Archive for May, 2011

Nihari…Passions and Traditions

May 28, 2011

It was a very captivating scene. My friend Andrew, a born Britisher who as a kid moved to Canada, eating Nihari with full zeal and devotion…..and this was his first time. I never thought that anybody from this part of the world can not only taste Nihari but also enjoy it. This dish whose story goes back about 200 years has now conquered the world rising from the city of Dilli. (the name old Dilli walla use for Dehli)

My mind went back to its origins. Ashraf Saboohi, in his very interesting book Dilli ki chand ajeeb hastiyan wrote:

I have heard from our elders that when Saadat Khan cleaned the Shah Jehani Nehar (Canal) and it started flowing again in the middle of Dehli, Alvi Khan Hakeen wore the funeral dress and entered the Court. When king Mohammad Shah asked the reason he said, I am crying over the lost health of the city. Disease will now become rampant. When asked about the cure, he advised increasing the use of Red Chillies and Khataai (I do not know its English translation). In order to reduce the effects of these heavy duty spices, it was recommended to add pure ghee.”

So the king ordered the cook to design a dish as per the Hakeem’s specifications. It is actually a type of Qorma where only beef shank meet is used. Fried onions, hot ghee, lemon, slices of garlic and coriander leaves are used as dressing and it is served with hot naan bread. Bone marrow and goat brain are added delicacy. (I have seen people adding makhan ka baghar (fried butter) also). After the dish it was customary to eat Gajar ka halwa (Carrot pudding) to reduce the effects of spices. At Burns road in Karachi, all the good halwa and rabri shops were next to Nihari shops. I don’t know whether they now exist or not. After reading the above paras, you would have guessed correctly that coronary disease was not discovered or was not given much thought during those days.

The Nihari wala that has been mentioned by every Dilliwala was Ganja Nihari wala who took the preparation of this dish to an art. During those times, Nihari was more of a winter dish. It was not available throughout the year as it is now. It used to be eaten early in the morning. It was especially liked by the poor as this food is enough for them till dinner. It was cheap during those days and skipping lunch would save money for them. Rest of the year, these Nihari walas used to sell other dishes but not Nihari.

The making of Nihari was an art. As per Ujjra Dayar By Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi (grandson of Deputy Nazir Ahmed:

Usually a hole was dug near the shop where the pot was put into with a window below to put the coal in. After putting all the spices and meat, it used to be cooked for the whole night. The tradition was to eat Nihari at the shop. There is only one daig or pot. So whoever comes early, rich or poor will get the order. Once it is finished, you have to wait till the next day.

This reminds me of my childhood. Our Nihari wala was Sagheer from Dehli Muslim hotel (not the Kalia) at Burns Road. Sagheer and our family go a long way. His grandfather used to be our family bawarchi (cook for special occasions) and served my great great grandfather. We were totally prohibited from buying Nihari from any other place. Nihari was only ordered in winter and also only for breakfast. Usually on a Wednesday, Sagheer was called and was told that we will be having Nihari for the weekend. On Saturday evening, my uncles would leave our pateelas (pots) at his shop. Sunday morning, one of them usually wakes up quite early to make the trip to the shop. We try to wake up too to join him. There Sagheer would use to fill our order himself rather than the servant as taking out the Nihari was regarded as an art. He knows who in our family like adla and who wanted reshay wali boti. Nalis and bhejas was wrapped separately along with the Naans. On our return home, the big dastar khawan (eating mat) was spread in our big room. Special newly polished copper plates (Qalai wali rakabi) were used to eat Nihari. My grandmother and mother would have already made the baghar (hot oil) that used to be put on the Nihari. It used to be warmed again. Our old servant Bahadur Ali used to warm the naans on our angheeti (coal fired stove). We used to sweat during those early winter mornings due to the warmth and spices of that Nihari. There was no lunch and a very light dinner (usually Kichri) was served in the evening.

Now when I look back all those characters are gone. Sagheer died quite early and his hotel is gone. I think he had a kidney transplant operation in India and became quite famous as he was one of the earlier Pakistanis who had this kind of a procedure over there. His interview was even published in Akhbar-e-Jahan, if my memory serves me right. We started buying Nihari from Waheed hotel and also tried from Malik’s. They were good but not like Sagheer. We used to laugh at Sabris. We used to call it the spice less or sick man’s Nihari. Then came the big revolution where Nihari Inns were opened at every corner and it became a dish of all seasons. I remember when we first looked at Nihari at a wedding reception, we were quite shocked. That was the age of innocence.

