Sticky fingers: Nothing fishy about dipping your hand in boiling oil

Published: March 4, 2015
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PESHAWAR: 

Eight years ago Mohammad Gul, 28, was trying to fry fish for a customer on his wood-burning stove on Ring Road. However, it wasn’t going too well and the customer was angry over the delay.

“I was angrier than him and kept telling him the oil wasn’t fully heated, but he was still grunting so I dipped my hand into the frying pan and scooped some oil in my palm. The oil didn’t peel or burn my skin,” narrated Gul, the owner of Mohammad Gul Machli Firosh. This is how Gul’s roadside shack under a pedestrian bridge a few hundred yards from Rehman Baba Flyover became as famous for his stunt as the mouth-watering fried fish and chicken he sells.

Today, the cheerful and bearded Gul finds it hard to refuse a wide-eyed customer when asked to show off his feat. “A young man came from Karachi with his friend and took a selfie with me when I showed him the trick,” said Gul. He added most of his customers are either college and university students or residents of Hayatabad.

“I definitely feel the burn, but not like normal people do and the oil doesn’t affect my skin,” he says while scooping boiling oil in his palm and holding it up before releasing it back into the frying pan by way of demonstration.

“I can take out the fish and chicken pieces but can’t keep my hand submerged in the oil. I have been putting my right hand in the karhai (frying pan) since that first time eight years ago and so it is used to it. My left hand is still under training.”

Gul is, however, quick to dispel any notions of a higher power or the ‘gain of a saint’ enabling him to do this. “People call it magic, but this is not true. They make videos when I perform for them.”

Magic or not, Gul has to take the boiling oil in his palm more than a dozen times a day to please his enthralled customers.

“My friends never believe me when I tell them about Gul. Sometimes they place bets on it, but I win every time,” says Muhammad Rauf, a regular visitor of Gul’s fish hut.

Humble beginnings

Hailing from Charsadda, Gul lives with his wife and four children at his house in Shaheedabad, Gulbahar. He has been cooking fish since the past 20 years and started working as a waiter with his brother and brother-in-law at their restaurant in Nasir Bagh before starting Mohammad Gul Machli Firosh 12 years ago.

Gul’s own wife and relatives did not believe him till they saw him perform the trick on television. “She was really moved since the day she saw me on TV and my four-year-old son also wants to learn how to do it,” he says.

Initially, he was afraid to talk to the media, thinking the interviews would alert the government which would slap more taxes on his humble establishment where he sells 40 kilogrammes of fish every day from morning till 11pm.

“The doctors say my hand’s nerves will stop responding one day if I don’t stop doing this, but I can’t refuse my customers.” He even surprises some unsuspecting ones by scooping out the fish from the boiling oil with his bare hand, because he knows they will then bring their relatives and friends to witness the ‘miracle’ too.

Gul’s cousin and partner Imdadullah is concerned about the former’s hand, but he reiterates they can’t turn customers down. “They egg him on saying  ‘Shahbash, haath daal do lala,’” he says of the eager patrons.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2015.

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