When it comes to entertaining a guest, there is no better host than a Kashmiri. No wonder, visits by friends, neighbours and relatives form keystone of the closely-knit Kashmiri society.
Kashmiri hospitality begins the moment guests knock at the door but it takes hours of preparation to answer that first knock. An entire household gets down to preparation of a red carpet treatment on the slightest hint of guests coming over. Occasions can be as diverse as the arrival of a new-born, successful completion of schooling, return of some elder from the Holy Haj pilgrimage or the ward on the threshold of a job.
If the guests arrive around noon, Kashmiri delicacies like Roganjosh, Mirchi korma, kofta and yakhni are served one after other on the dastarkhwan "interspiced" with chutnis, curd and pickle. Lunch is served hot and gobbled up in the midst of mouth-watering flavours, friendly gossip, tales of Islam and the prevailing situation in the Valley. The multi-course non-vegetarian package is digested with the always trusted Kehwa or the Kashmiri black tea.
However, if the guests make it a point not to disturb the host with lunch formalities, they coincide their visit forenoon or late in the afternoon, carrying bakery and confectionery items as the occasion demands. Shaheena Parvez, whose parents returned from a trip to the USA and ``Umrah Sharief'' in Saudi Arab, found it unable to stack the items. ``Cakes of all hues, coconut cookies, pastries, kandi kulcha and krippe. It was as if bakery outlets of the town Mughal Darbar, Jee Enn Sons, Cake House and Jan Bakers had come home.'' Her sister, Sabeeha Manzoor, was finding it equally tough to distribute the highly perishable items among the neighbours and the elderly. ``We were wondering what name to give this new confectionery shop,'' she joked.
However, both of them left no stone unturned to defend the Kashmiri tradition and warmth with which their guests had graced the occasion. Their job entailed serving the visitors with Kehwa prepared in Kong (saffron), topped with peeled almond dressing. Hot Kehwa is followed up with Kashmiri Namkeen chai (salt tea). The way the bakery items served with Kehwa cannot be offered with nun chai, the cups also change shape and size - tiny, shallow for Kehwa and bigger (often mugs) for namkeen chai. Tea is poured from samovar if the gathering is large but if it is small, thermos flask comes handy. Lipton tea is kept ready for those not preferring Kehwa or the salted tea.
"The tensions and busy life of the city may bring about a faster parting of the host but the hospitality in villages extends to several days since the guests do not drop in for a day's visit but days and weeks together,'' says Bashir Ahmad Bhat, an office assistant hailing from Poshwan in Tral. He invariably has to rush home from his office in Srinagar to attend to his uncle or aunt's family staying put. ``New clothes have to be stitched for women guests and their children. They have to be dropped home even if they come from a far off village.'' Hospitality is returned as the male member accompanying the entourage is not allowed to leave before an overnight stay.
Be it a city guest or a family visit in the villages, the moment of parting presents an emotional scene. The host side walks the guests upto a distance and thanksgiving, long Kashmiri pleasantries are exchanged at the gate as also promises to return the visit ``soon, very soon''.
Kashmiri hospitality at its best during marriages. Usually a three to four-day affair, the festivities involve a long list of Wazwaan delicacies prepared by waazas or professional cooks. Dish after dish, which have taken the whole day to prepare, arrive on the ``Truam'' (copper plate) meant for four persons. The quantity of meat intake is such that it takes days to set the digestive tract on course again. The waazwan feast invariably entails lot of wastage but Kashmiris never seem to learn any lessons. Waazwan is sought after and the host is supposed to "invite all and all have to attend''. Anybody not attending and adding his bit to the wastage part invites social sanction.
"The early phase of militancy had curtailed the number of waazwan courses and many other expensive rituals that were beyond the reach of a poor man, but Kashmiri tradition of guest entertaining and hospitality proved incorrigible,'' says Bashir.
Published in KashmirLive.com