Recently I happened to read a bit about the cold war days between USA and the then USSR and couldn’t help draw a comparison between the American success and emergence as a super-power vis-à-vis the abject failure of India, post independence to match up horns with the developed nations despite availability of rich resources. The cat and mouse game for superiority and survival between the two super powers lead to empyrean technological and comprehensive advancements. While in India we had our intellectual challenges pitted only against our kin turned foe, Pakistan.
It was never a battle among equals but India like a bullish elder brother revelled in gleeful celebrations at every trifling win over their propagandist arch rivals. Evidently we lost our way, we failed to see the bigger picture, we mitigated our potentials and never drove our intellects hard enough and abreast quantum technological and academic advances the world over. So then, what is the fuss all about. It is the big Pakistan dream or rather its lustful atrophy gone sour. The two countries have romanced with a dagger, close to a century now towards a mutual spiralling downfall.
I view the present economic and ethical conditions on either side of the frontier with anguish and wonder the need for such wasteful animosity.
I once happened to be at the epi-centre of a culinary exchange program appropriately coined then as the ‘Samjhauta Express’ between the two cousin countries. Along with great food there was great bonhomie. We had two great chefs come over from Lahore and treat us to some spectacular display of an estranged cuisine. The semblance was astonishing. It was like two sides of the same coin. This was the real romance and here the point of convergence were our cuisines.
The conversations over our spirited meals together were guarded at first and fluid subsequently. We spoke of the cuisines of Balochistan, Khyber, Makran, Sindh, Punjab and surely enough about Kashmir. The karahi and handi preparations are significant dishes with meat and vegetables alike. The Peshawari karahi and chapli are traditional, robust and aromatic preparations. The kofta, keema, korma, karahi and kebabs are culinary corner-stones of the historical spice-trail, I find so enchanting in the cuisine of Pakistan. It is not that we are unfamiliar with any of these culinary masterpieces created with care over fire in a cooking vessel or a skewer but curiosity and estrangement makes them even more desirable and special. There re-surfaces the romance once again!
While on the subject of food ( which I take liberty to discuss amidst the myriad internal turmoil within the two nations) the hypothetical barriers dissipated. The emotional bonding was tangible under an undercurrent of bereft.
The divide and rule policy employed by the British still has the two nations divided, divided at the head but not at the heart. This compulsive divide may remain forever but it is for us to understand what that destines us to. Our measly state of internal affairs suits the larger schemes of the other side of the world to keep two highly resourceful countries down and trodden.
While I take the softer route the food route which would always bind us together, during this significant exchange of matters of the heart we spoke about the sikanjabeen, sheermal, taftan, pakoras, samosas and halva-puri to the gulabi chaai, sherbet and hand made ice creams. The aloo-gosht, darbari sole fish, pasandey, paaye, sultani daal were memorable preparations. The chicken jhalfrezi, balochi, balti, dopiaza, tasted rich and rather different. The beef nihari was rustic and the saag familiar. The discussions on Muhajir or the cuisine of the migrants from various parts of India and its amalgamations were absorbing. Certain preparations were interesting with decorative names, pulao dilruba, shan bihari kebab and fauji keema.
Dal kebabi and Gulati; ghee, fried milk solids and rice dessert were impressive. The Sindh biryani, tahiri and pulao tasted nostalgic. The desserts seemed to have arrived from the popular corner halwai shop and tasted exquisite with the realisation that the gulabjamun, kheer, zarda, halva, shahi tukda, actually came from beyond the Wagah border.
The waft of the fragrant itar was playing on our mind weeks after our colonial cousins were gone.