Written by R.V. Smith
Bakrid was a grand affair at Faiyaz Manzil whose owner Nawab F.Z. Khan Sherwani had studied in England along with Sarojini Naidu and later became a Muslim League leader and member of the Central Legislative Assembly. Faiyaz Khan was fond of shikar and, besides the sacrifice of half a dozen sheep and goats, he also extended the second Id ritual by qurbani of the deer, nilgai and chinkara he shot in the jungles of Bah and Pinhat in the 1930s. His lorry would carry him and his party which included Naseem Beg Chaghtai, brother of the novelist Ismat Chaghtai, Majid and Saeed Ahmed, both Indo-Turks, journalist Thomas Smith, the bearded Hafizji and Muslim Khan, the Nawab’s Karinda, or revenue agent of his villages and farms in Datoli (Aligarh district) and in Jangbaspur, near Bulandshahr.
Nawab Sahib was a good shot with a whole library of shikar books on big and small game in India, Africa and America. But the best hunter was Saeed whose father Rashid Ahmed had been adopted as a son and brought from Mecca as a young boy, along with an African woman, Mashruka, and her son Almas, by Faiyaz Khan’s father Ismail Khan Sherwani. The elder Nawab’s regret was that he couldn’t bring the husband of Mashruka also as he had already been sold to someone else in the slave market at Mecca. Also brought by Ismail Khan from there was Nazdika, who served as wet nurse for his son, the infant Faiyaz Khan, whose mother, Bi Sahib was unable to lactate.
Though ostensibly a Muslim, Nazdika followed the religion of the pharaohs on the sly. As a matter of fact, at the age of 16 she had become a priestess of the goddess Isis and lived for a long time in the temple area of Abouthis near the pyramids. She offered namaz alright, but late at night, when the moon was up, she would worship the trinity of the divine Sethi. At the two Ids, however, Nazdika, who was known as Sabamma (mother of the family) in the Nawab’s kothi, would preside over the “hissa” distribution of Id dishes to the many relations, friends and acquaintances of the Sherwani family.
Once during an Id hunt, Faiyaz Khan was wounded by a wild boar that suddenly came out of a thicket while he was chasing a chinkara he had shot. It was the presence of mind of Saeed Ahmed that saved him. The young blue-eyed, light-complexioned young man, fired both barrels of his double-barrelled gun at the charging boar, knocking it down just a few feet way from the shikar party. The question then was what to do with the boar whose meat is haram (forbidden) for Muslims. Thomas Smith’s family also did not eat pig meat so it was decided to leave the kill with the scavengers who were mostly of the sweeper caste. The chinkara was eventually found entangled in a bush and a well-placed shot put an end to its misery. “How like the ram found entangled thus by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) when he was dissuaded from sacrificing his son and now,” the Nawab added, we have the gift of a chinkara in lieu of the haram boar! “On the way back the party shot a nilgai and a deer before returning to Faiyaz Manzil. It was left to Sabamma to get portions cut from the game shot and distributed them as per her will. That day it was a hectic time also for Qayam the butcher, who had to cut the wild animals after the usual qurbani of sheep and goats. These were used for making lunch dishes and the shikar meat kept for the evening meal. Probably this kind of Bakrid has not been celebrated by anyone else, for it was a feast of splendour unheard of in the then Islamic world.
Now about Sabamma. She lived to the age of 98, reading the Quran by day and at night Egyptian Papayrus scrolls. She occasionally drank water from the Nile brought by those returning from Haj and relished pickled locusts, honey, dates and summer mangoes. The night on which she died, Fazlu Mian, Faiyaz Khan’s eldest son, heard strange music in the sky. He later learnt that it was the music of the sistra, sacred to the goddess Isis, and bidding farewell to Nazdika, the Sabamma and ex-priestess of the divine Sethi. Her mud grave cannot be traced now but she was buried not far from the tomb of the Nawab she had suckled in the Sayedna cemetery at Agra. Now nobody is left in the half-deserted Faiyaz Manzil to recall the Bakrid of yesteryears and the strange role of Sabamma the wet-nurse. But in Karachi Choti Bubu (Fatima), the Nawab’s youngest daughter, survives as a nonagenarian and probably reminisces on both the Id days of the grand celebrations in her father and grandfather’s kothi, which her Saeed Bhai left to become an RAF pilot.
Another unusual Bakrid was celebrated 10 years later, when Hazi Zahoor of Jama Masjid, besides offering the usual sacrifices, also served venison (deer meat) shammi kababs to the Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan in the pre Partition days. But he saved some for his family and friends which were greatly liked because of their delicacy. The meat had been brought from the Nepal jungles, where Hajiji had shot a blackbuck. The shammi kababs of these days are of mutton, chicken or buff meat and not venison as hunting of wildlife is not allowed. However, some old Delhiwallahs still talk of the novel Bakrid of 1945 when venison kababs were served to the select few and the Haji’s wife and children enjoyed deer biryani too, with zarda as the sweet dish.
The writer is a journalist and an author, who is best known for chronicling Delhi.
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