By Shoaib Hashmi
You are probably too young to
remember it, but at one time it was the usual slogan
of a lot of eating places in Lahore. No, not your
fancy restaurants and eateries of Defence and Gulberg,
but the dyed-in-the-wool Lahori 'tandoors'. And
the line was 'anna roti daal muft'! You bought your
hefty roti for an anna, and a generous dollop of
piping hot daal was thrown in for free so you had
a complete meal for the princely sum.
This munificent culture applied to other things
too, like the daas kulcha. This was a Lahori speciality,
and I believe there is a single purveyor still left
plying his trade, and keeping a hallowed tradition
alive inside the Walled city; it looked like an
ordinary kulcha, but the dough was kneaded in goat's
milk or something, and it was eaten with a helping
of pakoras called launchharras! Hence the phrase,
'daas kulcha pichhon launchharray'!
And over all this there was the blanket tradition
of the jhoonga. This was a little extra thrown in
for free as part of the culture of any shopping.
At the local veggie shop, a few sprigs of dhania
or podeena, or a fistful of green chillies were
thrown in; at the halvaii it was a couple of extra
bits of barfee; and even at the village Hattee,
if a kid went to get soap, he'd stick his hand out
and be given dollop of gurr or a pinch of shakkar
to sweeten his journey home.
No, this is not a hankering for a bygone age, and
a time when you could get a meal for an anna, and
it needn't be nostalgia because in a sense the tradition
continues. I suppose the modern equivalent of the
local veggie vendor who came on a rehree is the
platoon of 'Neapolitan Pizza' establishments mushrooming
all over. And they are still at it.
If you order pizza from the same place twice in
a month, the second time he brings you the pizza
and also a long spiel offering to make you a 'member'
of his exclusive Pizza Club. He takes your address
and phone, and gives you a shiny plastic 'membership
card' which entitles you, whenever you order a pizza,
to get another one for free!
Pardon my French, and my lifelong training in economics,
but that set me thinking. The 'charge' for this
membership is pretty nominal, see, only two or three
hundred; and for that they are willing to throw
in a thousand rupee pizza each time you order one
for yourself, and are willing to do it for months!
They are not doing it as a favor to you, and they
are not doing it for the goodwill because they already
have you hooked with the card; and so my economics
tells me they make a pretty darn good profit even
selling you two pizzas for the price usually charged
for one. So how much profit do they make when they
are not doing us any favors?
You can make a quick calculation on the basis that
a serving of reasonable chicken-corn soup in a decent
Chinese restaurant costs upwards of a hundred. You
can get an equally good helping of the same soup
off one of those Karachi samosa establishments.
It comes out of an earthen gharra, but it has the
same sweet corn, and a bit more of the chunky and
juicy chicken, and it comes for ten rupees, and
the man still makes a decent profit!
These guys are not feeding us; they are eating us
out of house and home, and taking us for a ride
down the garden path, and selling our fortunes down
the river! I always thought the Lahori fetish for
eating would ruin us!