I had graduated with a Master’s degree in Urdu from the Moscow State University and joined the Moscow Radio. Shahida invited me to her house where I met Ranjit Basu, her husband and a senior broadcaster too and tasted Indian cuisine for the first time and loved it. This was before my first visit to India in the autumn of 1967, the same year. I spent several months in India to improve upon my language skill.
|Shahida on the left and others|
It was in Lucknow, one evening at a reception held in the Rotary Club where an elaborate buffet was laid out1. I knew I would love the food because I had tasted Indian cuisine in Shahida’s home and therefore piled my rather large plate generously with all that was on offer. I put a spoonful in my mouth and the intensity of the spices struck me and I froze. I could neither swallow nor spew the food out; the experience of Shahida’s delicate cooking was clearly not enough to prepare me for this onslaught. An elderly Indian gentleman saw me and understood my predicament. He came up to me and asked me to keep still. He returned with half a lemon and asked me to open my mouth and as I did so, he squeezed the juice inside. I felt my breath back. His words of advice were that I must never take water or tea with hot spicy Indian food. It must always be a squeeze of lemon!
|Jelani sitting in the centre, Anwar on my right|
I agreed to travel to Hyderabad since I still had a week before the conference was to begin. But the problem was getting an air ticket to Hyderabad in short notice. It was very expensive for me to buy as a foreigner. Intervention at the highest level of the Indian government followed and with the special permission from none other than the Prime Minister of India, I.K.Gujral, I was offered a ticket at the local rate that my hosts in Hyderabad paid for. My stay and the TV shooting went off very well and it was time for me to return to Delhi. Jelani was, however, a little unhappy because she wanted me to visit her brother who I had met in Moscow. He was a well-known Physicist and according to his doting sister, was also celebrated for making the best biryani in Hyderabad. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make time and instead of taking me to his uncle’s place, Farhan, Jelani’s son had to drive me to the airport not before feeding me to idlis that I just love4.
- Lucknow, a city in North India which is also the capital of the province, Uttar Pradesh.
- Daal is made of various kinds of pulses, cooked like a soup; samosa is a snack of savoury filled patty; biryani is rice and meat cooked together with spices.
- Hyderabad, more than 1500 km south of the Indian capital New Delhi, is at present the capital of Telangana.
- Steamed, savoury rice cake.
- An Urdu saying that is applicable to life and human destiny as well, as Anwar explained to the author.