Monday, October 22, 2007

The Sheer Khurma Competition

[ This post is written by mummyjaan ]

When Tharini put up October's great theme, I was reminded of countless family traditions which I saw while growing up. Being Ramadhan last month, I recalled many traditions associated with Ramadhan and Eid - I remembered my first fast, the first fast away from home, first Ramadhan with hubby, then with the children.

I also recounted several Eids spent in India and elsewhere in my nomadic life; I believe I have celebrated Eid in at least 10 different cities in the world. One of those Eids was spent in my in-laws' house, the year that I got married.

It was there that I came across the fun 'family tradition' I want to share with you - my father-in-law's "Sheer Khurma Competition", as I will call it.

Sheer khurma is a traditional sweet made in many households on Eid ul Fitr ("Ramzan Eid"). It's also called 'Seviyan'. Sheer is Persian for 'milk' and khurma means 'dates', again in Persian. (The word is distinct from 'korma' which is a kind of spiced curry, although we have often ended up pronouncing the two the same). I do not know how or where the sweet originated, or when the vermicelli became an important ingredient, but dates and milk must certainly have been the primary ingredients.

There are as many variations of it as cooks. From the vermicelli you use, the combination of dry fruits you put in, the amount of ghee you use (minimal or generous - I use sunflower oil!), to the kind of milk you use, whether you add cream, whether it's dripping with sugar or just has a hint of sweet in it, etc. Everyone seems to come up with a slightly different flavour. And of course, people can get as individual as they like with decorations.

This dessert - the sheer khurma - is traditionally the first thing eaten on Eid mornings. Symbolically, you 'break' the month-long fast on Eid day with milk and dates. Sheer khurma is prepared early, before the family goes out for the Eid prayer (usually just after sunrise - but varies a lot in Hyderabad in different venues). Once you get back - very hungry - from the Eid ki namaz, it's time for hearty biryani in some households (my in-laws), or the lighter chicken vermicelli ('murgh sevi') in others (my mum's house).

I won't dwell on the Eid celebrations, the decorations, the finery, the mehendi ,the "Eidis" (gifts) which all children look forward to excitedly. Or the Eid prayer, which is the heart of Eid. All of those are integral parts of the day, of course.

Once everyone is back home and has had breakfast, a steady stream of visitors descends onto my in-laws' house. Being the oldest in a large clan, my MIL's house is always a centre of activity. I call it the "Family headquarters".

My sasurji, after meeting the first few visitors, sets out to individually visit every one of his children's homes. All 8 homes of his daughters and daughters-in-law. The point of the visit is of course, to visit his children on the festival. But the fun part is when he samples each and every one's cooking and at the end of the day, declares one winner - the maker of the best sheer khurma. (He just 'samples' the food - being very careful about his diet and health).

This 'competition' has become something to look forward to.....

All my 'jethani's (husband's brothers' wives) and 'nands' vie to produce the best dessert. I spent one Eid with them in India, before moving to Ireland. As I was the bride and the youngest DIL, I wasn't expected to cook (did you hear that, girls??? I didn't cook in my in-laws' house for a year, and when I go back on vacation, I'm the 'guest' so I still don't). Anyway, I had the occasion to sample all their cooking (hubby and I went with him), and at the end of the day, the 'winner' was my 2nd eldest 'jethaniji', a superb cook. (Winner 3 years running).

I joked that my FIL had acted impartially - having picked a bahu over his 6 betis. I was new in the house and naive. As time passed, I came to know that in this family, at least, there isn't much difference between the bahus and the betis. Which is something truly wonderful. As far as he is concerned, they're all his betis.

The "competition" is an excuse. The actual Eid tradition that Abba is carrying on is visiting the daughters' homes and making them feel special. It does make everyone feel special when "Nana-hazrat" (or "Dada") shows up at the door. The children excitedly look forward to Nana's Eidis. We cherish the time when he puts his affectionate, benevolent hand on our heads and gives us his dua's (prayers).

My first and only Eid in my sasural was a memorable one. I look forward to the day when I will relocate to India again - I don't know when that will be, but I hope 'Abba' is healthy enough to visit my home, when I present him with my cooking. I know I would have a slim chance of winning, but more than that, I look forward to his tender hand on my head, blessing me, my husband and my children, praying for our health and long life, our success and happiness, in this world and the next. Inshallah.


Asha said...

A touching post MJ! Hope your Abba is in good health and strong enough to visit you. I am sure he is very proud of you regardless!:))

indosungod said...

mummyjaan, one lovely post. I will sure not mix the 2 Korma and Khurma ever again :) Besides the Khurma the tradition is beautiful and lovingly written.

Sandeepa said...

That is such a sweet post. You must be missing family so much. I can imagine what fun it must be on Eid with all 6 daughters and their family vying for the best sheer khurma

Aryan said...

wow that was a good post. Very touching. I was not even aware of sheer to learn things...

Aryan's Mom

bird's eye view said...

That was lovely. Belated eid mubarak, and I hope your abba stays in good health and visits you when you move back.

mummyjaan said...

Hi Asha, Indosungod, Sandeepa, Aryan's Mom, BEV : Belated Eid mubarak to you too.

I don't know why I picked my one Eid with in-laws rather than a score spent with mum's family - it probably has to do with it being 'different'. Coming from an ultra-nuclear family (of 3 souls) and being thrown into this boisterous, enormous, jolly joint family was a different experience altogether. When we get together under one roof,there are about 60+ members, incl. spouses, children, grandchildren, their spouses, and great-grandchildren of my older SIL's.

Yeah, I guess I miss the fun :)