With a Pinch of Pakistan by Sourav Das

11:00 AM. I wake up on a bright, sunny Sunday morning to some exotic smell emanating from the kitchen. Mother is cooking something wonderful for lunch! Thank god for a Sunday! Hurriedly, I wake up, brush my teeth and rush to the kitchen to satisfy my curious mind, and stomach. It’s BIRIYANI! I can’t contain my excitement. I am ready to skip breakfast to make space for as much biriyani as I can.

I sit down in the kitchen to observe mom as she cooks my favourite dish. As I watch my mother go throu the rigours of kitchen work to make the biriyani as yummy as possible, I notice the masalas she is using. It carries the brand name Shan. To the best of my knowledge, all thanks to the endless advertisements during daily soaps my mom watches, I have never heard of Shan. So, I ask my mom about it. As it turns out, mom had planned to make Sindhi biriyani today. And Shan is the best masala for Sindhi biriyani. Delving further into the matter, I get to know that Shan is actually a Pakistani brand from a company called Shan foods. Shan’s best-sellers in India are those that pack a punch in rich, sub-continental non-vegetarian cooking. Spices for shahi haleem mix, Bombay Biryani, chappli kebab mix, Lahori fish and nihari are some of Shan’s products that have found their way into Indian kitchens. Shan Foods, founded in 1981 in Karachi started as a one-room/family spices recipe/small orders business. It now sells spices in 65 countries and founder and chief executive Sikander Sultan is considered the guru of Pakistan’s packaged food industry. My great love for Sindhi biriyani, which is basically from the Sindh region of Pakistan, coupled with the use of Pakistani masalas, made my lunch an heavenly affair that day.

After a particularly delicious, and heavy lunch, I sit down with my dad to watch a cricket match. I am not a big fan of cricket, but my dad is. It’s an IPL match between my dad’s favorite team KKR and Delhi Daredevils. I start asking him unnecessary questions about KKR just for the sake of reaping some beneficial information. I ask him,” Dad, who is the bowling coach of KKR?”. “ Wasim Akram”, he says, without paying much interest. But my curiosity is piqued. Wasim Akram? Let’s Google him and see what come up. I have heard about him a couple of times but never bothered to find out about him. As it turns out, Wasim Akram was a very prominent Pakistani cricket team player and one of the best fast bowlers of all time. ‘The Sultan of Swing’ they used to call him. He was the first bowler to reach the 500 wicket mark in ODIs. No wonder the KKR team wanted him to coach them.

Apart from the relevant information, nothing much about the cricket match interested me. So I grabbed my phone and whiled away my time. Surfing through featured videos of YouTube, I came across one from Coke Studio, Man Amadeh Am, a song sung by Atif Aslam and Gul Panrra. Atif Aslam, a Pakistani by birth, is quite a rage in India. But the other name sounded new. On researching, I found out that that she is Pashtu singer from Pakistan and ‘Man Amadeh am’ literally means ‘ I have to come to you’. Apart from this particular song, I found various others where Pakistani singers teamed up with Indian singers to compose wonderful melodies. Moreover, I discovered a new platform for singers, this one in Pakistan. Nescafe basement, where budding Pakistani artists sing hit Hindi and English songs. And it is simply amazing!
The day passed as soon as it came. Hoping to watch some TV shows, I moved to the leisure room. However, my mom had beaten me to it. She was already glued to it, watching repeat telecasts of her favourite tv shows. Having nothing better to do, I sat down beside her. She was watching some daily soap called Aadhe Adhure on Zindagi channel. Surprisingly, I found the content interesting. It was not based on a context, although the language and the setting looked Indian. Upon enquiring, I found out that Zindagi was a Pakistani channel offering a host of interesting daily soaps to Indian consumers. My mother was a fan of the channel and various shows on it. I spent the rest of the evening watching daily soaps with her.

Retiring to my bed at night, I suddenly realised that Indian life was filled with Pakistani nuances. Right from the food we eat to the shows we watch to the sports we play, India and Pakistan were connected. In spite of all the sour relationships, we are brothers, Indians and Pakistanis. We were part of the same territory once and putting up political boundaries doesn’t change that fact. We must connect and interact more through channels of art, food and culture to develop a fruitful. Long lasting neighbours. After all, our Indian lives are spiced up with a pinch of Pakistan.

– By Sourav Das