City Food – Kalonji Miracles, Old Delhi
Tales of nigella seeds.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some written works just must be cherished because they’re flavoured with the nuances of everyday life, and dyed with the hyperlocal shades of a particular place.
Such as Kalonji ke Chamtkar or “the wonders of nigella seeds” which claims cures for all manner of illnesses. From asthma to fits, from baldness to pimples.
This slim paperback published by an Old Delhi bookstore in fact claims that nigella seeds can cure just about everything except, of course, death (the book runs the disclaimer on the opening page).
No way is this piece suggesting you to follow up the book’s recommendations. Instead you might well simply flip through the pages to enjoy a kind of easy Urdu that most Delhiites understand, and that too in the more understandable Devnagri script. Authored by Hakeem Muhammed Tariq Mehmood, the book’s overall language is chatty, as though listening to an elderly chacha-jaan at a Walled City chai stall.
Just sample some of the snippy chapter headings—Ek Doctor ka Tajurba (a doctor’s experience) or Ek Mariz ki Hichki (a patient’s hiccup). It almost reads like a fairy tale flavoured with the kind of dastarkhan talk that Old Delhi citizens might deploy when gossiping about illnesses and morals of neighbours and relatives during the dinner hour.
Surely, Ghalib’s late 19th Century poetry and letters remain the ideal for understanding the rhythms of Old Delhi life. But the Kalonji book also does that, in its own idiosyncratic fashion.
Priced at 50 rupees, and available at book stalls in Old Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar.
A book of another time