Get ready for tea!
By FS Khanzai
“DOLO!!!!! GET UP! AND GET OUT OF BED NOW! OR SWEAR TO GOD!!!”
“Ammaa what’s your problem nah??? It’s not even 12 O’ clock! Let me sleep for another hour please!”
Dolo replied to her mother’s rising voice and tantrum over her sleep pattern yet again very groggily. After all, it isn’t every day you get holidays for such a long time after such a long time too…she got free from her graduation three month ago and since then she had long holidays …actually all she had now was a HOLIDAY! She had no intention of going back to the nightmare called ‘university’!
Why do girls even want to go there? All you do there is take classes like a kid in school because if you don’t, you lose grade points and the professors insult you in such exaggerated vocabulary that you do not understand that you’re being insulted till someone starts snickering behind you.
She had always thought university would be a Bollywood representation of life at its fullest and liveliest with wind blowing her hair to reveal her pretty face every morning and handsomest creatures called heroes in the background jumping over each other to reach her first. But sadly, it turned out to be a black and white Lollywood Classic with chocolate heroes all busy in trying to complete their graduation so that they could go to their mummies and tell them proudly,
‘Maa, I’ve done my graduation! Now I’ll become a grand officer and we’ll marry my sister with proper dowry! Bus tu tiyariker’
And the classic curvaceous babe ….. in shirt too tight to breath and still look modest … in this version would typically be those girls with no brains and all money; they would be in university to look for eligible boys for themselves who would not only be ‘Intihaee Shareef’ but middle class too…yes, our chocolate heroes! And Dolo, well she was the girl who would be shown in the classic every now and then just because they cannot show the empty classroom, there’s got to be ‘people’ in the scene! The curvaceous babe would invite her to her birthday just because she was inviting the whole class and she was one of them. And even though Dolo had a lot prettier face than all the PEOPLE around, she just didn’t know how to make it the center of attention while fulfilling her Amma’s desire/threat of her becoming a first business graduate beti of the family. And that she did……without getting a protruded belly and losing her hair … and without failing once too.
Thus according to her, she deserved to sleep late at night after binge watching all the famous serials she had missed due to her never ending mid-terms and finals. She deserved to be served breakfast in bed after getting up at her own will while her Amma was trying to find a perfect groom for her which she was being promised if she didn’t do any hanky-panky in four years of her degree.
The-oh-so-perfect-groom was Amma’s incentive of getting Dolo through her business degree and winning ‘the bet’ from her bhabi who said that no daughter of Amma could do what her oh-so-perfect-son had done! (after Amma refused to marry 16 year old Dolo with that oh-so-perfect-son of her bhabi’s who was a BBA).
So the hunt was on!
And today was another such day when another possible oh-so-perfect-groom with his oh-so-perfect-family was coming to see our very own Dolo. Thus Amma had all the right to be in such tempers. After all, she is the one who issued a fatwa long time ago that the only thing Dolo would do in that house was sit and study…she would be free from all the house chores and responsibilities till she completes her graduation……and that Dolo did, but only then did Amma realize that her first business graduate beti of the family doesn’t even know how to make a decent tea! Her only ambition in life after matriculation was to graduate and now Amma had realized that her daughter was oh-not-so-perfect-bride.
But her bhabi was breathing down her neck and all she wanted was to find that gem whom she would brandish in front of her bhabi along with a 24 carat ring in Dolo’s finger! Tea or no tea, handi-roti or no handi-roti, Dolo will get married to a perfect guy, Amma had decided!
“DOLO! Wake up and get ready! They’ll be here at 1! NOW!”
Dolo woke up with a start! She would have been nervous or horrified even if it had been her first time, or the second, or the third but it was umpteenth! She sat up in her bed, took a deep sigh and prayed to God for just one thing only:
“Ya Allah! Please make Amma prepare pakoras with imli ki chatni! And Kashmiri chai! Bus!”
