By Maliha Khan
The fragrance of jasmine flowers pervaded the air as one entered the multi-purpose hall of the India International Centre in New Delhi. It was filled with book and food lovers who had come for the launch of Sadia Dehlvi’s recent book Jasmine & Jinns – Memories & Recipes of My Delhi.
As one made their way around the corner, they were greeted with the aroma of fresh pakkorras served with the evening chai over lively conversations with strangers and friends alike.
The evening began with a dastangoi by Fouzia Dastango and Fazal Rashid who were immaculately dressed in white chicken kari ensembles, ready to take their audience through a mouth-watering journey with Dastan Ghummi Kebabi Ki. Adapted from Ashraf Subuhi Dehelvi’s Dilli Ki Chand Ajeeb Hastiyan, this dastan created an intimate portrait of old Delhi of the 1930s. As Fouzia and Fazal narrated the story of people flocking over to savour Ghummi’s finger-licking kebabs and his equally flavourful Urdu, one was transported to purani Dilli, where food meets language and culture in a magical union. The audience, transfixed at the edge of their seats waiting for the dastan to unfold, couldn’t stop themselves from appreciating the beautifully inserted couplets with their waah waahs.
Before the stage was set for the conversation with the author, Sadia Dehlvi, her son Arman’s music teacher and Dhrupad exponent, Ustaad F Wasifuddin Dagar graced the audience with his poem onDilli with exquisite wordplay and delightful tongue-in-cheek humour. With the dastangoi and shairi setting the mood for the evening, Yunus Dehlvi, Sadia’s father who once edited the famous Urdu monthly, Shama magazine, released the book. Sadia then took the stage with two of her best friends, Mayank Austen Soofi and Rakhshanda Jalil, for what seemed like one of their animated drawing discussions, albeit with an audience this time.
Sadia took the audience down a nostalgia-filled lane of her childhood and memories of food, which are typical of Dilli walas. The discussion flowed into anecdotes linked to reminiscences of her days at the Shama Kothi, where mushairas, qawwalis and large receptions were held. Since Shama magazine had both film and literary content, Sadia spoke of how film personalities and literary stalwarts were forever in and out of her home.
As Sadia recounted stories of hand beaten aam doodh made with sarauli aam in the summers, picnics in Mehruli during the monsoon with hari mirch qeema, aam chutney with besani roti, and monsoon snacks like gulgulay and anarsay ki goli, the eyes of all Delhi wallas lit up in the room. The author remembered her loving caretaker Aapa Saeeda, who taught her how to cook and offered rich advice (hikmat) on various foods and their effects (taaseer). She also spoke about how Delhi’s food culture has changed over the years with the arrival of Punjabis after the Partition.
Someone from the audience enquired about the story behind the title of the book, Jasmine and Jinns, which opened up tales of the supernatural beings that co-existed peacefully with the author and her family in the Shama Kothi. With the Q&A wrapping up the vigorous discussion, the guests were invited to enjoy some juicy kebabs, aloo tikki, gulab jamuns and other refreshments. It was a heart-warming evening filled with food and memories!
The author remembered her loving caretaker Apa Saeeda, who taught her how to cook and offered rich advice on various foods and their effects. She also spoke about how Delhi’s food culture has changed over the years with the arrival of Punjabis after Partition