So Nihari has moved from the Bhatyaras of Dilli to the Sabri hotel at Chicago. It has lost a bit of spice in the transformation but it has still regained the numero uno position (at least in my heart) of the dishes from our part of the world. It still dazzles the palate, and sometimes the digestive systems, from people of all color and nations.



May 28, 2011

Behind the Dubai palace in Karachi, near the seashore, there lives a merry old man. He holds a treasure which is unparallel in this world. A treasure which is most likely to be destroyede……… The reason being, most of us still questions the validity of the argument that it is indeed a treasure.

In his house under specially built cabinets are rows and rows of audio tapes. When played they tell you the history of Indo Pakistan music, literature and poetry. You can find Ustad Bundo Khan playing his Sarangi, Pathanay Khan singing his tunes, Chotay and Baray Bokhari reciting their essays in the earlier days of Radio Pakistan, Maulana Thanvi and Rasheed Turrabi reciting Quran or giving sermons or Faiz Ahmed recording his entire Nushka Hai Wafa in a span of 20 years in his studio. All this is not disorderly, you will find neatly bound 42 volumes of just his music catalogue showing which tapes contains which masterpiece, from which counter number to what counter number, sung or played by whom, what raag and what instruments. If this is not enough at the ripe old age of 93, this man, alone is trying to convert this universe of sound to digital media from tape. Did I forget to mention, he is an avid collector, traveller, photographer and author. His biography “Hijraton Kay Silsalay” won the Prime Minister award in 1998 right before the Prime Minister was send packing. The name of this mad man is Lutfullah Khan. But before delving deeper into his collection let’s dig deeper into who he is.

Born on November 25, 1916 in Madras, his father was in South Indian Railway. His childhood was spent on transfer from one city to another. Although he tried his hands at different hobbies, however music, writing and art were things that became part of his soul. He describes his interest as more of a “junoon” as far as music is concerned. To have a better understanding of this “junoon” and his mastery of music itself, his book “Sur Ki Talaash” is a must read. He had extra-ordinary fascination for music and singing from his childhood. He participated as an amateur singer at the Madras Boys and Girls Exhibition in the year 1931 and received the merit award for Hindustani Music. He signed an agreement in 1933 for classical singing with the Indian State Broadcasting Service, later re-named as All India Radio. He performed publicly at the age of 19, during a radio concert in 1935. Known as Madras Radio Artist, he sang Ghazals at a function of Muslim Students Association of St. Xaviers College in January 1939 and rendered classical singing at Bombay in December the same year. During quarter century of daily practice (1963-1988), he practiced singing with Maulana Abdul Shakoor (nephew of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan) and explored the intricacies of only one raag, the Darbari. His “junoon” of collection also started from those days. His collection of stamps, coins and film pamphlets of his teen years can still be seen in the neatly organized show cases in his house. His museum gallery displays rare photographs, photography equipment, International and Pakistani coins, and a set of 12 inch 78 rpm discs of Late “Barey Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib”, sound recording equipment and accessories, drawing instrument and stationary items used in documenting the collections and personal items of nostalgic importance as well as a wonderful matchbox collection. But the pick of this array is an album containing posters of old Hindi and American movies, some of them dating back to twenties. All are arranged in properly illuminated showcases and display boards. Electronic devices installed include “Revox” tape recorders. Such a broad based collection requires periodic maintenance for which he has established in a separate room a small workshop with inventory of spares and tools.

His archive contains a large number of rare books on a variety of subjects, including religion. In his personal files, papers are arranged in chronological order in a healthy state. Indexing has been done in simple manner to facilitate easy location of the desired document.

