shama Kothi” at Sardar Patel Marg where both Jasmine Shrubs & Jinns shared the space in the capacious villa. The rich illustrations from food to monuments add the visual aura to the text. Starting with the first portrait of the author by blogger & columnist Mayank Austen Soofi, the manuscript adds a visual journey by photographs of Delhi’s Monuments, street food, culinary dishes & portraits of her family. The book commenced with the evolution of Delhi’s cuisine tracing its history from Turks, Mughals, British & finally the arrival of Punjabis after 1947. Then it discussed the sociocultural history of the Muslim Khatri tribe (Saudagran) who made Shahjahanabad as their home during the days of Mughal emperor, Shahjahan.  During childhood, I had heard a legendary story of Hazrat Shamsuddin Sabswari who brought Ganga for the Khatri caravan on the way to Haridwar from one of the father’s Punjabi (Shamsi) friend at hometown, Pilibhit. Majority of the Muslim Punjabi (Shamsi) community in small towns of western Uttarpradesh traced their origin from Punjabi Saudagran tribe of Shahjahanabad. Then in 2003, I read an article that came up in Hindu by columnist Vivek Shukla providing the glimpses of the history & the culture of Saudagran community. Sadia Dehalvi as a member of Old Delhi Punjabi gharana provided an in-depth narrative on culture & history of Punjabi Saudagran community. Back in Punjab, Pakistan, the Saraiki & Punjabi speaking Muslim Khatri’s were popular as Chinioti’s due to their ancestral affiliation with Chiniot. The chapter mystique of Shahjahanabad portrayed the vibrant culture & rich cuisine of the walled city starting with bygone days Urdu proverbs called out by street vendors like “ Lakad Hazam, Pathar Hazam/digest wood & stone” recited by traditional digestive tablet sellers. Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi, the patriarch & founder of “Shama Magazine” brought the culture & cuisine of walled city from Haveli Habsh Khan to 11, Sardar Patel Marg. The traditional kitchen lined by Pindol in the lavish modern villa was designed by Sadia’s grandfather, Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi to accommodate his generous hospitality.  His values were drawn on his belief of “Fi Sabilillah/For the sake of God” & Prophetic saying “The best among you are those who feed other”.

#Shama Magazine started by Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi who belonged to Muslim Punjabi community of Old Delhi, Phatak Habsh Khan…

Gepostet von INDO ISLAMIC CULTURE am Sonntag, 7. Oktober 2018

A lady from Baghpat who wore a tent-shaped veil (Afghani Abaya) became a foster mother for author & her siblings. From storytelling to food cooking, she is the one who has a significant role in nurturing the hobbies of Sadia Dehalvi. With expanding urban sprawls & disappearing of traditional Taaqs, the Jinns of Delhi & their stories absconded from the homes of Delhi. Reading the chapters  “Halal World” &  “early lesson”  is a nostalgic recall of the lost time & values from traditional Muslim upbringing. The term “ Niaz/ Food offering” reverberate the eardrums as it has been lost somewhere in the changing face of Islam. The lost values of Niaz were connected with Islamic roots by an introductory picture from Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah Iftar & a Hadith of Prophet ( Peace be Upon him) on feeding.

From real herbs & spices, the culinary section of the book moved from all-time favourites to the seasonal dishes & finally concluded at Ramzan & Eid. The gustatory delights presented by the author supplemented with the portraits of her home cooked dishes will give a pleasurable journey to the readers.  “Some of all time favourites” discussed a wide variety of traditional dishes. From a Yakhani Pulao with Arqe Nana chutney to Shab Deg ( made up of Carrots, mutton pieces & Kofta), the chapter brought a diverse variety of traditional dishes. As mentioned by Author, the Nargisi Kofta enriched the dastarkhwan (tablecloth) on special occasions, a tradition common with Delhi Wallas was also prevalent in small towns of Western Uttar Pradesh. The traditional medicine (Unani) classifications of the food in taseers (effects/efficacy) like garam (hot) & dhandi (cold) divided the cuisine in alignment with seasons. The winter’s cuisine was introduced with Nihari, the pride of Delhiwallas. Once in Saudi, I received a parcel of Nihari cooked by the colleague mother in Karachi. The Nihari has an odour & taste specific of Shahjahanabad. On the food, I came to know that his ancestors belonged to Punjabi saudagran community of walled who migrated to Karachi during 1947. The delicacies of walled city & Punajbis was well preserved by his mother as the first generation of Delhi wallas in Karachi.

The summers in the book were greeted by a bygone days beverages (Sherbet) of Bel (Woodapple), Falsa, Sandal, Unab (Jujube), Gauzaban & fruits of the walled city (Shahtoot, Khirni, & Kaseru). This section discussed the amalgamation of diverse veggies with mutton. The recipes from flower buds (Kachnar) to bitter gourd stuffed with minced mutton (Qeema bhare Karele) with traditional desserts aam pulao (Mango rice) to Aannaas Pulao (Pineapple rice) will amaze the readers. The open spaces of the Mehrauli made it a favourite destination of forgotten Mughals especially the last one Zafar adored it during monsoon. The tradition continued in the walled city & author’s recalled her father visit using camel carriages from Lahori gate to Mehrauli. Pakoras with tea, pre-partition old Delhi wagons, & trams & story of a mango that travelled from “Rataul, United Province” to Punjab, Pakistan captivated the lost time of Delhi. Now after seven decades, the Ratual became the pride of the orchards of Punjab, Pakistan. The India, & Pakistan both are debating on the origin of the famous mango.

Kachalo (Fruit Chaat) was an essential of Ramzan Iftar what I recalled from the childhood days from my mofussil hometown located in the Terai plains of Himalayas. A variety of dishes prepared by vegetables & Gosht (Mutton) has been introduced here. In old days, this was the traditional Muslim style of adding veggies to their diet. The substitute of Haleem is the grainy version of lentils with meat pieces identified as Khicda in UP. Across the border on another side, the Haleem of both Lahore & Karachi is closer to Delhi walla style.  The Eid celebrations didn’t change much with time except “Eid Al Azha” has transited to “Eid Al Adha” with Arabization of Urdu in the present context. Even in these days, the long list of the feast preparation started with  “Kalegi/Liver“.  The usage of the verbatim traditional Urdu terms such as Ghotni (wooden Laddle), Salan (curries), tukhme rehan (basil seeds), tabaruk ( blessed), & baadi (difficult to digest) enriches the context for the local readers. The Jasmine & Jinns is not only about the recipes of the diverse cuisine, but it’s also about the context, traditional utensils, season & occasions that were reflected in depth by Sadia’s preparations. A must-read account for all those who are in love with food & culture of Delhi especially Shahjahanabad.

Reference:

  1. Vivek Shukla, Death no leveller in Capital cemetery, The Hindu, 06th March 2003. Retrieved from: https://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/03/06/stories/2003030600560300.htm?

 

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