A few days after I arrived in Srinagar in June 1968 on my posting I was out walking in the evening on the Residency Road. I had hardly walked a few steps when I heard my name being called out from the other side of the road. Wondering who it could be calling out to me I stopped to look around. Yes, there he was on the other side of the road frantically gesturing to me to cross over. I did that to go and meet Shafi Bakshi and his beautiful wife Naseem. They too were having a stroll on Residency Road when they spotted me.
The Bakshis were family friends in Bhopal. They were friendly with each member of my family. Shafi was a nephew of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and was in charge of their Bhopal outlet of Fairdeal Motors, an outfit I have not heard about for a long time now. Shafi told me that he hollered for me as there was, among other things, a dinner at his place and he and Naseem wanted me to attend. Naseem asked me not to miss it as it was going to be something special.
If I recall Bakshis were four brothers and each had a bungalow. It was a beautiful complex with four spacious bungalows in, if I recall, Badami Bagh with almost a quadrangle of open space in the middle. As a ”special” dinner was in the offing the place was decked up. As I went into the enclosure it was Shafi who met me and took me to his father and then I was taken to Naseem who was supposed to look after me.
A Bakshi dinner in Srinagar had to be a political affair. I, of course, did not know any of them. What struck me was that the then current chief minister Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq was missing. Apparently, he was from a group that was not aligned to Bakshi. Anyway, that was none of my business. What was important for me at that point of time was the food – Kashmiri food, the best of it that money couldn’t buy, perhaps, even in Srinagar.
Kashmiri food traditionally is rice and meat based. The Kashmir Valley grows rice and it has become over centuries the staple of Kashmiris. It is said that in their feasts called Wazwan, the multi-course affair, there is nothing other than meats (of lamb, chicken, beef) but no fish. It is also said that serving lentils in such a feast is nothing short of sacrilege. As meats predominate the cuisine, the use of various kinds of spices with cans of ghee is necessary. This makes the food very rich.
Naseem was standing by a table laden with entry dishes that were being heated by a flame below. She said there were eight kinds of pulaos in those entry dishes. She chose for me what she thought was the best, served a huge quantity to me. I could smell saffron and as the lid was taken off its aroma wafted all around. Then there were other tables loaded with Kashmiri delicacies of mutton and chicken. I remember the famed Goshtaba – the meat-ball curry, yakhni, the mutton curry that is made with yogurt and, of course, rogan josh. What was out of this world was tabakhmaz (Kashmiri Hindus call it qabragah) which was a dry fried dish of ribs of a goat. I wouldn’t know how it was cooked. Naseem told me it took quite a lot of time. It was delectable. In fact Kashmiri mutton dishes are cooked with a lot of patience. Goshtaba, I recall needs mutton to be beaten into kind of a paste for making balls which are then further processed with myriad spices to create the fascinating dish.
Naseem was a very good hostess and she egged me on to eat as she kept serving me king-sized helpings of pulao and meats. She filled me up so much that I had to refuse the sweet of which there were many kinds and bid good bye to her and Shafi. I came back home with my midriff bursting at the seams with lots of pulao and meat. I have always been a small eater but that evening I was literally stuffed to the gills.
I slept off with a heavy stomach. Next morning I skipped breakfast as I didn’t feel like taking it. I did not feel hungry at lunch time too. The stuff at Shafi’s was so rich that enzymes in my metabolic system proved unequal to its richness.