In 1938, he moved to Bombay. He was employed in the government’s rationings department. One of the responsibilities was to transport various stuff to different cities of India. He had the good chance to see almost all of India (except for Calcutta and Kashmir which he still regrets).
He landed in Karachi on October 17, 1947. This trip was more of an exploratory nature. But who has escaped the magic of this medusa? However the start of his love affair is unique. He mentions that he was stung by the beauty and cleanliness of this city. However he was stunned to look at Karachi’s double roties (sandwich bread). They were fresh and pure white. Unlike the stale yellow rationed breads of Bombay. “To yeh madrasi naujawan, Karachi ki double rotiyon ko dil day bheta”. He telegrammed his family to move over here and this love affair is still strong after 62 years. If you want to know more about Karachi and its inhabitants of yesteryears, his biography is an eye opener. He mentions a host of Sindhi Hindus and Christian which helped him establish himself and how they were all Karachities first and foremost, a thing which sounds like a Cinderella story today. He mentioned only one Muslim to compare with this group. That gentleman was Abdul Salam, my nana (maternal grandfather) and that is how I came to know Lutfullah Sahib so intimately.
Photography was his passion for a long time. In Bombay the famous actor De Billemoria was his friend. He had a chance to borrowing his 16mm Kodak movie camera and made movies of different occasions. However his real passion blossomed in Karachi. His friend bought the Thackersons photography shop. He lent his Roliflex camera to him to take picture. He took picture of the old buildings and the new offices and homes that are taking shape to absorb the new country and its administration. He made an album about Business on footpath which consists of all the things that are done on Karachi’s footpaths, right from small businesses to snake charmers, palmists, lizard show (saanday ka teel), ear cleaner etc. There was another album called business on wheels which shows fruit, vegetable, cloth, shoe etc vendors of Karachi on four wheel carts. He created his own dark room at his home and used to do his own developing and processing. In 1951, he bought a Swiss made Boulex Pylord 16mm camera and started making documentaries. One of the most memorable one was a cricket match between the Prime minister, his cabinet and the parliament members at the Karachi Gymkhana. One side was lead by Mohammad Ali Bogra and the other by the famous Maulvi Tameez Uddin Khan. The minster Mr. Chittophadia was bowling in his dhoti and Maulvi sahib was batting in his sheerwani. The organizer was Ahmed E.H. Jaafer. He bought several cameras and took thousands of pictures during his travels throughout the globe. The cameras and pictures album forms a part of this treasure.
Then started the story of his real “junoon”. He started his own advertising agency. One of his clients imported an audio recording machine in 1951. The objective was to see whether there is any demand of such product over here. Lutfullhah Khan Sahib bought the machine and 22 tapes for Rs1, 146 and 10 annas (needless to say, the machine and the receipt forms a part of his collection). He first started by doing audio recordings of his family members especially his mother. Those days, tapes were made of a sort of paper and were not so durable. But how much family talk can you record. He had a small mountain of 22 tapes. Once day just for experiment he recorded a Shahnai program from Radio Pakistan. The result was excellent. Next was a mushaira from All India Radio and then the speech of Liaquat Ali Khan where he said his famous sentence “Sheikh Abdullah, Kashimir tumharay baap ki jaagir nahin hain.”
I am not going into details about the recorders, microphone and the tapes that he mentioned he used in his quest. He is a master of what to use at what occasion. But the actual accomplishments is not recording this huge collection encompassing music, drama, poetry, prose, fine arts, religion and education but the minutely detailed catalogues he created to find a tape on any subject. As mentioned before the catalogue and the tape hold all details. Let’s take the example of the music section. It is divided into 7 sub sections:

