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Haleem and Hugs: For a true Hyderabadi

Haleem and Hugs: For a true Hyderabadi
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For me, Haleem will always be a Hyderabadi celebration of hugging from the heart. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that being a Hindu having...

For me, Haleem will always be a Hyderabadi celebration of hugging from the heart. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that being a Hindu having been brought up in the North and the East, my exposure to religion and festivals was slightly skewed.

Each festival was associated with some God or the other and the festivities almost always were associated with a special dish, ostensibly that particular God’s favourite. So I knew all about Sankranti, Holi, Ugadi, Ram Navami, Krishnashtami and even Christmas. And celebrated each appropriately.

It was only when we came to Hyderabad that I made my first Muslim friend. Saeed was a classmate from school and a friend who used to live within a walkable/cyclable distance from home. And we soon became friends. And eating at each other’s homes became the norm though when I look back, I must admit that I used to eat more often in his house than he ate at ours.

And the Ansaris became my tutors as far as anything edible and even remotely Muslim was concerned. Every time I dropped in their house Saeed’s mother would welcome me to the dining table where some delicacy or the other always seemed to make a magical appearance. The Biryanis, the curries and yes, the Haleem.

And the Eid, when I had my first Haleem was also the time I first discovered the ultimate gesture of bonhomie…the “dil se galey milna…” the hugging from the heart. Of course, we never thought of Haleem as a Muslim preparation. It was to us a Hyderabadi one. And symbolic of the warmth and love that Hyderabad is known for.

While Saeed still insists that everything I know about Muslim cuisine is all because of the many meals I have had the pleasure of having at their place, and I agree to a large extent…I must acknowledge that Hyderabad gave me enough other friends and homes to experiment and explore.

Plus there was the Irani Hotel culture that was intrinsic to growing up that also got onto the Haleem bandwagon quite early.

In the meanwhile the cuisine endeared itself to me by cropping up at humble homes and Royal Palaces as I was flooded with Eid delicacies like Haleem and Sheer Khorma from Raheem, our office peon; Abdul Nabi, our driver; Nawab and Begum Basheer Yar Jung, parents of Aamer and Saad bin Jung and so many others.

But Haleem always was the dish we had during the festival of friendship that the world called Eid. And so, as I grew up and transformed into a non-vegetarian Brahmin, Biryani and Haleem became staple diets of different seasons and different environments.

When Haleem joints started springing up outside many cafes and in many areas in town, it was the perfect opportunity for us youngsters to get onto our bikes and go Haleem Hopping if there is such a term.

Old City haunts like Shehraan, Madina, Shaadab, Niagra and more in town places like Tehran, Rainbow and Paradise became party zones. And Haleem figured in many of our qualitative and quantitative debates and discussions. Hashim and I used to feel that the love of food was the best fuel to stoke a conversation and the best cement that could bond a friendship.

As we grew up into young executives and then middle management jokers, our network included many households who threw open their doors during Eid and our love affair with Haleem and the accompanying hugs continued.

One congregation that became special was the gathering at theatre Diva Mala Pasha’s home. And that is where the spirit of Haleem can be seen in all its splendour.

Imagine this, Mala, another brought up in Calcutta friend like me, married Asadullah Pasha and embraced the religion just as we all embraced its culture. And her house on Eid days had a table that fed a whole bunch of friends.

It started off with 30 or 40 people who would be our guests, says Mala, but went on to include over 150 people every year. And in spite of the fact that there is a huge tension about being festival ready simply because we don’t know till the last minute when actually the festival is, the celebration is precious and we look forward to seeing most if not all our friends.

Whether we meet often through the year or seldom, the day of Eid we make it a point to call friends over or even go across visiting our elders, she says.

In the meanwhile, the trend of Iftar parties continues. The Governor calls you for one. Your friends call you. Even hotels regularly host these soirees. But who’s complaining? It’s all one big friendship movement. And I for one am enjoying every dimension of it.

So much so that I have had for the past many years a lady who cooks the most amazing Haleem even after Ramzan and gives us an opportunity to relive the festival in the comfort of our homes among friends and family.

For a true Hyderabadi, Haleem and hugging will always be the epitome of “yaarana” and “dosti”. An environment when calling each other Bhai meant that we both belonged to a fraternity, and not to a mafia clan. As I look back at the many avatars of Haleem and the many occasions I have had the pleasure of making its acquaintance I am amused to remember that it was another famous Hindu who had introduced me to this festival and this festive dish…

And I think I am going to look for the story ‘Eidgah’, by Munshi Premchand, which was one of my childhood favourites.

Eid Mubarak my friends. Here’s a hug for each one of you.

By: Vijay Marur
The writer is an advertising and theatre personality, and a seasoned Hyderabadi

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