Playwright-anchor-director Danish Iqbal on the play of food and food of play

The monsoon is still here in all its wet and wild ways. Ramzan is all but over. Time then to taste rogan josh, biryani and some Kashmiri kababs. Where? The feast is not on at any of the eateries across the city. It is a list of delicacies Danish Iqbal churns out when the mood overtakes him. He claims to be good at it, most likely is considering the zest with which he talks of food over lunch at Le Meridien’s Monsoon restaurant. It is an appropriate place and a very apt restaurant to have food and conversation around it at this time of the year. There is a hint of a drizzle outside. Inside, Danish is on song.

For him there is a celebration of food over the weekend. “There are so many things to be tried out beyond the usual biryani and kabab. How about keema dosa and kofta dosa,” he reels out names. Then comes the more serious part, “I am soon going to have a play on food. Noted director Sayeed Alam has commissioned a play on the foods of India. Nasir Abdullah will act in it. We will serve food at the end of the play,” Danish informs. Meanwhile, to get us going, our host for the afternoon, Chef Anil serves us monsoon shots, which is nothing but a wonderful mixed vegetable cappuccino. Next up is a rare deconstructed samosa that comes with green peas and tomato chutney. Its name intrigues me, its appearance pleases Danish too, who soon pronounces it, “simply superb”, then gets back to talk of his play on food. “Nobody has ever done a play on food though we have such a rich culture of food in our land. For instance, from Kashmir to Kerala, biryani changes taste and appearance. Same for dosa. You can have a dosa in Dharamashala now.”

Dosa is reserved for another day. Today the chef serves us four different tandoori delights, including mustard sole with cumin puff, polenta kabab, king prawn infused with kaffir lime and the good old chicken tikka with khasta roti and cucumber raita jelly. They are merely starters selected with care by the outlet manager Kamal Chhabra.

Danish is not complaining. Our journey of discovery continues. He reveals more shades to his personality than a rainbow contains. We all have known him as the voice of AIR FM. Many, many people know him for his work on stage and behind with plays that have attracted international audiences. His subjects have ranged from Manto to Amrita Pritam. But just now he has been working for a documentary on women of Haryana that is to be directed by M.S. Sathyu. Then there are plays he would like to do; the list is both long and enticing. He would like to do a play on Satwant-Godse-Kasab! And maybe a couple of mythologicals too. “I have read the Vedas and the Mahabharat. I am quite curious about how a play around one of the characters of the epic would unfold on stage,” he adds. Then there is a play on Sara Shagufta, a feminist who died at the age of 29.

All the tandoori delights and tikkas leave us with a happy burp. The chef helps us prepare for the main course with a watermelon sorbet before following it up with lamb shanks and Hyderabadi salam of red snapper curry and aged basmati rice with chicken cooked in dum style! We almost protest at the goodness of the fare!

Danish finds an easier option. “After eating all this I will have to play tennis.” Tennis and a playwright? Well, yes, he does play tennis when he is not into theatre or the recording studios of FM or in the kitchen. Then there is the not-so-insignificant slot for reading poetry; he loves Faiz and quotes him liberally, happy to go beyond the much-talked about “Mujh se pehli mohabbat mere mehboob na maang.” For Danish Faiz is a revolutionary, not just a poet of love and longing.

The conversation soon veers around his two-volume book on built heritage, then those early days of working with AIR FM in Hyderabad. “I started my career with AIR FM in Hyderabad in 1993, then came to Delhi, was closely involved with getting the early channel on track. Then came the FM Gold stint….it has been a long journey.”

And it has been a leisurely lunch too. The rain outside, meanwhile, played catch-me-if-you-can with this part of the city. Now, it is quite bright and sunny. We sign off with pan mojito and Danish quietly walks into the distance. Maybe, another rehearsal for one of his forthcoming plays, maybe, a stint at teaching beckons!

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