 The first section is instrumental music. It contains items on almost all music instruments of the sub continent by masters of that era. Some of the examples are in Surood, Hafiz Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, in Sitar Inayat Khan, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar and Ustaad Sharif Khan poonch walay. In Shehnai Bismillah Khan, in flute Panna Lah Ghosh, in table Ahmed Jaan, Allah Rakkha etc, in Sarangi Bundo Khan. He includes about 46 items of Bundo khan in his collection. He tells an interesting story about Ustaad Umrao Bundo khan, the son of Ustaad Bundu khan. At 10:30 pm in 1978, somebody rang the bell. When he opened the door, it was Umrao Bundu with his Shahnai. “Lutfullah sahib, I want to play Peelu for you today.” That 14 minute 12 second rendition of Peelu was one of the best he had in that section.
 The second section consists of Classical singers such as Fayaz Hussain Khan, Moizuddin Khan, Chand Khan Zakir brothers and so many more.
 Semi classical music occupies the third section. This is more of Thumri, Pahari, Dadra, Kaafi, Bhajan etc. Fourth consis of Ghazals (including 318 of Mehdi Hasan) including Begum Akhtar, Sehgal, Shamshad, Rauf Dakkani, Mukhtar Begum, Mushtri Bai etc.
 Fifth is songs,
 Sixth is Folk Music
 Finally his seventh sub-section is Qawwali.
As mentioned above this is catalogued in 42 volumes and this is a smaller section as compared to the Literature section.
The Urdu literature section is divided into poetry and prose. Poetry contains the work of 800 poets. Faiz and Akhtar ul Imaan recorded their entire work for his library. Some of the other names are Jagan Nath Azaad, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Parveen Shakir, Josh, Jigar, Khatir Ghaznavi Ali Sardar Jaafri, Kaifi Aazmi, Faraz and ect. Prose contains such items as Aal Ahmed Suroor, Ibrahim Jalees, Bokhari, Taaj, Hayat ullah Ansari, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Joginder Paal, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Anwar Sadid, Khadija Mastoor, Rashid Ahmed Siddiqui, Dr. Zakir Hussain and hundreds more. The scholars and speeches sections include names like A.K. Barohi, Sir Zafar Ullah Khan, Rashidi brothers, Dr. Saleemuzaman Siddiqui, Karrah Hussain, Bahadur Yaar Jang, Abdul Hameed Bhashani, Bhutto, Rajindir Parshad, Suharwardy, Ghandhi and Jinnah. Similarly the religion section includes Thanvi, Syed Mohammad Razi, Zaheen Shah Taji, Mufti Mohammad Shafi etc One of the smaller but a unique section is interviews of artists like Jimmy Engineer, Iqbal Jeoffrey, Iqbal Mehdi, Bashir Mirza, Sadequin, Shakir Mirza etc.
The story of this journey is extremely interesting. His book, “Tamashaye Ahal-e-Zauq” provides profiles some of the personalities above and efforts that were put to record them. Especially the struggle to record Faiz Sahib in a span of 20 years is worth a read.
Now let’s venture into the darker part of our story. I mentioned at the start that this treasure will soon be no more. There is a reason behind it. Tapes have a life of their own. They can only be saved if they are converted to digital media. Khan Sahib is doing this job himself but you can very well imagine what to expect from a 93 year old. He has been approached by some organizations but he flatly refused. The reason; they want to have the treasure for free. He has been offered an outstanding price of this collection from India but he refused too as he want to keep this collection in Pakistan. His argument is that if nobody in Pakistan thinks that my lifetime work which is in part a unique history of Indo-Pakistan on sound is worth nothing and it would not benefit me and my family in anyway than this should be destroyed. The whole effort of recording and organizing this collection is my “junoon”. Letting it rot is another dimension of my “junoon”. He worked tirelessly for this collection and if this mighty nation of 170 million who spent billions on things from arms to tea and cars cannot spend a few millions for acquiring and safeguarding their own audio heritage than perhaps his logic is make sense.
So next time when you are in the Shanakht festival in Karachi and you see this old frail white haired young man showing the history of this great city, try to see as much as possible, perhaps next year they will be no more.

The Modern (Pakistani) Queen of Ancient Egypt

May 28, 2011

In the land of the great Pharaohs’, under the shadow of the mighty pyramids, there lives a woman who seems to know every intricate details of every conspiracy that went on in the ruins of the magnificent palaces. You will see her on your TV screen, if you are a history buff, detailing the customs and routines of Ancient Egypt’s daily life…and death. Right from their traditions and scandals, she will explain the fine details of mummy making. She’s always intrigued me. Her accent was non Arabic. So I googled her and Lo and Behold, she is a Pakistani and from Lahore. Dr. Salima Ikram is an expert of mummification or Egyptian
funerary archaeology; she can speak on hours about the ancient Egyptian techniques of mummifying animals and humans. In her own words “It fascinates me as one learns not only of how they died and were buried, but also of how they lived and what they valued in their life”

Her command over her subject is fascinating. It is safe to say that if we have to somehow recreate this ancient civilization today, she would be one of the major architects.

I emailed her on behalf of ATP and she very graciously agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. And when I am saying busy schedule, in her own words I am working on 12 excavations with other scholars and my own project that I direct in the North Kharga Oasis, as well as on 2 books. My most recent book, Ancient Egypt: An Introduction just came out today In addition she also teaches Egyptology and archaeology at the American University in Cairo. She is the correspondent for KMT, a popular Egyptological journal, a frequent contributor to Egypt Today, and the co-director of the North Kharga Oasis Survey. At the American University of Cairo, Ikram also teaches courses on ancient Egyptian history, culture and society, food and drink, and art and architecture, as well as archaeological methods and theories. “Ancient Egypt is part of our common heritage,” she says. “We need to present Egyptian history and culture in a way that is easily understandable to everyone, focusing on their humanity.”

