A slice of Gujarat

the Bohras eat together sitting around a thaal. The community isknown for its cuisine and business acumen. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Every evening in the month of Ramadan the members of the small Dawoodi Bohra community in the city meet at the masjid in Thoppumpady. They are about a 150-odd who break their fast together, follow it up with prayers and then share a common meal. If this communal togetherness lasts for this holy month, there is a newly begun noon lunch custom that enjoins the community throughout the year. Each of the 38 families in the city is served a noon meal prepared at the mosque kitchen. Initiated by their religious head, the Syedna, the Faize-il-Mawaid-ul-Burhania (FMB) or one meal a day, preferably noon meal, is a world wide phenomenon be it in Paris or London. The meal is sent to homes and offices. “The main criterion is that all Bohras, haves and have-nots, should have the same food,” says Sadiq H. Kapasi, secretary of the small and affluent sect.

His ancestry in the city dates back to a time somewhere in the 1850s, when his grandfather Ali Bhai Jivaji Kapasi came along with his brother to these shores to procure timber for a contract to lay sleepers for the rail line between Bombay and Pune. “My grandfather stayed behind,” says Sadiq. Most from the community trace their antecedents to a migration that took place when a famine supposedly hit the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Families set sail in fatamaris and settled down along the coast of East Africa and the Arabian Sea, from where they further moved to secure better livelihoods. Wherever the community settled it made a mark for itself as a deeply religious and affluent business community.

“Most of us are into hardware business, so much so, that the joke about us is that only a horse and a Bohra will know the taste of iron,” says Sadiq with a laugh.

Shireen Fakrudhin came to Kochi from Chennai as a bride in 1970. Her husband’s hardware business - Abdul Hussain Abdul Kader & Company - is 125 years old. Strangely, she carries more memories of Sidhpur, their village in Gujarat, than of her childhood spent in Chennai. Earlier, the men shuttled between their offices in Cochin and their homes elsewhere. Shireen says she was the first woman in her family to come and settle down here. “My mother-in-law came after me,” she says.

Shireen lives with memories of Sidhpur, of “the haveli with 364 windows”, of big family weddings, of pomp and splendour of old style of living.

“In Kochi we are almost 12 families from Sidhpur, the rest are from Jamnagar and Kathiawad,” she says.

G.H. Kutbuddin has never visited ‘Nagari’ or Jamnagar from where his ancestors hail. He was born and brought up here. “This is my paternal and maternal place. If we go out of Kerala, we will feel like a fish out of water,” he says. Kutbuddin speaks of Alappuzha being a bigger hub of the community 50 years ago. His uncle’s family was in the coir business initially. “The last 20 years have seen an increase in the number of families here. Before that we were only 24 families in Kochi,” says Kutbuddin whose cycle store Navbharath Bicycle Company on Bazaar Road is quite a landmark, known for its friendly proprietor.

As a community the Bohras are close knit and highly organised. If prayers bring them together it is also the concept of eating together, seated around the thaal or a platter, that’s unique to them. “It ensures brotherhood between the ‘haves and have-nots’,” says Kutbuddin. Taking a pinch of salt before and after a meal and buying ‘live’ fish for cooking are two typical features of Bohra culinary practice. Their cuisine is famous. “We have now got used to eating rice but we are known for our rotis (bread), roomali roti being the most relished one. The dal chawal paleeda is a popular dish. It is had nearly once a week. The khicida, made of wheat and mutton to which dal is added is had during Muharram,” says Shireen.

Bohras break their fast plainly with dates and a glass of sherbet. The Ramadan community dinner is savoured together. “Literally no cooking is done at home during Ramadan, Iftar and dinner is had at the mosque,” says Shireen.

Zainab Shabbir Cochinwala runs a travel agency. She says that the women are encouraged to work from home because it ensures a work-family balance. The Burhani women’s association (Bunnaiyat) holds many cookery related programmes and mehndi competitions. Zainab says “As a community we are highly organised. We have a Smart Card (ITS) that gives details of each individual. The community encourages enterprise and we get financial support ( karzan hasna - interest free loan) to start a business. Our outfits, the topi for the man and the rida for the woman make us stand apart. If you go anywhere in the world you will know a Bohra from his or her dress.”

In Kerala the community has assimilated well. Youngster Hussain Cochinwala represents Kerala in snooker, the community businesses provide livelihoods for many, and their famed food is savoured with delight. Nurturing their customs and simultaneously blending with the local culture the Bohra community has integrated with the landscape of Kerala. “We speak Malayalam fluently and love the food. The sadya is a must during Onam,” says Shireen happily.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 5:55:02 PM |

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