As the day dawns, a groan escapes me. These aches and pains refuse to go. I blame it on ageing. When I know that it is heartache! While the world around me goes into a frenzy, it’s only mundane for me now.
Nothing much happens. But that wasn’t the case when Altaf Bhai* was alive.
I can see him now, settling himself on the diwan* in the veranda and hollering, “Begum*, my tea. I am already late.”
And poor Amina Begum would come rushing, a cup of tea and breakfast in hand.
Altaf Bhai owned a huge cloth store in the popular Old Nakhas Market in Lucknow. Famous for its rich collection of fabrics, his store was renowned and he was well respected. His was the second generation and hoped someday that his son Khairu would take over.
Those were the days! Khairu would rush out with his Abbajaan*, off to school and Amina Begum’s day would be packed with cleaning and keeping an eye on the elderly Badi Ammi*. But her real domain was the kitchen. Oh, the heavenly smells wafting up from the kitchen at all times!
Amina Begum prided herself on being a master. The daughter of a well-known catering business owner, she was trained by one. I have also heard that Amina Begum won Altaf Bhai’s heart the very first time with her special Paya ki Nihari*.
I can visualize her in the kitchen now, instructing the maid to chop or dice this, grind that. Her eyes like a surgeon’s, critically assessing each ingredient and adjusting where required. From Kebabs* to Rogan Josh*, she knew all recipes by heart. Sundays were dedicated to her special Lucknowi Biryani* and the house was full of relatives and well-wishers, only to experience Amina Begum’s cooking.
I recall how Altaf Bhai would smack his lips in joy after devouring the galawati* and tunday* kebabs and say, “Begum, I could kiss your hands now,” and how Amina Begum would blush!
But all that remains are echoes of the past.
I now stand alone. Empty. Derelict. Neglected.
Khairu moved to greener pastures abroad, showing no interest in the family business. Altaf Bhai also passed away soon of a broken heart. Left with no choice, Amina Begum followed her son to settle in the cold winter grounds of Ireland. She has no hopes of ever setting foot on her motherland again.
You often hear me crying when I look at the peeling paint, the rotting furniture, the musty smells, the unused sil-batta* lying in the corner and shelves lined with utensils. My walls now bereft of their prized possessions ‘the memories’, stand bare like a widow.
I recently overheard Mazhar Bhai, our neighbour mention that Khairu’s daughter has been planning to visit her Abbajaan’s childhood home.
Are those her footsteps I hear in the verandah outside? They pause and stop at the door before they retreat. Ahh, maybe not then!
Well, Tomorrow’s Another Day! I am sure that she will come. Someday soon.
Bhai – Brother.
Diwan – An Indian style backless sofa or couch.
Begum – Wife.
Abbajaan – Father.
Badi Ammi – Often used to refer to an elderly lady of the house like grandmother or mother in law.
Paya ki Nihari – A stew made from goat’s meat and trotter(paya), traditional Indian delicacy.
Kebabs – A dish made from pieces of meat or vegetables, skewered and grilled.
Rogan Josh – An Indian dish of curried meat, typically lamb in a rich tomato-based gravy.
Lucknowi Biryani – Traditional Indian delicacy made of rice and meat with various spices.
Galawati and Tunday Kebabs – Varieties of Kebabs.
Sil-batta – Mortar and Pestle.
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