Eid dinner with a General, a queen and a visionary.
I have been waiting for this Eid dinner for a long time. Eid is about coming together, joyful hugs, happy conversations and above all, eidi - a token of love and appreciation sealed in a beautiful envelope. However, on this dream Eid dinner date I am hoping my eidi will be different and worth saving for the rest of my life.
The invitations were sent out 10 days in advance via a telegram and all three guests confirmed immediately, barring one who disagreed on the eight o’clock dinnertime. “It’s too early, I like to ‘come’ late!” was her exact response. She wakes up late and takes her time to get in the mood and like always, I had to oblige… who wouldn’t for a queen?
I was more nervous about General Zia as he is known to be punctual, so I had to be there before him and my other guests. The terrace of Lahore Fort never looked this majestic, overlooking the beautiful Heera Mandi. The waiter whispered in my ear that Guru Dutt will also be late as he was unable to find ‘the beverage of his choice’ on Eid day and was seen lurking in the narrow lanes of Bazaar-e-Husn asking for sharaab aur shabab. All this despite the fact that I had made adequate provision: room temperature water for Madam Noor Jehan, scotch for Dutt sahab and Rooh Afza for General Zia.
The General was on time and deeply concerned about the presence of Heera Mandi so close to a mosque. Although he tried hard, no mufti was willing to issue a fatwa against the bazaar. I attempt to explain the role of Heera Mandi in our world of fine and applied arts, but General sahab is against the idea of any sort of art; in his opinion art breeds vulgarity and artists promote that vulgarity. “Tauba tauba!” he says, as he picks up the menu and feels better upon finding galwat kai kabab, nihari in asli ghee with nulli, dum ka qeema, mutton yakhni (potli) pulao, kurkuri bhindi with toasted almonds, hari mirchoon ka salan and bhagra raita.
Guru Dutt walks in with a half empty bottle of scotch in a kurta pajama and immediately asks the General: “Tan ki bhook jaiz hai tu phir munn ki kyon nahin? Nihari tan ki bhook mitati hai aur Noori [Noor Jehan] munn ki!” (if the body’s hunger is not illicit, then why is hunger of the soul not allowed? Nihari satiates the hunger of the body and Noor Jehan the hunger of the heart!”
Disgruntled, General Zia looks at me… to calm the situation I quickly pour him a glass of Rooh Afza. He sips and says: “Rooh ki gurmi mitata hai rooh afza” (“Rooh Afza wipes away the hunger of the soul”) and right on cue, Madam Noor Jehan enters the conversation wrapped in a gold chiffon sari with a non-Shariah complaint décolleté and a cheeky response:
“Rooh ki gurmi to mai bhi mitati hoon, shairi bhi mitati hai aur dance bhi... phir aap nai Faiz Sahab aur Naheed Siddiqui aur Master Ghunsham ko kyon mulk badar kya?” (“I can satisfy the hunger of the soul as does poetry and dance… so why did you force Faiz Sahab, Naheed Siddiqui and Master Ghansham to leave the country?”)
General Zia clears his throat, declaring “woh Shariah ki khilaf hain.” (“they are against Shariah!”)
Biting into a galawat ka kabab Dutt sahab asks” Saans laina bhi Shariah kai khilaf hai?” (“is breathing against Shariah as well?”)
I ignore the question and offer him ravay maiday kai parathay. He looks at Madam Noor Jehan as she sips her water inquiring: “ Aapne bangla jaanain?’ (“do you know Bengali?”)
Taking a spoonful of mirchi ka salan she responds “Bolna nahin aati, pur samjh laiti hoo. Zia ko na Bengali bolna aati hai na samjh aati hai.” (I can understand it. General Zia can neither speak nor understand it.”
Zia sahab, devouring his second helping of qeema, pauses before informing Dutt sahab that alcohol is banned in our country because “Sharab aur tumam nasha awar cheezain huram hain.” (“alcohol and anything that causes intoxication are haram.”)
Dutt sahab takes an even bigger gulp: “Nasha to power mai bhi hai, ussko aap nai haram kyon nahin kaha?”(power is intoxicating too, why don’t you say that is haram as well?”)
Madam fixed her pullo, nudges my shoulder: “Meri jaan, illaichi hai?” (my darling, do you have cardamom?”) I offer her silver foiled covered illaichi. She holds my chin and says “Sohna hai pur udaas hai" (you are good looking, but sad.”)
Iss Eid pur sab udaas hain, sab bund hai, hur taraf covid pahla hai” is my reply. (“Everyone is sad on this Eid, everything is closed and COVID is everywhere.”)
She smiles at General Zia: “Pehle bhi kaafi daffa bohat kuch bund kya gaya....phir kuch genraloon ko bund karwaya gaya kuch khud hi bund hogaye… aur dunya chalti rahi.” (“many things were closed down before, then some generals were imprisoned, some went into hiding … and yet the world continued to function.”)
Dutt sahab offers his bottle saying “COVID lungs ko kahtam karta hai, dil phir bhi mehfooz hai… hukumut nachnay pai fatwa jari karsakti hai, dil mai naach ka shauq rakhnay pur nahin.” (“COVID destroys the lungs, but the heart remains intact… The government can put a fatwa on dance but not the urge to dance that is alive in the heart.”)
We end the night under a starry sky praising the gajar ka halwa that came with extra khoya courtesy the halwai from Heera Mandi. .
Syed Yawar Iqbal is ECD, JWT|GREY Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org