“I am off to Mosque Road to bring ‘haleem’,” my wife said a few hours before curfew. As she is a foodie, nothing deters her, not even coronavirus.
She has been on the trail of the perfect haleem ever since she had eaten it in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at a Kashmiri restaurant.
That dish was delicately spiced with saffron, chunks of meat that melted in the mouth, all in a sort of goulash of pounded wheat and lentils. She has never ever found one again with the same taste and consistency, either in Little India in Toronto, or in India, the mother country.
Mosque Road is a food lover’s paradise in Bengaluru, India’s IT hub in the south of the country, and here you get food (non-vegetarian mainly) ranging from Mughlai, with its Persian and Turkish cuisine adapted to the hot Indian climate. Here, you can snarf on flaky, mince meat samosas and other pastries, that may have originated in the Mediterranean and the Levant, to the now popular Arab Gulf ‘Mandi’, a huge platter of lamb and rice.
Month of forgiveness, charity, piety
But you could have indulged at this food street a year ago, a time that has been lost somewhere in a warp called life ‘before coronavirus’.
Ramadan or Ramzan (as it is called in the subcontinent) is a month of forgiveness, charity, immense piety, regimentation, and of course, food, as one has to intermittently fast from dawn to dusk.
Ever since the pandemic and the spread of coronavirus, the new flu virus that attacks all your vital organs and in many cases leaves one gasping for breath, mankind had put its life on hold and sequestered itself in their homes, and that also affected Ramadan, a very important festival for Muslims worldwide.
Nights turn into day
Ramadan generally turns the nights into day, as everyone shops till the early hours of the morning as women shop for what they would wear on Eid, and kids play games for hours in video parlours.
Men do their usual stuff, but this time in the middle of night — stuff such as sitting and smoking shisha and drinking tea and playing backgammon. If you are an outgoing family, then everybody does this thing of smoking, playing games under a faux tent that has been erected, not in the desert, but in a five-star hotel.
Before playing camping in the hotel, men go for prayers after iftar (the breaking of the fast) for late night prayers and the voice of thousands reciting the Quran reverberates from the mosques, through the alleyways and the busy, lit up neighbourhoods.
Since food is an integral part of the month, doctors would warn people every year about dyspepsia, bloating and overeating, because after a daylong fast of nearly 13 hours, people could not resist the buffets overloaded with mouth-watering foods and gorgeous desserts.
But sadly, all that is in the past now. Still, it is a good thing that one part of the festivities is missing; the moaning and groaning at clinics by greedy gourmands.
My wife came back with kilos of ‘haleem’ in plastic containers. “It is a bit oily,” she said. “I told the man not to pour oil on top and he was miffed,” she said. The man apparently said with disdain in his voice that, “It is not oil, it is ghee.”
And you just cannot hurt the feeling of an Indian chef by telling him that ghee or clarified butter is bad for health and that it clogs up the arteries.
It is a good thing that Ramadan comes once every year as it not only teaches empathy, to feel for the poor and the hungry, but also helps one to detox.
— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi