She says, “What my father had in his hands, I do not even have a portion of it…but what he did leave behind with me was the determination to keep my tradition alive.”
If she meant that her shooley and khud murg were only one fourth of its original taste, I would give a million bucks to get into a time machine and go to the period when her father existed. May be even the Khajuraho sculptures could not have provided what her food gave us…orgasm that meandered from the nose to the tongue to tickle the body from within.
She comes from the legacy of inventors of the famous Tunde Kebabs of Lucknow. Her father worked for a megistrate in Lucknow, who later got transferred to Jaipur. Hence, just a couple of years before India saw the light of freedom, Zaibun Nisha, along with her family migrated to Jaipur bag and baggage. Her father started working in the kitchens of Maharaja Man Singh. And indeed a new evolution of migrant cuisine took place. Today, Zaibun Nisha is the last of that legacy, a delight of the foodies of Jaipur. I have heard stories where five star hotels have asked her to cook her special recipes for visiting State guests and even Heads of States, and marketed them as their own.
Today, she stays all alone in a small, but exceptionally clean shack at C Scheme masjid, Jaipur. I came to know about her existence while sniffing around the wall streets of Jaipur for that aromatic wiff. Dear friend Shan Bhatnagar, a painter, a designer and above all, a foodie informed me about her. Hence my eyes rovered through the streets to figure out who this ‘amma’ is.I must also mention here Sajid Mehmood the dynamic General Manger of Country Inns and Suites,Jaipur whose constant inputs,warm hospitality and immense knowledge of Heritage cuisine further motivated my quest.
So I chugged along full steam with my Puwali, the invincible Arindita alias Gogoi soon to discover a past life connection, a chemistry, a bonding with ‘amma’. We gazed at each other, eye to eye contact, and we knew there lay a synergy of purpose—a meaningful synergy. She offered a chair to me. I resisted, doubting the durability of the chair vis a vis my weight. I sat down only to realise that I was feeling well rested, relaxed. My meditation class was to begin. We talked while Puwali noted, scribbled on her note pad, our conversation only to be involved and convert it from a twosome to a healthy threesome. That sums up the summery of my first interaction. I realised that I had moved from inches to inches only to leap from milestones to milestones.
We had ordered for Shooley ( sort of kebabs made out tender lamb that melt in your mouth) and khud murg (whole chicken stuffed and marinated with aromatic spices wrapped in roti and normally cooked in a pit ) from Amma. We brought back the food to the five star hotel where we were staying, and offered to share the food with the hotel kitchen. They beautifully garnished it and brought the platter to us. Indeed, the rustic look of the dishes were gone, only to reiterate my belief that how much does an environment, mood and feel affect the food and taste buds. The food was stupendous without doubt and we could not adhere to any table manners while savouring her magical food. But the aroma of Amma’s kitchen and her simple utensils at the backdrop of the mosque kept on ligering in our minds. No matter how expensive the cutlery of the five star hotel may be, but it can’t compensate for the simple alluminium plate on which she offered me her wonderful food.