Julia Child in Delhi – Advocate Farah Naaz Makes Her Friend Charu’s Upma, Sector 52, Gurgaon
The great chef’s life in Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Forced into self-isolation, she closes her eyes and sees herself turning into “a tiny speck of dust.” And now, she, this dust particle, floats into the air, flies across the spaces and oceans, to her friend Charu’s home.
Charu has been forced into self-isolation too. Coronavirus is everywhere.
This dust particle is Farah Naaz, as she imagined herself. She is an advocate and lives in Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region. Charu is a friend of her youth, who lives in distant California.
“We spent six years of our college life together, in AMU (Aligarh Muslim University),” recalls Ms Naaz, sitting in the drawing room of her ground floor flat in Sector 52. In her early 40s, the lady is talking on WhatsApp video— the images are taken through the phone screen that connects her to this reporter. Her phone is being carefully held by Asiya, her teenage daughter. Ms Naz lives with husband and two children.
For people who can afford to self-isolate at home, without the existential anxiety of a daily wager, this enforced quarantine can help put things into perspective, and see more clearly what and who truly matters. For Ms Naaz, it happens to be her family, to be sure, but also a precious friendship that has survived the trials of time and geography.
“I was in the college hostel and hailed from West Bengal, while Charu was from Aligarh itself… her parents were Partition refugees and had come from Dera Ismail Khan (in today’s Pakistan).”
The two girls spent the ensuing years “swapping clothes, advices and heartaches.” They also did their MBA together.
One memory that is crystal clear in Ms Naaz’s mind, all these years later, is a trip that she and Charu took with a group of friends to Goa. “We waded into the waters on a beach, holding hands in a chain, and suddenly a very strong wave lashed at us… everyone ran to save themselves but Charu kept holding my hand tightly and didn’t let me fall.”
Ms Naaz shows a photograph of that eventful trip.
The last time she met her friend was about three years ago, when Charu visited India. “But we text each other almost daily on WhatsApp.” Sometimes the other des not respond in real time, perhaps due to the time difference between Gurugram and California, “but we always get a reply from each other after a day or two.”
And today both the friends are once again sharing the same fate—their life reeling under a lockdown. Seeing Charu in her mind’s eye, Ms Naaz notices that her friend’s “short, dark wavy hair has turned shoulder length, her round face has a few wrinkles but her almond black eyes are still the same.”
And now she summons her California friend, who is so fond of cooking, in an even more tangible way — by planning to cook her recipe of upma. She kindly agrees to share the recipe.
The morning after this interview, Ms Naaz sends an e-mail, saying, “As I sat down to eat the upma, I saw Charu’s eyes crinkling into a question asking me about its taste. And I whispered, ‘Not as good as when you make it. But this will do my friend, for now.’ ”
Ingredients (sufficient for two to three people)
1 cup of sooji
2 cups of water.
1 cup of cut vegetables (whatever is available)
10-15 pieces of roasted groundnut
For tadka (tempering)
A pinch of mustard seeds
8-10 pieces of channa dal
A handful of curry leaves
3 tablespoons of ghee
Salt, to taste
Roast the sooji until it is brown. Keep it aside.
Melt ghee in the pan. Add all the ingredients of the tadka and stir them with the ghee.
Quickly add the vegetables and groundnuts. Cover the pan with a lid, and heat on low flame.
After a minute, pour sooji and water in the pan. Stir continuously, so that no lump forms.
Lower the flame further as the water with the ingredients come to a boil. Cover the pan and let it cook for a minute or two.
Stir it again and the upma is ready. Serve it hot with a garnish of curry leaves.
Conquering the self-isolation… through a friend’s upma!