Growing up in a cosmopolitan shantytown in Bombay like I did meant a world difference from the world as we currently know it.
Most houses were never locked because there was a constant stream of neighbours or a million kids popping in and you couldn’t be bothered to keep opening the door several times an hour.
With the nosy parkers in the neighbourhood keeping track of everyone’s movements and the fact that there wasn’t much to steal anyway kept the houses safe enough.
The advantage with living in a congested ghetto community is that you are never certain in whose house you may be eating dinner or how many friends were going to sleep over. It was a fluid take on a joint family system.
Our parents were always doting and concerned but trusted the neighbours to look after us as their own which was reciprocal when the neighbours children were concerned.
There were no nannies or babysitters because everyone kind of pitched in; the older generation looking after the younger.
Festivals were a big thing! The faith you followed wasn’t important; when you were younger the feasting took precedent and as you grew, feasting closely followed the dressing up part.
None of our families wanted us to continue living in the squalor that we were born into and as our destinies took us our separate ways, the joys of living within a community faded away.
Years passed and my search for a community and an extended, dysfunctional and non-biological family led me to a career in kitchens.
It was in one of my stints in one of my kitchens that I met Khalid.
Khalid was a young Sunni Muslim who was extremely devoted to his faith as most of his ilk.
It was his first job and first Eid celebration post landing the job as a commis in my kitchen.
He was excited! He had saved up enough money to offer his first sacrificial goat for Bakra Eid and wanted to invite the entire kitchen brigade for the feast that was to follow.
This was going to be a spectacular show and we couldn’t have been more grateful than for the chance to celebrate this holy day with him and his family.
Bakra Eid is the more important of the two Eids that fall within the Muslim holy calendar. Eid basically means a celebration and this particular festivity is done to commemorate the absolute obedience that Abraham had to God.
I use the anglicized term Abraham because we stand to have more people familiar with the story and eliminate the requirement of me going into the tinier details.
The story is one that is proverbial for those from the Jewish and Christian faith as well since it appears in their respective holy books.
Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his dearest possession which turned out to be his only son. In his blind obedience, he took his son to the sacrificial altar and just as he was about to land the fatal cut, he found that the Lord was only testing him and God gave him a ram to be sacrificed instead of his son.
Hopefully Khalid wasn’t testing us because some of us hadn’t eaten a bite for at least twelve hours before with the anticipation of what was to come!
That would never happen as we were soon to learn that Khalid’s family and especially his parents were the most generous, large-hearted people to ever grace this earth.
We squatted cross legged on the floor in Khalid’s house and his mother produced an extremely large pan of the most flavourful mutton korma.
It was laid in the centre of us and we all jostled with each other to fill our individual bowls with the perfectly spiced and rich stew.
His mum, who I am only going to refer to as a goddess from now on, served us flaky flatbread parathas and leavened naans to help mop up the sauce.
Till today I haven’t really figured out how that wonderful lady managed to cook that huge quantity in a domestic kitchen.
That wasn’t all; she kept goading us to take refills till our trouser buttons popped!
We could barely get up from our seated position and that’s where the fun started.
Khalid’s parents did not want us to leave! Apparently they had one more course to follow and it was the most amazing mutton biryani which was infused with sandalwood and the traditional screw-pine essence.
I was close to a food induced coma. In fact almost all of us were and we weren’t talking! That’s a true sign of a great meal – no one talks and they just eat!
It was at this point that we realised that we just couldn’t eat anymore. We wanted to but it was physically impossible.
And then came out the grande finale which was a vermicelli kheer which had fine wheat noodles stewed along with dates, assorted dried fruits and nuts in sweetened milk.
I cannot imagine ever eating similar quantities ever again in my life.
I can’t imagine that I may ever manage to get such a wonderful feast again in my life!
It has been eighteen years since we last attacked Khalid’s home at Eid and it has been eighteen years since that I have been celebrating Eid with other families and no one has come even close!
Although I would never want to impose myself, I think it is high time that I get another dose of food made by the goddess.
This article may be the most blatant hint ever published!