By Madhulika Dash
The little known fact about Aaliya Sultan Babi, Princess Balasinor, and scions to the Balasinor legacy, is her aversion to bones. “If I see a bone in my food, I will not touch it,” says the paleontologist. And yet, ask her about her favourite festival and she is quick to say, Bakri Eid! The reason for this, insists the princess who put Raiyoli back on the map with her dinosaur discovery, not only the food – but something more than that. Here’s how the Barkri Eid unfolds in the Palace, which once was the centre of power, glamour and of course great food.
If there is one thing that every royal, including me, faces constantly is the queries about living a “royal life”. People I meet have this curious sense of knowing how is it to be born into a royal family, be a princess, the perks and roles. And while most of us have enough stories, passed from generations, to regale people about the “royal life” of our ancestors – you know where you had a small army of servants waiting for you, walls had semi precious gems, the grandeur and works – when it comes to us, I truly seem to be in loss of words. More so, when it is about festivals like Bakri Eid.
Grown on a good dose of tales when I was told how asarfis were used to give chonk (temper) the kadi or how powder of a pearl would flavour a sweet dish, I too have wondered how things were back then – and often wished for a time machine that would take me back in time to witness at least one such occasion. But what I have seen and lived has been pretty different from all what the books talk about. I was born into modern India, and so was my father, HH Nawab Muhammad Salabat Khan II, the last crowned king of Balasinor. In fact, he was only 11 months old when he was crowned, so understandably didn’t rule at all. And finally when he came of age, the 9-gun Salute Kingdom was a state of democratic India, with the Privy Purse, a thing of the past. So we began life as any other family.
What however didn’t change much was the way life was conducted inside the palace under the strict guidance of my grandmother, who perhaps was the last to witness the royal life we all dream and concoct stories about. It was her and my mother’s ability to change with time that ensured that while we were brought the western way – I was sent to boarding school at a very young age – we had the understanding and the appreciation of our heritage, and the goodness of being royals.
And yet, quite funnily, my first memory of Bakri Eid, one of the most interesting celebrations at our palace even today, was as a school outing, when my teachers would accompany me to a family friend home at Sophia High School Convent, Mount Abu , where we would have a wonderful dinner of home cooked biryani, paya, kebab and khurma. And on the way back, finish it with a double scoop icecream. In fact, for most part of my school life, my association with Bakri Eid was a day I was allowed home food, ice cream and the freedom of a night out till 9 of course. I witnessed my first home celebration when I was about 16 or 17. And while I enjoyed the whole morning ritual of waking up, dressing in traditional clothes, wishing my dad and getting Eiddi in form of crisp new notes (which has only grown with my sisters getting married and staying abroad), there was one thing I took instant aversion to: The qurbani.
I just couldn’t bear the fact that the goats that were loved and well fed for the past few months could be slaughtered. What added to this aversion was that I was a vegetarian. Things of course changed later as I discovered how the meat was distributed among people, and how this simple act of sharing has kept the goodwill and respect alive. Even with no power and titles, my grandmother was considered the queen, my father the Nawab and mother, the Sultan. The other thing that I learnt to appreciate is how Bakri Eid in its own way brings in kindness. It becomes a ruse to reach out and help the poor and those who need. And last, how it has played a significant role in keeping our food tradition alive. It’s customary at Balasinor for every lady of the house to learn how to make all the dishes of Bakri Eid, especially the kaleji fry/salan, which is the first dish of the day and is made by my mother every year in large quantity. It is with a bowl of this delicacy that most visitors are greeted with. In fact, much like the meat, kaleji too is distributed among neighbours and villagers. For those, who didn’t like meat or kaleji, there is always meetha as an option, again cooked by mom.
Interestingly, the food at our home during Bakri Eid has been rather simple, bordering on the usual in fact. With all the action happening in the kitchen, which works to clockwork precision first under my grandmother and now my mother, who cook almost the entire day feast. It begins first by dividing the portions that need to be distributed, then commences the prep work for an entire day of cooking meat – and meat dishes. And is often dictated by what gets cleaned first. So it starts with kaleji, soon followed by kormas, biryani, kebabs, pasanda and ends with the rich paya. In fact, it is this cycle that not only decides the menu of the day, but the next day too. Parallelly, another kitchen functions to cook the vegetarian food and also tea, coffee and snacks. Aside the great food and fragrance that weaves and wafts around the kitchen corridors, it is often fascinating to watch how things happen here, and perhaps the only time I can actually visualize how things were back then, albeit without the use of asarfis and such.
Bakri Eid is also the festival that developed my palate for meat. It was the one time that I got to taste my grandmother’s kebabs. On the table, aside the shammi kebab and the Murg Safeda Pulao or Biryani, one could also find the “new dish” of that year introduced by her. A tradition that my mother has kept going – with now my elder sister, a meat convert, joining in occasionally.
It was on this table that the House of Balasinor also got its first dum-cooked vegetable biryani, though I call it pilaf. I remember the first time it was prepared, it had such brilliant aroma that even the hard core meat eaters in my family couldn’t resist. It was over pretty soon. Since then, it has been a fixture on the Bakri Eid table, even after I decided to give in to my love for shammi kebabs and chicken sandwich. Even today, the day of Bakri Eid is celebrated the same way. What differs is the experience, the people you meet and of course, that one new dish on the table.
Picture Courtesy: Aaliya Farhat Babi
In the picture - Murg Safeda Pulao, Shammi Kebab, Nargil Kebab