“I’ll cook”, said I and saying so, very enthusiastically made my way into the kitchen to make Tomato soup or my version of what I thought it was. I am a decent enough cook and I know that if no one else will my brother for sure will vouch for my culinary skills. He'd better, after all the pastas, sandwiches and whatnots I made for him. I was busy chopping, sautéing, pounding, washing and marvelling at the joy cooking gives me. When I am on my cooking spree I am in what some people may refer to as ‘a state’. I tend to be overtly elated, boisterously jovial and am predisposed to overlook the little things around me. For instance how I came skipping out of the kitchen in high spirits balancing a plate full of humungous just washed tomatoes without realising that my uncle who had come home a few minutes back had brought a friend from work along with him. On becoming aware of the new person I sheepishly made my way back into to kitchen mentally admonishing myself for having made an accidental display of my crazy state. Once back in the kitchen I was in the company of my mother who was busy making potato bhajias.
“Who’s that?” I asked her stirring my saucepan full of chopped garlic and onions. “He’s your uncle’s colleague, don’t you know him? He’s come here many a times before and likes your brother a lot!” replied mummy dearest. “Maaaaa” I drawled, “I don’t live here for most part of the year or have you forgotten that now?”
My mother winked and gave me a lopsided smile. We then returned to our specific cooking chores. She went back to frying potato bhajias and I went back to sautéing onions. When the bhajias were done I went to serve the guests with a plate of the same come hot off the stove. The guest smiled fondly and said to my uncle “My daughter too is only as tall as she is”. I smiled sweetly and went back to my chopping at the same time listening to the conversation that ensued between my uncle and his friend. “Ahh, she is now, is she?” How old is your daughter?” and general things like that. Suddenly our guest states forlornly “Daughters grow up too quickly”, which my mother who came out of the kitchen with a fresh batch of bhajias affirmed saying “Yes, you’re absolutely right!
Munching on bhajias my uncle filled in his friend about me, “She studies in India now, in Bombay. All of us go to India on vacation but this girl comes here to vacation!” and saying so they shared a laugh over my mixed up life.”
Listening to him speak I realised he was speaking in Urdu, so he had to be from someplace up North in India and most probably would be a Muslim. He confirmed my hunch by telling my uncle how the same bhajias are made at his house during Ramadan and how his daughter would make yummy kebabs. ‘There comes the daughter again” I thought smiling inwardly. I wondered how much the poor man must be missing home cooked food, his daughter and family who weren’t with him in the UAE ...
“These bhajias are really delicious!” said my uncle’s friend. “Please have some more, don’t hesitate”, persuaded my mother and uncle simultaneously at which our guest took a few more. He seemed to me to be a timid, gentle kind of person with his quiet and considerate countenance and soft spoken voice which had the exotic lilt indigenous to Urdu speaking persons, reminding me of my Pakistani friends from school. I offered him some juice to go with the snacks which he accepted after a lot of cajoling on our part. “Thank you Beta, God bless you” said he with a lot of feeling. He seemed like an amiable soul.
As my mother and I were seeing my uncle and his friend off, we gave them a few more of the bhajias wrapped in tissue on their way out.
“Oh please! There is no need for all this!” exclaimed our guest. “It’s okay, take some for the road.” We said.
Smiling he took it once again reiterating how delectable he found them and how wonderful our garden looked and it was such a pleasure to the eye to witness open green spaces in a country where you associate houses with cooped up flats. We thanked him and after waving them goodbye came back in.
“Where is he from?” I asked my mother. “Kashmir” she said, busy scrubbing vessels. “Yeah, it’s kind of evident from the way he speaks and all.” I replied.
“He’s from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, the one there, not the one in India”, my mom added. “Oh!” I mumbled lost in deep thought while my hands prepared the soup automatically.
I’ve known Pakistanis practically all my life. I’ve had best friends who are Pakistanis at some point of time in my school life or the other. I’ve shared food with them, sat on the same bench, gone on school picnics, cheered for our school houses, fought with them over India-Pak cricket matches, watched the same Indian movies and sang the same bollywood songs. Then at some point of time they opted for the International syllabus whereas I continued with the Indian syllabus. Then we lost touch and they became memories of my childhood. Having lived for the past 3 years in India they have become more of the arch enemies that most Indians in India who have never seen a Pakistani in flesh and blood consider them to be than the friends of my memories.
This particular visit from this man only enumerated certain facts I already was aware of but temporarily forgot.
1) People across the border have daughters they dote on and miss like hell.
2) They are reminded of Pakistani daughters when looking at an Indian girl the same age and not of daggers and knives.
3) They behave like the perfect Indian guest: refuse some, thank a ton, bless a child.
And the most important fact,
4) They too love potato bhajias.......
Yours enjoying the Tomato soup and bhajias,