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Archive for March, 2013

Kheloongi Holi ( I shall play Holi)

Published in Express Tribune Blogs here >


Phagwa, more commonly known as Holi, celebrated on the full moon day of Phalgun, is a festival that heralds the arrival of spring. Played with dry and wet color, it is a symbolic expression for the changing temperatures and the blossoming fields.

Since very young, on the morning of Holi, I saw my Muslim parents being called at the gates of our house in Delhi, by a group of faces immersed in colors, who all looked almost identical. As my parents walked out, they were enthusiastically smeared with color by the crowd, and they too lost their identity with crowd.  It left no clue as to who was who, when they roared together with laughter and excitement.  As we siblings grew up, we joined in too, with our set of friends.

Holi, as I envision it,  is a perfect way to depict a spirit of universal brotherhood beyond color, creed, caste or social status.

If  taken in it’s true spirits, Holi never was and never is meant to be a religious festival to be celebrated by a select faith.

Though, like other religious festivals, it too claims a legend with a victory of the good over the evil ( The Story of Holika). However, from the context of its current celebration, it is said to have begun by the love duo Krishna and Radha.
Krishna as a young boy, being extremely dark complexioned, complained to his mother Yashoda, why was he dark, while his beloved Radha fair?

The conversation between a complaining son, and  his doting mother,  is  narrated beautifully, in a famous folk song:

Yashomati mayya sey bole Nand Lala,
Radha kyun gori, main kyun kala?
Boli muskaati Mayya, Sun merey pyaare,
Gori gori Radhika ke, nain kajrare,
Kaale nainon waali ney, aisa jadu dala,
Tuu isee liye  kaala.

(Krishna asks mother Yashoda: “Why am I dark, while Radha is so fair?”
Mother  smiles and replies: “Listen my dear, the fair Radha’s kohl eyes have swept you with their magic, and hence are you so dark.)

And one day teasingly to console Krishna she is said to have told him: “What’s in a color? Go and smear Radha’s face with any color you like.”
And Krishna out of love for Radha, smeared her with red color( gulaal).

Legend claims that  thus began  the playing of colors ( Holi khelna), between Krishna and Radha along with her friends referred to as Gopis.

Their romance with playing Holi has been immortalized in many miniature painting s:

Another one, with in Mughal art:

Mughal Emperors  too fancied Holi, for its association with color and romance. They brought the practice of playing Holi to their courts and palaces.

Akber is no surprise, knowing his secular conviction and a Hindu Queen, Joda Bai.

Jehangir, the romantic art connoisseur, is documented to have played Holi with his Queen Noor Jehan in his palace and called it Eid-e-Gulabi. It isnt hard to imagine the ecstatic aroma and aura that must have been created in the palace by red gulaal,  rose petals ( gulab paashi) and   rose water (aab paashi) being sprinkled during the royal play.

Auranzeb’s fancy for the colors of Holi came as a surprise to me. Writes Lane Poole in biography Auranzeb: “During his time there used to be several groups of Holi singers who besides reciting libertine lyrics also indulged in salaciousness, accompanied by various musical instruments.”

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s verses on Holi now are sung as part of the phaag ( folk songs of Holi). One of the most sung verses being:

Kyo Mo Pe Rang Ki Maari Pichkaari
Dekho Kunwar Ji Doongi Mein Gaari
(Why drench me with color spray,
now my prince, I will swear at you)

Bahut Dinan Mein Haath Lage Ho Kaise Jane Doon
Aaj Phagwa To Son Ka Tha Peeth Pakad Kar Loon.
After long have you come in my hands, how will I let you go?
Today is Holi, and perfect time to catch hold of you)

This is Mughal Emperor Jehangir playing Holi in his palace:

Sufi poets too eulogized the Radha Krishna romance and Holi, when expressing their love for their revered Sufi Saints or even God.

To begin with  Sufi poets, it is Shah Niaz’s ‘s Hori Ho Rahi hai, (immortalized by Abida Parveen):

Holi hoye rahi hai Ahmad Jiya ke dwaar
Hazrat Ali ka rang bano hai Hassan Hussain khilaar
Aiso holi ki dhoom machi hai chahoon or pari hai pukaar
Aiso anokho chatur khiladi rang deeyon sansaar
“Niaz” pyaara bhar bhar chidke ek hi raang sahas pichkaar.

(Holi is happening at beloved, Ahmed’s (saww) doorsteps.
Color has become of Hazrat Ali (as) and Hasan (as), Hussain (as) are playing.
It has become such a bustling scene of Holi that it has become talk of the town,
people are calling others from all over,
What unique and clever players (Hasan and Hussain) that they colored the entire world.
Niaz (the poet) sprinkles bowlfuls of color all around,
the same color that comes out of thousands of pichkaaris ( spray guns).)
{Thanks to Ali Rehman @Baahirezaman for the translation}.

