Discussing idli-sambar, chaat papri at Karachi luncheon (Letter from Karachi)
Aamir Jaloti couldn't remember the name of a dish his friend had specially cooked for him when he visited Mumbai. Pinning all his hopes on me, he politely asked if I could tell him what it was he had that was like a soup with soft bread in it and sprinkled with "nimko".
Before this visiting IANS journalist could think of a name, she was stuck with the word "nimko".
Sitting in the conference room of Pakistan's iconic drama channel Hum TV, foreign delegates and employees of the channel were having lunch in what resembled a cultural roundtable conference.
And me being the only one from India, the talk invariably steered towards delicate relationship between the two countries - and the hassles of getting a visa. Delegates from the West were mere spectators!
All was fine, till "nimko" came into the picture.
"How to explain 'nimko' to her," said Jaloti from Dubai, almost giving up on explaining the word to me.
"It is like 'papri' of your chaat-papri," said a gentleman from the channel who has been to multiple Indian cities.
"It is crispy, namkeen (salty) and tasty," he added, telling Jaloti probably he had chaat-papri.
Nyet, said I.
"Chaat-papri has yogurt in it and it is no soup," I declared in an authoritative tone.
"Oh! Then it must be sambar. It too is like a soup," a journalist from Lahore said.
"The soft bread he is talking about must be idli. It is made of rice. It has to be idli-sambar. People in south India eat it every day," he added.
Interrupting his Indian food fantasy, I curiously asked about "nimko".
"Oh yes! Then probably he must have had bhelpuri (a popular Indian snack). It is pretty popular in Mumbai," said another young man who was from a trade organisation and had been to Mumbai several times.
"But bhelpuri doesn't have any soup," I retorted.
They all agreed. And Jaloti, hugely embarrassed by now, sheepishly said: "Probably she made something specially for me."
Not giving up on the subject so easily, I asked: "Was it sweet or sour?"
"It was sour," he said.
Thast was it! It couldn't be either idli-sambar or chaat-papri.
Was it panipuri or golgappa then, I asked, explaining what these popular Indian street foods looked like.
"No, it had soft bread in its centre," a disappointed Jaloti said firmly.
I too gave up, as my imagination couldn't think of anything.
So, as a minority sitting there, I asked them all: "Now please explain 'nimko' to me."
And then began round two of the food conference.
The hidden irony of this conversation is perhaps we all would have discussed the intricacies of Continental, Italian, Chinese or Japanese food but we were struggling to discuss cuisine of our neighbouring countries, which were once one nation.
This cultural ignorance will continue to grow and there will be a bigger chasm in future if the two nations at loggerhead stubbornly refuse to make peace or encourage cultural exchanges.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 22-02-2014)