Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?
“Run Aahil run! What are you doing? The ball is right there!!! Oh God, how could you miss this?”, screamed Aahil’s father from the benches of the cricket stadium of Aahil’s school in Lahore. Every morning it was the same rigorous ritual; Aahil was dragged out of the bed before sunrise, made to run 2 kms, followed by cricket practice at his school stadium at 6.30 am. He hated it, but had no choice but to comply to his father’s wishes. His father was a province-level cricket player, now working as a lawyer at Lahore District court. He couldn’t make it to the national team due to politics of Pakistan Cricket Selection Board, but he was determined to get his son into the team.
Aahil was the only son, born to his parents after 7 long years of marriage. His mother, due to the pregnancy complications, died soon after. He had been raised by his loving grandparents. His grandfather was a retired Military officer, and Aahil loved his grandfather the most. He too, was apple of his eyes – his prince, his “Aahil”. Aahil spent all his childhood in the lap of his loving Dadamiyaan, listening to umpteen stories of his school days, college days, partition, wars with India. He always wondered how different his father and Dadamiyaan sounded while speaking of India – his father was always bitter, cursing their cricket team each time they won over Pakistan, and his grandfather was always compassionate, regretful of the Partition and wars, the troubles between the two countries; fuelled by ISI and corrupt leaders.
Little did Aahil’s father know, as he trained his son to become a world class cricketer; that though Aahil was naturally talented, he despised cricket. His cricket ensured he could pass each class with bare minimum scores, under the pretext of various camps he attended. but his real passion was standing next to his Dadi in the kitchen, taking in the aroma of her delicate spices mix as she cooked Bhuna Mutton Masala (Mutton Roasted in Indian spice mix) with Naan (Flat bread). Aahil loved cooking, he found it to be an art – a skill that could be mastered only with practice, knowing how much salt to put and when. As his Dadi’s vision grew weaker due to cataract, Aahil went on to assist her, putting the various herbs as instructed by her, admiring her talent of determining if something is cooked just by the aroma.
When Aahil was 16 and preparing for under-19 selections of the national team, he heard about a show called “MasterChef Australia” from two of his female classmates, talking excitedly to each other about it. He looked for it at YouTube and before he could finish the fourth episode of Season 3, YouTube was banned in Pakistan. But Aahil had found his true calling in life – he wanted to be a famous chef with an established chain of restaurants across the world. He wanted to bring the secrets of his Dadi’s cooking to the world, and more importantly, he wanted to open a restaurant in the heart of New Delhi – his Dadamiyaan spoke a lot about the amazing food he had in the streets of Chandni Chowk on his delegation visits. He wanted to go there, eat their street food and be able to visit the Taj Mahal he had only seen in photos.
He inquired more and got to know about International Center for Culinary Arts, Dubai. He was scared, he wanted to join ICCA, but was worried about his father’s wrath at his disinterest towards cricket. But his Dadi-Dadamiyaan encouraged him to talk to his father.
“Abbajaan”, he entered tentatively in his father’s room.
“Oh, you are still up? It’s 11 pm already Aahil. You will be late for practice tomorrow”, his father lifted his head from his legal literature in surprise.
“Abbajaan..there is something I have to t.t..t..tell you”, he stammered.
“What is it Aahil? Are you alright? Are you nervous about the selections day after tomorrow?”, his father spoke as he called him closer and stroked his hair.
“Abbajaan..I d..don’t want to be a crick..crickter. I want t..t..to be a chef. I w..want to g..go to I..CC..A, in D..D..Dubai”, he spoke, shit scared of the severe lashing he was about to get.
“Are you out of your mind? Do you even know what you are saying? Please tell me it is just your fears speaking. I think it is the result of that stupid YouTube and that show that you used to see. Thank God they banned it. Go to your room, there is nothing called chef. You are born to be a cricketer, not a khaansaama ( a male cook/servant) at a hotel!!!”, his father yelled.
“What’s going on? Atif, why are you yelling at Aahil?”, Dadamiyaan came, limping slightly in the absence of his cane.
“Your beloved grandson wants to become a khaansaama Abbu, can you believe this nonsense?”, Atif cooled a little in the presence of his father, but the anger remained.
“Yes I know. And I also know that you love cricket, but he doesn’t. I think it is time you let him make his own decisions.”, Dadamiyaan replied quietly.
“Abbu do you realize how much money I have spent on his cricket training? And how much more we will need to send him to Dubai? Your love for Aahil is making you blind to all practicality!”, Atif lost his temper again.
“I have it all planned Atif. You need not worry about it. We shall sell a portion of our land in the village to your uncle. Anyway, we haven’t been there in years and he takes care of it as it is”, Dadamiyaan replied.
Atif didn’t know what to say. He knew his Abbu, if he had thought of something, he was going to see that things fell into place. He always had a feeling that Aahil didn’t enjoy cricket, but chose to ignore it. It took him two weeks but finally he relented, and Aahil applied to ICCA, Dubai. His application was selected and two months later, he joined the class of extremely talented students, some of whom even knew how to use those fancy kitchen gadgets!
It took a lot of grit and hard work for Aahil to make his mark at ICCA, cricket didn’t seem so tough! But he did well. And his ecstasy knew no bounds when he obtained the much coveted internship at the Taj Palace Hotel, Dubai. Little did he know that this experience was going to change his life forever.
Featured Image : Andie Mitchell