Mrs Shaheen Janbaaz was sitting attentively in her light blue sari on the beige sofa of her lounge. The queer expression on her serious face was accentuated by her deep frown. She breathed deeply and then exhaled through her nose looking at the figure standing a few feet away, in front of her: Sher Janbaaz, her only son!
“How many times I’ve told you Sheroo to be man?” she asked calmly as if she was asking about the weather.
“Countless times Mama!”Sheroo spoke in a small voice.
“And do you listen?”
He thought for a moment and then, “Never Mama!”
“What do you think I am upset at now?” Mrs Janbaaz doesn’t miss anything, not even a single moment’s delay.
Sher Janbaaz took a glimpse at himself. He looked handsome! But what could be wrong with his attire? He was wearing a dress shirt, sky blue, his mother’s favourite. He was wearing a dress pant, black, as his mother likes. He was wearing the silver and black cufflinks his mother brought for the occasion and he was wearing black shoes too with black socks because Mama always said that socks must match the shoes and shoes must always be black.
‘Your father always wore black socks with black shoes!’ she would say with tears in her eyes.
Baba died when Sheroo was five, since then Mrs Janbaaz was both mother and father for Sheroo. She never remarried and made sure Sheroo learned everything his father excelled at. Mr Janbaaz was a master chef in city’s top hotel and wanted to open his own restaurant one day. He died in a kitchen fire burning down the hotel as well. Mrs Janbaaz promised herself and her dead husband that his dream would be fulfilled by Sheroo. And as planned, after matriculation, she sent him to cooking school and later he apprenticed many top master chefs of the country to become a master chef himself in his own restaurant.
They were doing very well when one day, Sheroo’s birthday cake candles reminded Mrs Janbaaz that her son was the same age now when his father got married. And thus, with tear in her eyes she told Sheroo, that it was time he got married. Sheroo who lived only to make her mother proud, smiled and turned a rich shade of tomato.
Mrs Janbaaz was sure that Sheroo could get any girl she would put finger on, but that didn’t happen.
“There is something seriously wrong with this society!” She roared one day. “Since when are people after degrees? What about the skill and character? How dare they reject my Sheroo saying that he is not educated enough? Look at their daughters! What do they have?”
“Mama!”Sheroo would remind her of her being a woman in just one word.
“Oh, all right. See, this is how I have brought you up. You can’t let your mother say anything bad about a girl who has rejected you! I am so proud of you Sheroo, don’t you forget that. And don’t you lose heart. I will look for a better girl for you, she will be a gem…she will be perfect for you and proud of what you do. You know that right?”
“Yes Mama, I know.” And Sheroo did know that her mother loved him too much even if sometimes he felt she should not.
“But if someone will call you a baavarchi next time, I swear I am going to make them eat ****!”
“Dang it! Sorry Beta!”
And today was another fateful day for our young well-to-do chocolate hero who had never been to university and had never been burdened with the dowry of a sister. He was standing tall and handsome in front of his mother ready to go and being looked at by the whole family of strangers at tea and eat fried food from their local general store which probably would have bought used cooking oil from his restaurant to fry those not-too-fresh samosas.
“I can’t think of anything you’re upset at Mama, sorry.”
“UFFFFFFFF Ya Allah!” She thumped her forehead with her palm. “Sheroo, tuck in the shirt!”
“Oh!” and Sheroo obeyed, how could he forget to tuck his shirt inside his pants? May be he was nervous.
“Let’s go!” Mrs Janbaaz was ready now.
“Dolo, I am warning you! If you touched one pakora in front of them, I will slaughter you myself on coming Eid instead of a goat,” announced Amma vehemently pointing her lethal index finger lethally at Dolo who made a crying face with quivering lips like a baby as always.
“Don’t you dare make your baby face in front of them too!! You are already over educated and I don’t want you to get over age too. So you listen to me: you will repeat what I say. Promise me!”
“Fine! I promise I will repeat what you say!”
“And you will not eat pakoras!”
