Wazwan – the feast and the waste thereof
Let’s shun this extravagance that has become an unnecessary part of wedding functions
ER. MOHAMMAD ASHRAF FAZILI
A few weeks back I got trapped in a “Hamrah-i-Shah”, a wedding function in which I had to accompany the bridegroom during late night hours. The invitation card indicated the time of the departure of the barat at 8 PM. Unlike other places of the world, time is a free commodity for us and as usual the barat left 4 hours later i.e. by 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 of the calendar. The reception and warming of the meals took another hour. The meals were finally served at 2am and finished at 3am and we were back along with the bride by 4 am. Meanwhile there was a call of Azan from the mosque and we thanked Allah for bestowing us the sense of punctuality at least for the Azan-call for prayers from the mosques.
As Wazwan was served, the usual order of serving the courses of meat was violated. Besides preparations like the ones covering the Trami the copper rice plate shared by four persons sitting around) i.e. Kababs, Tabakh maz, Chicken. Methi maz, Dhani phul, over six new varieties were served before the usual first course of meat preparation i.e. Rista was served. This was followed by many more courses and all of us were upset at the extravagance and lamented for being silent partners to this waste, but none of us 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 his home in a polythene bag. It was a great relief when he agreed to the proposal.
Most of the people claim that the frequency of marriage functions has increased perhaps due to increase in population. There is hardly a day left when invitation cards do not pour in and we have to find time to attend wedding functions where we get trapped for hours together, and it even encroaches on our sleeping time.
A few days back I faced another unique experience. The bridegroom along with a hundred guests was seated in a tent covered with fine transparent malmal cloth and the temperature seemed to be cold. Waiting for over an hour as dishes were warmed in a cold atmosphere, the guests almost shivered and they rushed for easing out in the urinals. The host was worried thinking that perhaps the guests were leaving under protest but he was soon relieved when he heard that the rush was towards the urinals. Besides the area being on a hillock, no one could run away at midnight due to fear of wild animals around. There were many more surprises waiting for us. On lifting the engraved copper lids from the trami, we found it completely covered with two oversized Tabakhmaz which was not seen by any one of us in our lifetimes before. So much so even one piece of it was more than what four people could share after having a tug of war to break it. Under this thick cover was a second layer of full sized chicken covering the third layer of Kababs, Dahani phol and Methi, which had crushed the poor rice under its two kg weight. After serving many more dishes, which we requested the waza to skip, including about half a dozen varieties of chicken preparations besides other usual meat servings, there was another surprise waiting for us – a long plate full of fried fish. Had this been served earlier, we would have preferred to fill our bellies with it. But alas, it arrival late!
To crown all this, the Gushtaba of abnormal size remained untouched obviously due to many reasons. One wonders how could a stomach of one to two litre capacity accommodate one to two kgs of meat and cereals in one go. The result was wastage of seventy percent preparation. This shows how much prudent we are when it comes to showmanship, extravagance and scoring points over others. Besides oversized pas-pass, the last surprise was a box of mint, a pack of chewing gum and a six inch long 3mm tooth-pick to remove any large pieces of meat struck in the omnivorous teeth. The feast ended with a double prayer (Hamud) – one for thanking Allah for bestowing us enough to eat and waste, the other was for thanking the dishes for leaving us safely to enable us to rush to our homes.
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, first Rista, next Rogan josh, then Cheese-Panir, Aab gosht, Korma and 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. The average requirement of calories per person has been worked out to be only about 1600 per day. Assuming that the stomach lining 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 recent dearth of meat due to boycott of the dealers, meat had been made available in plenty for marriages, which may be as much as 05 to 10 quintals per function which needs to 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 could hardly take just a spoonful of it and even then her stomach got upset. On another occasion an official guest from Thailand refused to take a kabab, saying it would raise his cholesterol level, while our overweight Hon’ble Minister hosting the party consumed half a dozen kababs leaving the guest wondering.
In another function a French tourist shared wazwan with us. 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. He saw it when he was there in the Saudi capital Ryadh. 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. They should make people aware that the number of calories found in the different courses of these preparations is against the average body requirement. Social organizations need to inculcate the sense of time among common people. The host gets handicapped when the guests come late and they have to wait for a mobile response signaling the start of service – the entrance of Tasht-Nari. The recent turmoil had made people to make amendments in timings, number of guests and number of dishes in Wazwan, but we seem to be again heading back to the square one.
It seems we have become slaves of rat-race and showmanship. If we can’t free ourselves from such petty issues, how can we tackle the bigger ones? A trend towards buffet service has also begun here 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 performing nikah ceremonies that are held in mosques with distribution of a few dates. The money wasted on Wazwan etc. serves for the future needs of the newly married couple or for distribution among the needy and downtrodden people.
(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili Retired as Chief Engineer)