The Nawab of Rampur is known for his fancy dinners and winsome cooks. He is also ‘secretly’ known for his interest in young boys…

Check out this excerpt from Dum-cooked Desires in this week’s story from Uttar Pradesh.

I am Shaukat Ali, twenty-four-year-old, henna-haired owner of the hole-in-thewall eatery Shaukat Miyan Ki Biryani at the Nawab Nagar-Nai Sadak junction.

Ammi made it her business to inform every new, unsuspecting ear of my culinary heritage of which I have no taste or knowledge. I suspect Ammi repeats stories of those grand old days to keep the past polished in her mind’s eye. The dastarkhwan of Rampur’s Nawab Ali Beg was not a place to sit and fill stomachs. It was where food met opulence, tehzeeb and nafasat or artistry. 

“The haveli is about to witness yet another mushaira and I want each one of us to feel we are part of keeping a past custom alive. With changing times, the future is clouded by uncertainty, so we must treat the mushaira of the year as if it were the last! Let’s make it grand. Make it beautiful. Make it count! Tempers might fly, patience might wear off, there might be arguments and disagreements aplenty but I hope we will be able to keep the differences aside for something that is larger than petty politics – our legacy!’ 

By the look on their faces one could tell that Nawab Ali Beg was the glue that held Rampur’s royal haveli together. Firm, yet kind. He commanded respect and loyalty and got it. As the uninitiated clapped and the seasoned ones smiled, the Nawab bowed to the nods and pleasant hum of murmurs before walking away from the semi-circle of attention towards Khas Mahal, Jogi and Jehangir prancing by his side. 

Khas Mahal was Nawab’s private quarter complete with a lounge, a library, an outer and an inner courtyard, a sit out, a pocket sized garden outside his bedroom and some bedchambers, guest rooms and a Rang Mahal or entertainment room. Only Mir Ali, Hafiz and a chosen few had unrestricted entry to this part of the haveli. The Nawab had quite a reputation of keeping good-looking, young boys and men within the fold of haveli for both power and pleasure. His merdana. Full of pehelwans, aspiring cooks, artists, poets, wasterds and bastards born in the haveli, equaled the intrigues, murmurs, insecurities, passions, plotting and power play historically associated with zenanas, complete with hierarchies. While Mir Ali gainfully employed most of them on the outside, inside the Khas Mahal they were all “pyjama tiers’ ‘. It was a well-known, well-laughed secret that the Nawab couldn’t tie his pyjama strings, never had to, and needed his pyjama tiers – the rest came with the territory!

This, Ammi never mentioned, or that the Nawab had been a little too soft on Abba.

Continue reading about how a royal cook’s legacy and a Nawab’s indiscretions change one boy’s live decades later in Dum-Cooked Desires for free on 6th August here


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