A face in the fever.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The thinkable has happened. Muhammed Sabir, too, has got dengue.
Mr Sabir is one of the thousands of Delhiwallas who have been hit by this fever in the current season. He also happens to be the only man in author Sadia Dehlvi’s life. He is her longtime cook. They live in Delhi’s upscale Hazrat Nizamuddin East.
“Sabir was diagnosed with dengue three days ago,” says Ms Dehlvi, while preparing an extract of papaya leaves, which is said to have great curative powers for dengue patients. Ms Dehlvi says she did not sleep during the first night of the diagnosis. “I kept a watch over Sabir as he slept. I would give him pomegranate and beetroot juice after every hour.”
It was initially difficult for Ms Dehlvi to get the precious papaya leaves. All the papaya trees in Nizamuddin East were bare (probably there were too many dengue patients in the neighbourhood). Ms Dehlvi finally obtained those leaves from Nizamuddin West, just across the Mathura Road.
On Mr Sabir’s present state of health, the author of Sufism: The Heart of Sufism says, “The worst is over. He is now out of danger.”
Mr Sabir has been working in Ms Dehlvi’s house for more than 20 years. His wife and four children live at his ancestral village in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh.
“Sabir is not only my cook,” says Ms Dehlvi. “He is also my boss. He decides the menu everyday.”
No wonder then that Ms Dehlvi and her son, Arman, are surviving on the leftovers of the food sent two days ago on Eid by her brother, who lives far away in South Delhi.
“The heart of this home is my kitchen and Sabir is its keeper,” says Ms Dehlvi. “He has never ever let our kitchen run out of tea, coffee, sugar, wheat, rice and dal. Sabir is the key to my evening gatherings, dinners and the weekly langar, the food distributed in God’s way.”
A man of refined culinary skills, Mr Sabir is famous among Ms Dehlvi’s friends for his khili mash ki dal, aloo palak, chicken biryani and aloo gosht. He has also appeared in some detail in journalist Raza Rumi’s book, Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller.
The extract is ready. Ms Dehlvi smells the green liquid and makes a face. “It is not exactly tasty,” she confesses, before going to her roof where Mr Sabir has a room to himself. He, too, makes a face after hesitantly swallowing down the first sip of the papaya leaves extract. “It’s bitter,” he complains. Ms Dehlvi affectionately pats Mr Sabir’s shoulder. He immediately finishes the extract and lies down on the bed. Ms Dehlvi leaves him alone, saying, “I’ll bring more extract after two hours.”
Mr Sabir again makes a face.
Sadia Dehlvi makes papaya leaves extract for Muhammed Sabir
7. (Muhammed Sabir)