(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 68, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.)
Wazwan or Mazwan
A few days back I got trapped in a “Hamrah-i-Shah”, at a ceremonial function accompanying the bridegroom at late night. The invitation card indicated the time of the departure of the barat at 8 p.m. Unlike other places of the world, time is a free commodity for us and as usual the barat left four hours past the scheduled time, at 12 o’clock midnight. Instead of adopting a shorter five-minute route, the guide preferred a long roundabout that consumed an hour more.
Thus we reached the bride’s place the next day as per calendar. The reception and warming the meals took another hour. The meals were finally served at 2 a.m. and finished at 3 a.m. We left with the bride by 4 a.m. Meanwhile, there was a call of Azan from the mosque and we thanked Allah on bestowing on us the sense of punctuality at least for Azan-call.
During the serving of the Wazwan the usual order of serving the courses was violated as besides usual preparations like the ones covering the trami (copper rice plate shared by four persons sitting around), kababs, tabakh maz, chicken, methi maz, dhani phul, over six new varieties were served before the usual first course of meat preparation that is when Rista was served. This was followed by many more courses and all of us were condemning the extravagance and lamenting on becoming a silent partner to this large scale waste, but none had the moral courage to protest against this violation. Perhaps our sense of realization has died down and we have become slaves of our traditions burdened by showmanship and rat race. Since the guests could eat hardly 20 percent of the dishes served, we on our part persuaded one of us to carry the spared dishes to our home in a polythene bag. It was a great relief when the person agreed to the proposal.
It is believed that Wazwan has its origin in Iran or Central Asia, but no traces of it are reportedly found there. It might have been a Kashmiri innovation like Kangri, Wagu, jajir, etc. The Wazwan was a prudent way of serving meals devised by our ancestors, as instead of serving individuals separately; four people shared the same plate, which would lead to easier service besides closer contacts and also mutual sharing and enjoying the food. Each part of the lamb was utilized in preparation of a particular dish like the chest for preparing tabakh maz, thighs for dhani phul, rista gushtaba and kababs; other parts for preparing rogan josh, korma, etc., and the order of serving was besides the coverings of the plate - rista, rogan josh, cheese, aab gosht, korma, gushtaba. This would be just sufficient for four persons with 2 kgs of meat per plate with no wastage. Now we have resorted to more than double the quantity and some people are seen galloping down ten times more calories than the required ones and hence succumbing to the resultant frequent diseases as registered in the hospitals. The average requirement of calories per person has been worked out only about 1600-2500 per day. Assuming that the stomach is flexible, they fill their bellies in one go to their full extent with all solids salads, curd, half a dozen chatnis plus ice cream and a tin of Coke or Pepsi, etc.
In spite of the present dearth of meat due to boycott of the dealers, meat has been made available in plenty for marriages, as much as five to ten quintals per function. The function as such must be rechristened as mazwan instead of wazwan.
Once I happened to read the diary of an Australian tourist girl, who had recorded therein that she wondered how Kashmiri people would eat a plateful of rice, when she hardly could take just a spoonful of it and even then her stomach got upset. At another incident an official guest from Thailand refused to take a kabab, saying it would raise his cholesterol level, while as our overweight minister hosting the party consumed half a dozen kababs making the guest aghast with wonder.
In another function a French tourist shared wazwan in the trami with us. While asking him about his whereabouts, he disclosed that he is a Muslim convert, the reason being that he had got impressed by the simple burial given to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, when he too was there in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. However, when he saw meat dishes being poured on our plate and getting stockpiled for disposal into dustbin, he said that had he known that Muslims waste food in such a manner he would have reconsidered his decision to convert.
Let us pray that attention of preachers and medicos is drawn towards advising the common people about the plus and minus points of wazwan and the number of calories found in the different courses of these preparations against the average body requirement. An NGO needs to inculcate the sense of time among common people. The host is handicapped when the guests come late, who at present wait for a mobile response to start of service of the feast. The recent turmoil had made people to make amendments in timings, number of guests or number of courses, but with the relaxed atmosphere, we are heading back to square one.
There is an alternative method of service in South India where Biryani is served in a huge flat container and every one sitting around pour Biryani in his respective plate according to his requirement and there is zero wastage. A trend towards buffet service has also begun, but common people seem to be not in its favor. In view of the extravagance, the new generation is adopting a revolutionary simplified approach of nikah ceremony being held in mosques with distribution of a few palms. The money wasted on wazwan and all the pomp and show serves the future needs of the newly married couple or for distribution among the needy and downtrodden.