I asked her about her childhood and how she became interested in this subject.  “I was born in Lahore, in the shadow of the Badshahi Mosque. I became interested in ancient Egypt when my parents gave the Time-Life book of Ancient Egypt as an 8th Birthday present. When I was 9 I visited Egypt. I fell in love with the place and the subject after I saw the twin statues of Rahotep
and Nofret, and Tutankhamun’s treasures. As my father was working on the
Egyptian economy we visited Egypt frequently and I got to see more and more of
the country and its treasures. When I chose to follow the path of Egyptology, my parents were very concerned as they feared that I would not be employed ever. However, they were delighted when I found a job. It is worth mentioning over here that her father Khalid Ikram was a renowned Pakistani Economist who advised the Egyptian government on economic issues.

She pursued Egyptology and Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, USA, where she earned an A.B. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology and History. She went on to earn her M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Cambridge University in Egyptology and Museum Studies. During the course of her Ph.D. she also trained in faunal analysis.
A woman working in a traditional Arab society in a field
dominated by male must have been a big challenge. On this she says “As a Pakistani woman it is in some ways easier to work in Egypt than if I were otherwise. There is some challenge being a woman in what was a male dominated field, but on the whole it is not too difficult. In Egypt many women work in Egyptology and are not stopped in this path.

She is also the founder and co-director of the Animal Mummyproject at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; she has emerged as one of the leading scholars in Egyptian funerary archaeology.
Combining an interest in and understanding of the past with a passion of preserving it for the future, she has brought the little known world of animal mummies to light. Her series of books include a line of children’s books and three authoritative works – “Divine Creatures,” “The Mummy in Ancient Egypt,” and “Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt.” Her TV credits include “Da Vinci Code: Decoded” (Channel 4 UK), “Tomb Raiders: Robbing the Dead” (History Channel) and “The Real Scorpion King” (History Channel). However her animal mummy project is worth a special mention. She raised funds for safeguarding and analysing these animal
mummies by encouraging Egyptians to a mummy. She has been delighted by the response “I raised a good amount of money from the adopt-a-mummy project for the animal mummies. It helped fund the project which has now reached completion

In all, says Dr. Ikram, there were four kinds of animal mummies: “sacred animals, which were
worshiped; votive animals, given as offerings to the gods, sort of like votive candles; pets; and food offerings to provide food for eternity.” Common household pets included cats, dogs, monkeys, gazelles and birds. X rays will help determine whether most pets were killed when their owners died or placed in their owners’ tombs after a natural death.

X rays will also help determine the religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians. For example, there is
considerable debate about the god Anubis, and whether ancient Egyptians most closely identified him with a dog, wolf, jackal or fox; X-raying Anubis’s votive mummies will reveal which animal the ancient Egyptians offered to him most often. Ikram also hopes that the Animal Mummy Project will shed light on the veterinary practices and mummification techniques of ancient Egyptians.

Ikram says controlled tourism and the education of tourists are key to “preserving the heritage of ancient Egypt for posterity, as the increase in tourism, together with the rising population and its associated pollutants, are very destructive to antiquities all over the world.”

So what to expect next, what are the secrets they are trying to uncover now. “We are working on a variety of projects that will help us learn about the Egyptian royal family and its interrelations, how technology was used in mummification where the Egyptians traded to obtain the materials for mummifying the dead, trying to find out routes that were being explored by the Egyptians as they plotted the continent of Africa, even details of daily life of the ancient Egyptians”.

On the state of archaeology in Pakistan, her opinion wasArchaeology in Pakistan is varied. Unfortunately there is less emphasis on excavations of the pre-Islamic period right now. Pakistan has an extremely rich cultural heritage from the Prehistoric (Neolithic and earlier)
period onward. We need to work in a clear and scientific way to document all parts of our past so that we can trace our history to the present day. Unfortunately the temper of the times means that it is difficult to work in certain places and also that we cannot use our history not only to inform our citizens of our rich and varied past, but also cannot exploit it for tourism.
In the future it would be wonderful if we could do both

She is among a few Pakistani women who has gone far and beyond our traditional definitions and has made the country proud. She provides the following words to her fellow country women. “If a Pakistani woman wants to do something, then she should. There is really nothing to stop her. From the time of my grandmother onward, women in my family have been following their very independent paths. One needs to be sure of what one wants and the way of pursuing that goal with the highest degree of professionalism.”