History is the biggest part of us and there won't be any of us without a little bit of history to all of us. And while we all assume history is only wars and conquests and politics, there is more than what we read in our textbooks.

What is written below is a very small piece of my history. The delicious food made by my mother and where it comes from.

My mother (r) with her cousin (l) with their maternal grandparents

07th May 2021

In the 1970s, a band of cousins grew up in Pune. They moved across the world but they carried their recipes with them.

In January 2021, I decided to cook biryani for my family. I used the recipe I learned from my mother. It didn’t turn out to be as good as hers, but I like to believe that it came close. This recipe dates back to my mother’s childhood, the 1970s decade. My mother and her mother, my Nani, used to live in Pune with my Nani’s sister and her family. Ma grew up in a small bedroom loaned out to her parents by her aunt’s husband. Nana was working all over India, so he was not around all the time. Her Nani’s house was close by. It was a house they used to visit frequently, a house where they had spent many nights and days. This house is where the story of that biryani begins, where the story of many recipes in the family were born. This is the reason why my mother and her cousins all cook in much the same way. It goes back to two women in a jugalbandi in a Pune kitchen.

Badi Nani had a cook who everybody called ‘Amma’. (I do not know her name and I think this is a matter of some shame. We should not turn family helpers into nicknames and iron out their lives but that was the way it was.)
“She hailed from Hyderabad and would often narrate stories of Tipu Sultan,” begins Rashida Jamadar, Ma’s oldest mami, “Even though she was old, she was very active. Her special biryani is my favourite memory of her food.”

An old lady with a warm aura around her bustling in the kitchen with Badi Nani is the picture I have from my mother’s stories. But according to her, despite working together, Badi Nani and Amma would often fight and argue.
“Nani and Amma would not get along at all. I was too young to know what the fights were about. Amma would leave in a huff and say, ‘I am never coming back to work again’. This would happen almost every month, somebody would come home to report this and we would go to Amma’s house to convince her to return. It would take some doing but she would come back eventually,” my mother says.

My mother grew up with her cousins and an aunt who was close to their age. They all remember the food Amma and Nani served. “A long breakfast table would be laid out at which the adults would sit. There would be no place for us kids to sit, so we would perch ourselves on the table and eat. I remember so vividly; the steaming hot cup of tea would be served with freshly made parathas straight off the pan,” says my mother.

Amma's biryani recipe cooked by my sister in law 

Suhaila Shaikh, one of my mother’s closest cousins growing up talks about her most memorable times attached to food as a child, “Food kept the family together. We didn’t need a reason to get together and eat but I remember occasions when we got together for lunch or dinner because it was a birthday, or someone had come from abroad and was longing to eat this dish or that one. Or we’d just get together and eat.”

One generation down, Amma has passed into history. No one remembers eating her food but her ghostly voice still haunts the kitchen. “I don't really remember tasting her food. I was too young,” says Saadiya Munshi, youngest sister of Suhaila Shaikh sums up her memory of Amma, “but every time biryani was made and there was any doubt about a spice, the final argument was: Amma would do it this way. And the matter was settled.”

“I haven’t had the food prepared by her, but I have tasted it through my mother who prepares her dishes and relates her stories with immense love and respect.” Maryam Shaikh and her older brother Saad Shaikh have similar views about Amma, when asked what they know and remember about her.
Today when we meet for an occasion, we come as different sets of people from different families. We come together and our cores are connected through the food we eat. Even miles apart sometimes. Suhaila Shaikh says, “My son who’s in Canada misses my food but compensates by eating at my sister's place! I too feel happy that he's got what he's missing even when we're worlds apart.”
She adds, “We are intricately connected through food especially through our mother's side. Us sisters and cousins cook common dishes that taste similar! Our kids also find it strange that we cook such similar things so often.”

But in the end, it really is not strange that everything our mothers cook is so similar, “Our food habits come down to us through our generations. The first generation teaches their next generation and every new generation brings changes to the same food and the cycle goes on. So yes, we are intricately connected through our food habits,” Rashida Jamadar says.

While we all meet and cook and reminisce amongst each other, Saad Shaikh, my mother’s cousin, went a step ahead and brought Amma’s recipes to life through a food venture he started in Pune, “Started Sultan'z, a cloud kitchen selling biryani and gourmet samosas and put across key messaging and story of Amma as the inspiration of the biryani recipe. In fact, the name Sultan'z also was derived from the same story. Amma came from the time of Tipu Sultan, in our conversations in a light vein we mentioned "our biryani is from the time of Sultans" that was one of our key inspirations for arriving at the name. I have quite a few stories passed down from ma about Amma. MashaAllah, she was a great figure who lived a long fulfilling life and is the reason for so many memories we all have.”

My cousin Lubna Munshi agrees with me as she adds, “No matter how much things change and distances grow among us, in the end we all have something in common. We belong to the same ancestor and our food reminds us about our roots which are forgotten by us in the glamour of today’s evolving world.”