A melting pot: Community building through cooking Haleem on Ashura

Neighbours, friends and relatives pitch in money to prepare dhegs of the popular dish.

The male members of communities in Karachi prepare Haleem on Ashura. Friends, family and neighbours contribute money and then get the cooked meal the next day, on Muharram 10. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN/EXPRESS


For certain boys in Karachi’s neighbourhoods, Ashura is the time when their inner chef comes out. They get their neighbours, family members and friends to pitch in money for the preparation of Haleem on Ashura and the popular savoury dish is delivered piping hot to their doorsteps the next day.

In Block 10-A of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, young boys have been following the tradition of cooking Haleem on Ashura for the last eight years. “There is no religious context to this practice. It is just a way to get neighbours and friends together,” said one young resident. He added that keeping in mind the sanctity of Muharram 9 and Muharram 10 for Shias, they do not play music or partake in any other festivity. “We play naats and nohas while we are preparing the dish.”

According to caterers, thousands of dhegs were prepared this year on Thursday night. Proper arrangements were made for the activity, especially in large neighbourhoods. Decorators and caterers were consulted for the dhegs, tents, chairs, light bulbs, and even sound systems.

Traditionally, the cooking used to involve only neighbours but this year, friends and relatives were seen taking part in a large number. The monetary contributions, which used to be around Rs100, went up to Rs500 and in some areas, such as the Al Noor Society, Gulberg, people paid up to Rs2,000. “Everyone is making Haleem on their own so individual contribution has gone up. Inflation in prices of food items along with purchase of decorations also increased the overall amount,” explained Mohammad Ajmal, adding that a prepared dehg of Haleem in his area cost around Rs8,000.

In Gulshan-e-Hadeed, enthusiasm ran high among boys aged 15 years and 16 years. Twins Umair and Danish, who take active part in Haleem-making every year, admitted that it was getting difficult to organise such activities due to the law and order situation. “Due to street crimes in our area, our parents worry and try to stop us but this is something we’ve been doing for a long time and so we carried on this year as well,” they said.

The boys said that the more the Haleem is mixed, the tastier it becomes. Men in his area try to do everything themselves without any help from the women - soaking lentils, mixing them with meat and grinding it to perfection or as said in the mohalla, ‘Haleem ko ghota lagana”. A wooden spoon is used to mash the lentils and grains together. The participants keep moving the spoon to get the right consistency. Some people also use Kafgeer, a big spoon and strainer to make sure the Haleem is not burnt.

The changes in trends have taken place mostly because of security reasons. Instead of cooking Haleem on the roadside in small groups, the cooking now takes place in large gatherings, comprising 30 to 40 men.

Due to the sensitive security situation in Muharram, some people opt not to make Haleem at all. Residents of North Nazimbabad cancelled this activity and this year, relied on caterers to cook them the hearty meal.

The spirit of the activity, however, could be seen in most of the areas as residents prepared garnishing, including coriander, garlic, fried onions and green chilies in small plastic packets, late Thursday night and served the delicious meal to their loved ones the next day.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2013.


Mohammad Ali Siddiqui | 9 years ago | Reply

I was born in Karachi and have lived quite a few places where young boys made and distributed Haleem after contributing money from the area residents.

The correspondent of ET has very rightly said that the contribution for Haleem use to be Rs.100/- per apartment/house which has now increased due to inflation.

As far as taste of Haleem is concerned, I don't remember that I have ever had a chance to eat Haleem more better in taste of Haleem which used to be served every year for hundreds of invitees at the residence of Late Syed Azfar Rizvi, the prominent educationist, who was killed last year in Federal 'B' Area, Karachi by the terrorists, who are still at large.

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