Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My visit to an Indian Fair: Halwa, Haleem, Biryani and Books

The Halwa-Paratha seller in the fair
Across the country wherever I have attended fairs, halwa-paratha is the most ubiquitous sight.

More so in North India. If you take urbane friends who haven't been to small towns and seen such fairs, they are quite amused and excited by such shops and the desi delicacies.

Seeing the size of the huge oily paratha my friend remarked, 'yaar cholestrol badh jaayega' [it will raise cholestoral level]. Instantly came the reply from a bystander.

An old man with a long beard who was listening gave him a piece of advise, 'khaoge to sab hazam ho jaayega, sochoge to diabetes ho jaayegi' [If you eat, the stomach will take care of every thing, if you think this much you will suffer from diabetes].

Haleem or Khichda: It's different from the Hyderabadi Haleem
The halwa is tasty and you can't get it anywhere else other than such fairs.

Second comes the Biryani Deg. In the pix, just see the kids, one of them has got a cucumber with chutney on it and another having an ice-cream.

Apart from Haleem, Kababs and other food articles, stall of Urdu books are also a permanent feature at fairs in towns with substantial Muslim population.

Over the years I have noticed the decline in titles. In the past one could get all sorts of books, novels, poetry and literature but now religious books form the major chunk of them. Books that scare the hell out of you with their titles alone!!!

The authentic kebabs: Not cooked on gas stove
Book on Etiquette of Sexual intercourse

Not surprisingly, books about Azab-e-Qabr and Qayamat mein kya hoga [What will happen in afterlife, once you die] seem to sell most.

Also, Aadab-e-Mubashrat [Etiquettes of Sexual intercourse], Jinsi Masail and Paanch Gunahgar Auratein [Five sinful women] are most commonly found at every fair that I have attended in the last couple of years.

And then their are calendars, diaries and almanacs (jantri) that sell a lot. Coming back to Halwa Paratha makers. 

Their paraphernalia is most impressive and whenever I see them, I recall the basic reader of Maulvi Ismail Merathi, which was widely used to learn Urdu till recent past. 

It was around 1979-80 when I read it and the Urdu primer [set of five books] that had seen umpteen editions over a century, remained same until then and still mentioned that 'bachcho, hamare mulk ka darul-hukuumat Kalkatta hai'.

Biryani Hazir Hai Janab!
As the books were perfect for learning and teaching Urdu, with cute Nazms [poems] on Gaai (Cow) and Panchakki, publishers never felt the need to revise them.

Hence, the old chapter of Calcutta being capital of India [it was capital of British India until 1911] continued seven decades later.

I have drifted from the subject, I know. But it was in these text books, we read Zo for Zuroof and the sight of Halwa-Paratha shops reminds me of my childhood.

Few words start from Zo in Urdu, as there are three other letters for this sound viz. Ze, Zaal and Zwaad. Along with Zuroof, the picture of stylish 'surahis' and royal cutlery lasted on my mind.

Urdu books & digests at a stall
I forgot the Seekh ke Kabab. Where you can get the authentic ones these days? 

Particularly, the Kababs that are cooked on slow burning coal. Hand-held fan used to push up the flame.

Though in a way all these fairs are same from Badaun to Barabanki. 

But they do have a different feel, an earthy touch of real country, away from the neon-lit multi-storeyed landscape of urban India.

[I used my cellphone camera and that's the reason, the quality of photos is not good]