Bulleh Shah also played Holi with his Master:

Hori khailoongi keh kar Bismillah
Naam nabi ki rattan charhi, bond pari Illalah
Rang rangeli ohi khilawe, jo sakhi howe fana fi Allah

(I shall play Holi, beginning with the name of Allah.
The name of Prophet is enveloped with light,
He only makes us play with colors, who annihilates with Allah)

Amir Khusro  relates to  Holi through multiple fascinating ways, in various places. Khusrau refers  not just to the color, or the play but of  the birth place of Krishna Mathura in the famous Aaj Rung hai rey:

Gokal dekha, Mathra dekha,
par tosa na koi rang dekha
Ey main dhoond phiri hoon
Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Purab dekha pacham dekha
uttar dekha dakkan dekha
Re main dhoond phiri hoon
Des bides mein dhoond phiri hoon,

Tora rang man bhaayo Moinuddin
Mohe apne hi rang mein rang le Khwaja ji
Mohe rang basanti rang de Khwaja Ji
Mohe apne hi rang mein rang de

{In summary: I saw Gokul, Mathura ( bith place of Krishna) and even East to West I roamed, but I did not find anyone with a color like yours. My heart is enamored by your color, hence color me in your shade, my master.}

Another lesser know verse I came across is:

Khelooongi Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,
Dhan dhan bhaag hamarey sajni,
Khaaja aaye aangan merey..
( I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come to my home,
Blessed is my fortune, O’ friend,
as Khaaja has come to my courtyard.)

Needless to repeat, there are ample such examples.  No matter how much one may attempt, it is impossible to separate the two inter-meshed   cultures coexistent for centuries in the subcontinent. These celebrations of culture are all about love and inclusion, and absolutely nothing about hate and discrimination.

Let’s celebrate then, with an open heart !

Holi pic

Here is the link to Amir Khusrau’s Kheloongi Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye:


The King of Kebabs- Behari Kebabs

Behari Kababs !

Which meat loving South Asian  doesn’t relish them ? In fact, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad has called them, the ‘finest’ kebabs in his food memoirs.

I grew up watching on very special occasions, my mother prepare and barbeque these Kebabs very diligently on and with much effort, on a charcoal grill. All I remember was that it was a great hard work. And hence, for many, Behari Kebabs is a delicacy to be eaten in restaurants, as cooking them at home is very cumbersome.

I too believed so, till once, I thought of experimenting them in the convenience of my kitchen, in the electric oven. I made them with wooden skewers, and the first attempt wasn’t bad at all. Second time, it was for a dinner party, and the guests could not believe they were homemade, till my husband showed them the oven, tray and the wooden skewers on which they were made.

I moved on, more confident. Got  custom made, iron skewers that fit my tray size in the oven. As I have moved cities, these iron skewers have obediently moved with me too.

Warning: Instead of red meat, I make them here with white meat, and instead of a charcoal grill, I grill them in an oven. Nevertheless, can assure you, they are a different delicacy in their own right.

Chicken breasts 1 kg
( each sliced into 4 thin fillet)
Onions: 4 medium sized
Ginger : 100gms
Garlic: One whole,
(peeled into cloves)
Green Papaya: 100gms.
Spices: Cumin, coriander, and red chilli powders, and salt to taste.
Mustard Oil- 1 Cup
Fried Browned onions: 2tbsp
(P.S. Some add yogurt, but I don’t.)

All the ingredients except the chicken breasts are made into a paste in the grinder. Pour the paste into a wide bowl, and mix in Mustard oil.

Add the chicken fillet in the paste and marinate them for preferably overnight to 24 hours.

As they are ready to be cooked, spread out each marinated fillet inside a plastic bag, one by one.

Once arranged 4-5 fillets, fold to close the open end of the plastic bag, And pound them with a wooden pound to make them softer, and such that the spice paste seeps into the fillet..


Take them out of the plastic bag, one by one, to mount on the iron skewers. My skewers seen here are about a feet long, specially made to fit my baking tray.


Mount the fillets on the skewers, piercing the iron rod, through the flesh of the fillets at 2-3 inches apart, then gathering them closer.

Kababs 402

Arrange the skewers on the baking tray adjacent to each other.

Kababs 403

When completed, place them in a preheated oven, at 225 degrees C for 30 minutes.
Kababs 407

Once ready, place a burning coal on the side of the tray, and douse it with oil to bellow smoke. Cover the tray, and close the oven, immediately, for the smoky aroma to be absorbed in the Kebabs.
Kababs 408

When ready, serve them hot, with pickled onions, yogurt sauce and chutneys. Naans and parathas go equally well with these Kebabs.

Kababs 410

The children are fond of taking the left overs to school, rolled in a naan as Kebab rolls.

P.S. The blog has been diligently made for a Kebab loving and Kebab cooking fellow Delhiite Parshu Narayanan. 🙂

The Weaker Sex

None can match her psychological resilience,  but it is  for her physical strength, that the world calls her a ‘weaker’ sex.

