The way it was: The joy of eating well-cooked trotters

Mian Ijaz-ul-Hassan

Unfortunately, the Butts are men of divided loyalty. Sometimes they want to seduce a trotter, at another they like to befriend a turnip. The local Arains, considering all that the Butts disapprove of them, are at least
consistent in their praise of aaloo gosht

I believe cooking trotters is an art. After they are cooked and come to rest in their own juices, they can be garnished with ginger and thane. The garam masala is sprinkled later at the very end, to enrich moments of anticipation by exciting the nostrils and activating the sluggish taste-buds.

It is said that two pairs of trotters and a single head of goat, without the eyes of course, is the best combination. I think six instead of four trotters taste better. But opinions will differ on such a widely popular subject. Some don’t even spare the eyes and love eating them dipped in honey. Some people like having a trotter with freshly baked kulchas for breakfast.

At one time Royal Park was a good place to visit for a morning breakfast. Adjacent to the seri paya shop one could get excellent puri halwa, which made life doubly rich. Today, Phajja of the Heera Mandi Chowk is regarded as the trotter king of Lahore. He has opened up some other joints in the city, specialising in trotters. I wish he hadn’t tried to emulate colonel Saunders. Frying pliant chickens from Kentucky is a matter of skill but cooking trotters of stubborn, stupid desi goats is a bi-product of creative upbringing. Any local Butt will tell you that.

Unfortunately, the Butts are men of divided loyalty. Sometimes they want to seduce a trotter, at another they like to befriend a turnip. The local Arains, considering all that the Butts disapprove of them, are at least consistent in their praise of aaloo gosht. The Gujjar baradari would have anything as long as copious quantities of chappar water is added to it. Citizens should be grateful to them for ensuring that milk doesn’t run short and goes around to each child in our towns. If occasionally a duddi (baby frog) makes an appearance what is the big deal? C’mon, who expects to find a crocodile in a quarter of milk? Have a heart!
Incidentally, trotters before 1947 were a peripheral item in the Lahore cuisine. It was not until the Butts of Amritsar arrived after Independence that the trotters received the pride of place on the menu. The docile Mians of Lahore have never been the same since.

Try having a bowl full of this stuff for a couple of weeks and your whole body language will change. Dipping a cold rusk in a bowl of tepid tea is one thing but soaking half a dozen fresh kulchas in a bowl full of trotters drowned in their own soup is an experience reserved only for those who dare. You will perhaps agree that Lahore has been invaded many times but the trotter, hareesa and nihari invasion has been the most profound.

The old Lahoris were a different breed. Today they have become a minority in their own city. Something ought to be done about this. To begin with, like the Hubara Bustard, they must be declared a protected species. One of the traits which distinguish them from others was to dare people to cross their path, though they would never put their martial threats into practice. Even the frailest of them never ceased to brag about the muscular endowments of his youth, which had perished over the years because of untimely fevers and bad diet. With words he claimed to move mountains, thousands in number. After all Lahore was the great city of Pehlwans (wrestlers).

I remember many a battle that was fought in its akharas. How the great Gama had humbled the great Zabysko. My grandfather told me that Zabysko could bend the big paisa by pressing it with his thumb and forefinger.
What a thumb and forefinger he must have had. Dadaji never actually saw Zabysko do this, however others had, he believed. But our Gama got him. I am not quite sure where, but it was either in Lahore or London. It was certainly not at Patiala or Amritsar.

According to Dadaji, Zabysko bent the paisa in Quetta, where one of his local Baloch friends lost a tooth trying to emulate him. What a pity, because Dadaji said he was a good man but went about hissing and whistling the rest of his days, which was not always polite, especially when he passed by a lady on the street.

Once Chesterton, a man with huge round chest and a ton of flesh, on meeting Bernard Shaw a lean person, sometimes claimed by the local Syeds as one of their own, remarked, that if he was abroad people would think there was a famine in Britain. I believe Bernard Shaw’s instantly retorted by saying to Chesterton that if he were abroad people would know the cause of it. I forget the contextual reference in which I was reminded of this but anyway whether a person is thin or fat wielding a metallic gurz, it is not like carrying a willow bat to the crease and hitting a shiny red leather ball for a six.

Being a wrestler requires strength. You have to do sit ups and pull-ups; have to sit down and stand up many times. To do all this they require eating a bag full of food, which has to be washed down with gallons of almond milk. Only Nawabs and Maharajas could afford to patronise them. Supporting a Pehlwan was a mark of social distinction. I know a family, which went bankrupt trying to maintain one. I wonder how long we as a nation can afford to bear the burden of our Pehalwans?

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is Pakistan’s leading painter. He is a teacher, art critic and political activist. He was awarded the “President’s Pride of Performance” in 1992. He is currently the president of the PPP Punjab’s Policy Planning Committee and Chairman of the party’s Manifesto Committee