Preparation of traditional haleem on eve of Ashura across Karachi

Updated 12 Oct 2016


The eve of Ashura saw many people gather in different neighbourhoods across the city to prepare haleem and biryani for free distribution. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The eve of Ashura saw many people gather in different neighbourhoods across the city to prepare haleem and biryani for free distribution. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Wherever in the city when one saw a wire with bright bulbs hanging on Tuesday, Muharram 9, one could be sure about what was going on under it. As expected there were a row of cauldrons in which the haleem or biryani for Ashura was being cooked.

“Ashura niaz has been a tradition with us from when my late wife Mehrunissa was alive. We started this with two cauldrons only and today my five sons and I are continuing with the good work on such a big scale,” said Abdul Majid while supervising the work under way on a quiet street in Saddar closed at one end by containers.

“We manage it all among ourselves. We don’t need to ask others for money for the purpose. God has been very kind,” he added while volunteering this little personal information that they belonged to the Sunni school of thought. “Our Shia brethren are too busy in prayers and zikr to think about these things so it is mostly Sunnis who prepare niaz in the name of Imam Hussain,” he said.

The family was busy making preparations for not just haleem but Sindhi chickpea and potatobiryani, sweet rice, semolina halva and milk sherbetas well on Tuesday evening.

“Haleem will be ready at 7am in the morning with the halva and sheermal which we have ordered from Burnes Road while the biryani and sweet rice will be ready at around 10am. But the milk sherbet will be ready today only. We are preparing 40 litres with almonds, pistachio, coconut and jelly. Do come by to try some if you can find the time,” said Majid sahib’s son Noor Mohammad, who said they had taken care to get plastic bags and bottles so that people could take it away with them, too. “We also have 10 juice cartons chilling in the freezer for tomorrow.”

The water for cooking of all this food was being provided to them through a hose coming out of the compound of a small Parsi temple there, which was a very nice gesture by the Parsis. “They have always extended their help to us,” said Noor Mohammad with a smile.

At another spot up ahead off Raja Ghazanfar Ali Road there was a cow munching on hay and banana peels tied to an electric pole. A group of friends who said that they all grew up together as neighbours in the area were busy joking with one another as they pealed potatoes for 18 cauldrons of biryani.

“We are only making preparations. The cooking, we’ll start early morning. That way we will be right on time for all our Shia brothers and sisters passing through here to join the Ashura procession,” said Mohammad Kamran Qureshi.

“We have been doing this in the spirit of Ashura for over 25 years now. May God accept our offering,” he said.

Meanwhile, the biryani chef wasn’t really a cook but an artiste, who introduced himself as Syed Lal Mohammad Askani. “Many years ago, my father worked as a cook for Qureshi’s father. He made sure I didn’t end up working as a servant but told me to always remain available to his boss’s family if they ever needed anything,” he said. “I learnt how to cook biryani from my father so I come here every year to prepare it for the Qureshis for Ashura niaz,” he said.

Similar preparations were under way in many other areas all over Karachi. At one place in Lines Area, the people couldn’t wait for Ashura and had started eating on Tuesday evening. At other places, if people had not started cooking as yet, then they were gathering extra wood to build the fires under the cauldrons (even broken furniture was welcome), or were either putting up tents and lights or busy cutting the animal for the meat to go into the food.

Published in Dawn October 12th, 2016