Karachi Nauroz celebrations: Haft Sheen tables groaning with goodies

In Karachi, we hardly recognise that spring has arrived, let alone the rest of the seasons. But when I entered Dilnaz’s home to cover Nauroz (or NovRuz as the Parsis spell it), I knew that spring was in the air. The room was full of girls dancing around in pink dresses as marigolds strung up across door frames swayed.

Nauroz – the new year according to the Persian calendar – was celebrated by the Ismailis and people of Iranian and Afghan descent across the city on Monday.

At first, I was very nervous to walk in as I was not that well-informed about the tradition. I did not know what to expect. However, I was greeted with smiles – and Faluda – and was asked to extend my hands. Dilnaz, the hostess, sprinkled rosewater on my palm, raised a vanity mirror and asked me to smile. “I hope you smile for life,” she said as she offered me a sweet treat to seal the tradition. I felt an instant wave of peace and happiness.

She took me to her Haft Sheen table and I had never seen so much food and of such variety on one table – ever. There were seven different food groups chosen in appreciation of spring and the agricultural cycle. The offerings compliment the alphabet ‘sh’ Seen (apple), Seer (garlic), Sirak (vinegar), Sikkah (coin), Samaq (crushed pomegranate seeds), Sinjed (ash fruit) and Surma (Kajol). Other offerings such as milk or dried fruits can be made.

Dilnaz told me that the table will be kept like that for 13 days. Visitors were wowed by the cottage cheese and salmon spread, sheer maal with lamb, shrimp tempura, pistachios, figs, jello, pastries, lemon tarts, fish tempura, chocolate, turnip, gulab jamun, Easter eggs, milk, rose sherbet, vol-aux-vents, halva. Dilnaz fretted that perhaps she had made too much fish this time.

The mood was laid back, visitors came and went, including several curious international guests. While most people were dressed in spring colours, no one was wearing anything extravagant. What was surprising to me was that there were several non-Parsi guests. One guest from Lahore said she was not aware of any Parsi residents in her city which is why she had come to satisfy her curiosity about the Haft Sheen table and the Nauroz celebrations.

Visitors and well-wishers came and left at their own leisure, but no one left without sampling all the food. The conversations were random just like the ones you will hear at any get-together, ranging from the latest lawn exhibitions to the situation in Japan. Tiny plates and cutlery clinked, the men sat outside while the women chatted. The plates were exchanged for tissue papers as everyone dipped into the spread. I only hope that next year I get the same assignment.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2011.

  • SOLI MEHTA

    I CAN WELL REMEMBER JAMSETJI NAVROZE JASAN AND THE
    FEAST AFTER AT A TENDER AGE OF 6 AND THEREAFTER.
    MY FAVOURITE WAS PAPRI – MALIDO MADE BY THE DASTUR
    WIFE. HAPPY DAYS