On my first visit, she didn’t say much. When my visits became frequent, Bano let her life float in front of me. It was a breezy afternoon, with the sun slowly taking its turn to set and its light creating dramatic shadows through adjacent houses and the things which caught the light in between. I and Bano were standing on the roof of her house when after a little pause she started sharing her story of belonging with me. She told me about the place where she grew up, not far from here (fort area). Place where both Moharram processions and the urs (death anniversary) of Sufi Saint Khwaja Muin al-Din Chishti, were held with great zeal and respect. When I told her about me being Sindhi from my father’s side. She told me that there were many Sindhi families living in her childhood area and how they use to eat and play together, just like a family. But now most of their daughters have been married off into the village. Due to the Sindhi-Muhajir conflict, almost everyone has gone back to the village. As I spent many afternoons, listening to the memories, stories of their children, and hardships they endured throughout their lives. Gradually, I began to see certain similarities that I and Bano shared in terms of belonging to a particular ethnicity.
One afternoon as I entered their home, Waqar Bhai (Bano’s husband) was patting his hand dry with a towel and gestured for me to come and sit inside. “You roam around all day; you need to eat. You need to have energy. Come have some food with us…” As he unfolded a sheet (dastarkhuwan) on the floor, Bano brought me a hot plate of Qorma (chicken stew) made in typical Dehli style. The aroma instantly took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I asked her who made this Qorma, she told me that one of her friends who also live in Qila (fort) cooked it for Giyarwee Shareef. She then added, in a hesitant tone, that their limited means have kept them this year from making Qorma (chicken stew) and Kheer (rice custard) on this Urs, instead she has made some poori (fried bread) and aloo tarkari (Potato stew) in celebration.
[In the whole Indian subcontinent, the “urs” or death anniversary of Sufi Saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani also known as Ghous-e- Azam is called Giyarwee Shareef or honored day among his followers.]I remember listening to this name, Ghous-e-Azam from my Nani and my mother. My Nani used to make a special meal on Giyarwee Shareef and do Fateha and distribute food among the neighbors and needy people. It was almost like celebrating Eid. We were asked to wear new clothes and the woody-flowery fragrance of Agarbati (incense burner) filled the house. And now, listening to this name again from Bano makes my heart warm as it brings back sweet and delicious memories’; my Nani's kitchen is all lit, the aroma of cardamom and spices dancing in the air, and the food cooked with nothing less than love. Qorma (chicken Stew), Kheer (rice custard), Daal ka halwa (lentil’s sweet dish).
“You remember I told you that we celebrate urs on our Juman Shah’s pir? We use to celebrate Giyarwee Shareef like a festival when I was young back in those days. I learned to cook from my mother. I took admitted to a sewing class near my home but my mother fell and broke her arm so I had to learn how to cook. We Urdu-speaking cook everything at home. No matter how many guests you are expecting at home, back in those days, everything was cooked at home. And there was a one time my mother told me if you want to win your husband’s heart then learn to cook delicious dishes…”
As she paused, there was shyness on her face while she corrected her scarf and looked at her husband who was sitting by the wall and gave a warm smile. She gracefully stood up and went into the kitchen.
Before I could control my nostalgia over the exotic aroma of Qorma, she handed me freshly made hot chapati (bread). I asked her if she also uses a domed pan to cook these chapatis like my Nani and mother. She told me, yes but nowadays she uses a flat pan as well.
That afternoon our conversation took us to the shared food culture between her ancestors and mine. “kya aap mix-sabzi bhi pakati hain?” (Do you also cook mix-vegetable stew)She laughed and said “Bawli Bhujia- haan humare yahan usko bawli bhujia kehte hain. Sab sabziyan aik saath pakti hain to bawli hojati hain isliye hum bawli bhujia kehte hain usse.” (Yes, we call it Crazy Vegetable mix. When all vegetables are cooked together, they look crazy so we call it crazy vegetable mix- Bawli Bhujia in Urdu).