It was a busy Sunday: The Champions Trophy cricket final between India and Pakistan; The Hockey World League semi final, again between India and Pakistan; and that Hallmark holiday, Father’s Day.
Despite all these temptations, an eclectic collective of people gathered in Delhi’s Alaknanda neighbourhood to celebrate the ongoing Ramadan with an inter-faith party. Organized by a motley group of friends, the party, announced via Facebook and Twitter, was open to all and a chance for both neophytes and old hands to relish an iftar feast.
As the sun sank on Delhi (and on the hopes of Indian cricket fans), the devout offered their prayers on divans spread across the drawing room floor, while guests from other faiths maintained a curious but respectful vigil silently around them. After prayers, people started chatting in small groups and young children laughed and played among the knees of their elders, among whom were lawyers, civil servants, journalists, educators, culinarians, authors and poets. "We just wanted to open our kitchens and homes to people, specially those who've never been for an iftar, and show how we celebrate our festival," said Anas Tanwir Siddiqi, a Supreme Court advocate and mein host, or rather invitation-giver. This is the second such iftar organized by Ali Shervani and Sanjay Hegde aided and abetted by Siddiqi and other friends this Ramadan.
Those who had spent the day fasting, as well as the ones who hadn’t, broke out the repast, which flowed out of the kitchen in waves. With a menu comprising dishes contributed from both hosts and guests, the table was soon festooned. Fat, calorific dates gleamed inchoately next to bright fruits in shades of red and green, while a mammoth dish of dahi bhalla lay pristine nearby, its accoutrements of saunth and green chutney, potent in their separate bowls. Platters of seekh and shammi kebabs as well as vegetable pakodis seemed in constant circulation, emptying as they reached the table, only to be immediately replaced with steaming new servings. Glasses of juice were passed around, as was that ubiquitous sherbet, rooh hafza, ruby red in clear plastic glasses.
And it wasn’t yet the main event. That came in the form of heaped mounds of biryani, simmering korma and sheermal, the formidably sized but gently flavoured flatbreads so beloved of old Awadh. And beyond. There was also a vegetable pulao, which was definitely NOT biryani, with the party decidedly partisan on the subject. Meanwhile, conversational barriers broke down as Alis' mingled with Ashees' and Nazia' with Nandita', the proof in the pudding that religion needn't set up walls between us. As the organizers had hoped, the evening proved to be a meeting of minds and cultures as well as a greater appreciation for others' values and traditions. Given the current state of world affairs, this can only be a good thing.
Suggestions for rounds of introductions between the various guests, most of them comparative strangers to each other, were met with more browsing and sluicing. In any case, any latent awkwardness was soon demolished in the stuffed face of that provender. Old family ties were unearthed as well as new friendships forged under the mellowing influence of food, drink and conversation. It was a good evening. Even for the cricket fans.