Women wood

Women Nepal

women water1

Women China

women water baby

women africa

women labor1


women India

Only if they saw the truth behind the Chinese proverb ” Women hold half the sky.”


A tribute to a ‘home maker’ on International Women’s Day. She is a woman who works 24×7, with no offs, no fixed working hours, no weekends, no vacations, no salary, no promotions and not even a recognition. And even then, when you ask her what does she do, she replies: “I am not a working woman.” 

Mansoor Khan office se ghar thak ke aye aur ate hi dhupp sofe per baith gaye.
“Begum TV ka remote kahan hai? Kahan rakhti ho”

“Main kaun sa TV dekhti hoon din mein. Bachey pata nahin kahan rakh dete hain. Roz dhoondna parta hai.”

“Khabron ka time ho raha hai. Ek glass pani bhi pila do.”

“Dhoondti hoon, pehle roti utaar loun, warna jal jaayegi.”

Salma Begum pani ka glass thamate huwe , remote ko sofey ke neechey se jhuk ker nikalti hai. “Yeh leejiye.’

“Begum, ek chaaye to pila do, adha chamcha cheeni ke saath. Sir mein dard ho raha hai.”

“Arrey, pher bad parhezi ker rahe hain. Doctor ne kaha hai, ab sakhti se parhez karein, warna pher se sugar aur blood pressure donon out of control ho jaayenge.”

“Haan, mager sara din office mein dhang ki chaaye nahin milti. Khana bhi thanda khana perta hai.”

News khatm hui to, Begum awaz lagati hain,
“Suniye khana laga diya hai, kha lein, mera serial shuru hone wala hai, pher main nahin uthoongi.”

“Kya pakaya hai?”

“Aloo palak aur dal.”

“Pher sabzi, dal. Gosht khaaye muddat ho gai.”

“Arrey kal to karhai gosht banaya tha. Lekin apko wazan kum kerna hai, heart specialist ne pichli baar mujhey kaha tha, inko sabzi khilaya karein.”

Shauhar hazrat moonh banate huwe dining table ki taraf barhte hain.
“Bachon ne kha liya?”

“Haan, unko bhi sabzi dekh ker bhook urr gayi. Main kya karoon, mere buss mein nai hai, her ek ki pasand ka khana banaoon. Khana hai to khaayein, warna roza rakh lein.”

Begum ne shauhar ki plate ke baraber mein unki sugar ki dawa bhi rakh dee.
“Glass mein paani nikal do take dawa kha loun”

Shauhar khane mein masroof ho jata hai, aur begum apni plate lekar TV ke samne baith ker serial mein magan.

Serial mein waqfa ata hai, to shauhar taqaza kerta hai, “Mere blood pressure ki dawa kahan hai.”

Salma begum, apna guthna pakarte huwe uthti hai, aur dard se karah ker kehti hai…”Reh gayi, acha le ker aati hoon”.

“Kya huwa, abhi tak guthne ka dard theek nahin huwa?”

“Kaise hoga, rest ka time kahan milta hai, na hi doctor ke pas wapas jana huwa. Dawa bhi khana bhool jaati hoon'”

“Kyun nahin khaati. Yad rakha karo. Tum per burhape ke asaar aane lage hain.” Usney biwi ko cherne ki koshish ki.

“To aur kya ab bhi nahin ayega. Aap khizaab lagane se kya jawan ho gaye hain?” Begum ne tanz kiya.
“Tum apne aap per bilkul dhyan nahin deti, dekho pet bhi latak gaya hai.”

“Zahir hai, teen bache paida kiya hain.” Pher TV serial mein lag jaati hai aur ek haath se apne guthne ko malish kerne lagti hai.

Drama serial khatm hone se pehle hi, shauhar sahib pher kehte hain…”Main kamre mein dafter ka kaam poora ker raha hoon, Mujhe chaaye udher hi la dena.”
“Buss 5 minute, ye drama khatm ho jaaye to banati hoon.”

Drama  khatm hi hota hai, to Salma begum table per se bartan uthaati hai, aur chaaye ka pani rakh deti hain.

Ander se awaz aati hai, “Chaaye ho gai?”

Salma jaldi se chaaye le ker jaati hai, to shauhar sahib, ooper sey neechey tak us per nazer daurate hain, aur pher   muskura ker cherte huwe bare pyar se kehtey hain, “Begum, naa to tum apna khayal rakhti ho, aur naa hi mera, lagta hai koi doosri dhoondni paregi.”

Salma suni ansuni kerte huwe, moonh bana ker, kitchen me wapas aa ker bartan samet te huwe khud hi barbarati hai, “Uth ke paani to piya nahin jata, lekin doosri ka shauq khatm nahin hota inka.”

Aur halki si muskan ke saath pher bartan dhoney mein lag jaati hai.

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