“Jani, I will give you the whole plate after they leave, but the way you eat pakoras greedily like a shaitaan, trust me, it’s not a sight for the eyes of your prospective susraal.”
“But why not? I will eat pakoras after marriage too nah Amma!”
“I don’t care if you eat pakoras whole day after marriage but remember last time, you had your mouth full of pakoras every time they asked you a question. Sona, it doesn’t look decent!”
“MashaAllah, your daughter is a BBA and first girl in the family too to accomplish it, you must be really proud.” Said Mrs Janbaaz while sipping the tea which she must say was first class.
“It was just my wish that she study business.” Replied Amma, smiling ear to ear.
“My son also became a chef to make me proud and fulfill his father’s dream. I haven’t seen many obedient kids these days, but I am always thankful to Allah that He gave me an obedient son.”
“This is indeed a great blessing. I know it was hard for Dolo, I mean, Jahan-Ara, we call her Dolo, nickname by her dada ji, may God bless his soul, he was a pious man and patient too like Dolo, she never once said she didn’t want to do it even though she cried before all her papers.”
“MashaAllah, beta what do you do these days?”
Being presented with a challenge, our heroine looked at Amma.
“She is learning how to cook these days. Tell them beta!”
“I am learning how to cook these days Aunty!” she delivered with a smile looking greedily at the pakora which Mrs Janbaaz was dipping in the imli sauce.
“And what do you cook best?” asked Sheroo politely with his eyes on the heavenly pakora in his fingers …… without whose recipe he would not leave this house today, he had decided.
While Amma was thinking what to reply, Dolo’s cup of patience tilted and she gasped sadly, “Pakoray!” and moved her hand unconsciously towards the dish of pakoras. Her fingers touched Sheroo’s fingers as they both seem to have selected the same pakora to eat. Now, once Dolo selects a pakora, she never gets back.
“Dolo!” came a soft warning from her mother, but Dolo had crossed the threshold of endurance the moment her fingers had landed on that round, mouthwatering pakora.
“I will let you have it if you tell me the recipe!” For the first time in his life, Sher Janbaaz looked a girl in the eyes with conviction and greed both, but for the recipe.
“Amma!”Dolo made her baby face and looked at her mother. Amma had had it. Bus! She took the targeted pakora from the dish and gave it to her Dolo.
“I am sorry beta, she doesn’t cook anything. And nor is she learning to cook.”
Dolo smiled at everyone and ate the heavenly delight in her hand while Amma looked at her embarrassingly, but lovingly too.
“But she knows everything else, washing, cleaning, a little bit of embroidery too, it was her hobby in school, but business education was tough for her. I hope you understand.”
“Why are you saying sorry sister?” said Mrs Janbaaz with a renewed interest in her eyes. “I exactly knew the same things when I got married to Sheroo’s father. I myself am a business graduate. Who do you think look after all the accounts and banking details? Me!” She was almost laughing now and picked up the whole dish of pakoras and handed it to Dolo who took it in her hands, but for the first time in her life was so shocked that she forgot to eat.
“I was brought up in a family of chefs and then married in one too. Women in my family never cook. It’s always the men. Women however have to be really good at accounts to do the rest you see…. Cooking and especially cooking for a professional kitchen is no small feat. When I was leaving home today I had no idea that I would find a perfect match for my son. I hope you’ve found a perfect match too for your Dolo?”
Sheroo smiled shyly at his mother and then looked at Dolo. Our heroine looked at the chocolate boy and did something she had never done in her life. She offered him a pakora from her dish!
“You mean our Dolo. She is your daughter now too!” Amma smiled at Dolo with tears in her eyes and kissed her forehead.
Mrs Janbaaz took out a 24 carat gold and diamond ring from her bag and gave it to Sheroo.
Our chocolate hero took the ring and Dolo… with Amma’s permission…brought her hand forward.
Later, the world’s best home-made pakoras recipe was shared along with some love, laughter, pakoras and some more tea.