It does look as if the Oxford University Press (OUP), Pakistan’s largest publishing enterprise, has finally been caught by the event management bug. Last week, on the manicured lawns of Frere Hall, they came up with a novel way of launching a book by teaming up with Icon, a sponsor of events. They couldn’t have chosen a better venue. There was a cool breeze, which blew in from the sea, bright lights and a carnival atmosphere. The proceedings started with a sumptuous feast, which I regrettably had to miss as I was playing bridge at my club. This was followed by a presentation of Shahnaz Ramzi’s magnum opus Food Prints — an Epicurean Voyage through Pakistan. Ramzi had been working on her project for seven years and couldn’t have had a better reception. A huge crowd had come to the launch, the credit for which must go to the dynamic CEO of the OUP, Ameena Saiyid.
Food Prints is more than a book of recipes. It is, in fact, an authentic and veritable compendium of Pakistan’s cuisine, culled from eating in a number of Pakistani homes. Profusely illustrated, it is spread over a very wide spectrum and there is evidence of considerable, laborious and painstaking research in collecting such an astonishing variety of dishes and cooking techniques. There is also a well-informed smartness about the selection from a very wide swathe, which covers all the four provinces where the author had the opportunity to interact with leading chefs. She gives great background information, which helps the reader understand the reasons for some of the rich diversity of styles. Ramzi has travelled all over Pakistan and her love for Pakistani food is reflected in her book, which is a testament to simple ingredients producing sublime tastes.
To kick-start the presentation, there was an attractive Master of Ceremonies (MC) in the person of Chef Shahi who appeared to have been imported for the event. In 10 minutes flat, she gave the audience her life story. In between fighting for an expression, extempore hair tossing and casual strolling and posing, one gleaned that there wasn’t a five-star restaurant in Manhattan where she hadn’t tossed a Waldorf salad or fried a kebab. At times, when introducing the stream of speakers, she overdid it a bit. But her obsession never wavered, the solipsism was utter, hermetic, the concentration and self-absorption resolute, utterly engrossed. Regrettably … there were too many people who hogged the limelight.
The thing that I have always dreaded about book launches in Pakistan is the number of speeches inflicted on an audience. In my opinion, there ought to be only two speakers — the MC who introduces the author — and the man or woman who is about to grasp his or her moment of glory. The speech should not be more than 20 minutes. Ramzi did it in 10 and was quite delightful. People have a low boredom threshold and probably come for the cucumber sandwiches and fish fingers anyway. And if the MC says that the chief guest is well known and does not need any introduction, he or she should not blooming well spend the next 20 minutes introducing the author. But, regrettably, at most of the presentations that I have attended in Karachi, which have predictably started late because of the chief guest arriving 90 minutes late, there have been between six and 10 speakers.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.
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