By Lt Azam Gill, France (2nd SSC)
Readers are cordially invited to correct any mistake on my part: it’s been a long time since I am out of Pakistan, folks!
The appropriation of Takka tin by Takka tak serves as an allegory of Pakistan’s conflicting and overlapping forces swirling to appropriate the Quaid’s legacy.
Taka tak phonetically imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it transcribes, making it a classic onomapoetia. It sets down the sound of two bits of metal clashing at a right angle, originating from two vertically held metal spatulas chopping lamb sweetbread, kidneys, and chops on a metal tray over high heat as the ingredients cook in spices, butter, tomatoes, ginger, onions and garlic. There is also a vegetable takka tak that is popular in India. Actually, Taka tak could equally well be called tana tun, taka tun, tuna tak, tun tun, tak tak. The possibilities are as endless as the possible names of Item Queen Malaika Arora Khan.
However, although Malaika might be Munni, Priyanka might be Bubbly, and Katrina might be Sheila with or without Jawani, Taka tak is now taka tak.
Yet, at one time, during my Aatish ki Jawani — not Sheila’s — Taka tak was known as Taka tin, baptized as such by Malik Javed Shaukat aka ganja, a scion of one of Lahore’s most distinguished families of noble Kakezais, under the hovering shadow of the Quaid.
My three bhaijans, Javed Shaukat, Muazzam Gill (my older brother) and Dildar Bhatti, the late and great stand-up comedian, were vibrant post graduate students in Lahore of the late 60’s. Two Muslims, and a Christian, with a clearly disproportionate minority representation! A Kakezai, a Jatt and a Rajput!
Apart from being brilliant students, they were also dandi-patti qaim, tama’ash beens and shikras, valuable ingredients of fully rounded young men in a Pakistan struggling to realize its self-image. They dressed well, fought well, were popular with girls and in general were considered to have theek tha’ak teheka in Lahore. Their beat was bounded by Law College and Punjab University Old Campus at one end and Kinnaird and Lahore College for Women at the other! They considered the gourmet eateries within these parameters as extensions of their family dining rooms while pursuing out-of-area operations for cha’amps, siri payas and mujras in Heera Mandi. The fathers of all three were well known in the legal profession.
Javed Bhaijan was the son of Malik Shaukat Ali, Advocate, and the grandson of Malik Barkat Ali, Advocate, leader of the Pakistan Movement and close associate of the Quaid. Their palatial mansion was on the Temple Road side of the Temple Road-Mozang Road crossing known as Safana’ala chownk, not far from the famous Jat Sweet corner, run by the notorious Pir Mohammed Jatta.
The Quaid had been a guest at Malik Shaukat Ali’s wedding, which still caused a buzz in Lahore when people went past their mansion. Desert for the wedding banquet had been ice cream. In those good old days right up to the seventies, this delicious dessert was made by churning the milk/cream and fruit mixture by hand.
The space between the churner and the wooden bucket in which it rested was packed with ice, and the ice covered with rough kalmi shora saltpetre (potassium nitrate) to delay the melting process. If the lid on the churner was not tight enough, the salt-flavoured melting ice could seep into the ice cream.
And that is what happened with one of the churners at Malik Shaukat Ali’s wedding. However, according to the legendary tale which, of course, changed its precision with each telling while maintaining the integrity of the anecdote, the Quaid smiled and complimented his host on the taste. At that point, Malik Barkat Ali, tasting his own cup, realized the blunder, tendered profuse apologies and obviously had the Quaid’s ice cream changed!
One of my bhaijans’ favourite eateries, which I ‘inherited’ when I started my own career in well-roundedness in their footsteps, was on Abbot Road, known as Lahore’s Broadway for its concentration of cinemas. Lakshmi chownk was at one end, behind which was Royal Park, where many of the production companies and financiers, themselves tama’ash beens by definition, had their offices.
Abbot Road, was also well known for its eateries. The original Bangali Murgh Cholay was located at one end, a chicken rotisserie and a khokha (kiosk) selling hunter beef slices fried in desi ghee with dudh patti cha’a at the other.
Between them were semi open-air establishments preparing a superb dish called, I believe, tikki-anda. The cost of the beef-offered-as-mutton tikkis used to be a takka (before decimalization, it was 16 annas to a rupee and half an anna was a takka or tagha) or its decimal equivalent which came to four tikkis per rupee.
The tikkis themselves were little meatballs of approximately half an inch diameter. You chose the number of eggs in proportion, and decided whether you wanted them cooked in butter or mutton fat. The butter tikkis cost half a rupee each. On a large tawa, the karigar added chopped tomates, onions, garlic, green chillies, ginger and spices to the melted butter, threw in the tikkis and eggs, and went tin tin rin tin tin on the tawa with a metal spatula making eye-dazzling vertical strikes, chopping and mixing.
Once the dish was cooked, the accompanying nans didn’t come hot out of a tandoor, but were wiped on the residual butter and masala on the tawa — ballé ballé full chaska!
It was here, on that unrecorded and historic day, that the law student and son of the Lawyer at whose wedding the Quaid had shown his refined courtesy, argued that since each tikki was still referred to as costing a takka, and the sound of the spatula on the tawa was tin-tin, it was takka tin. Mushtaq Hashmi, aka T’hako, later a TV producer, singer and presenter, was also present. Between these four bhaijans and the tikki-anda karigars, the baptism spread like wildfire. The baptism having been administered by the renowned Malik Shaukat Ali’s son and Malik Barkat Ali’s grandson and many of the regular takka tin clients being film people from their Royal Park offices, led to exponential repetition of the name. The appellation spread like wildfire.
But then fate took a hand. The simmering cultural configurations that surfaced in the 80’s challenged Pakistan to its core. Winds of change swept much away, and the Quaid’s memory itself became a hotly contested terrain. Hardly surprising that what the mouth of man had proclaimed to public acceptance became victim to the prevailing exigencies of political correctness. The mighty did not fall, but like old soldiers, faded away with dignity!
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