By Irma Ikram
Karachi:” I lost almost 20 kgs for my wedding and I had to literally forced and beg Naseer to lose 5 kgs…I wasn’t about to let all that hard work go to waste” Says Dr. Sara Naseer, laughing fondly at her memories of her Mendhi Ceremony which had taken place a few years ago. She is referring to the tradition that takes place of feeding the bride and groom mithai by elders and loved ones so that they may have a sweet start to their new life. “We both like M&m’s we had seen it used at a friend’s mendhi in place of mithai at the time so we thought why not?.” Sara and her husband both liked the idea that M&ms could be used to replace mithai, the sentiment could still be present without feeling heavy afterwards, and no unnecessary weight gain.
“We have such a large family the thought of eating that much mithai was nauseating and it is not nice to spit out the mithai that the elders feed us.” Said Naseer Khan, Dr. Sara’s husband.
Mr. and Mrs. Khan are not the only ones who have incorporated chocolate in to their wedding, other families have also been known to get creative. It has been a fashion to put chocolate in the bag of “Chuara” that is distributed after the signing of marriage contract, and some upper class families give chocolates when distributing the wedding card to family and friends.
With this new trend set ablaze the question arises: Has chocolate become the new mithai? Has the tradition of using a delicacy that was enjoyed by the Mughals themselves been cast aside simply because it is a pound packer? The true origin of mithai is unknown many different cultures claim numerous variations of different happenings in order of its coming about. The Gulab Jamun for example holds claims that its origin can be traced back to Persia where as the sweet its self has a history of being associated with Arab culture, the term Ghulab Jaman has roots from Persian Language. Mithai is a vast term it covers various kinds of sweets: Burfi, Ras Gula, Cham Cham, Ladu, Gajjar ka Kalwa, Akhrot Halwa, Sohan Halwa, Habshi Halwa, etc all originate from different nations, different cultures and various traditions, they all hold their own story and contribute to the rich history.
Dr. Inam Rasool son of Ghulam Rasool, owner of a local neighborhood sweet shop during the 1960-78, said:
“I used to make a big batch of Sheera (syrup) before going to university…It was a tradition at that time never to go to anyone’s house empty handed, the charm, dignity, and beauty that a box of colorful mithai holds could never be replaced by any expensive box filled with chocolate…I will never understand your generation.”
There are numerous cafes and local hotspots opening in Karachi all dedicated to chocolate and its fineries and the Karachiets are loving the trend. The phenomenon has swept the nation.
The clash among cultures and the battle between generations is clearly evident and the question slowly forms in to a statement: chocolate is the new mithai.
A local advertisement, sponsored by a multinational chocolate conglomerate, aided this point of view by showing how petty racial/religious differences are and can easily be solved by giving chocolate as a peace offering. Even a homecoming bride is offered chocolate as a ‘first look’ ritual, rather than the traditional sweetmeat. The tagline, ‘Kuch meetha ho jaye’ aims to replace something sweet by chocolate, striking a close, generic association. Across the border, however, the company uses the chocolate as a prerequisite to an important (or noble) deed; thus, ‘Kuch achha karnay se pehle meetha khana chahiye’. The advertisement extends that association by showcasing its usage in weddings and various traditional festivals. It is evident through such advertisements that even the media in the subcontinent acknowledges chocolate’s influx into our homes, our mouths, and our hearts.”
It is a part of subcontinent culture that before doing something good or taking a big step in your life you should eat something sweet first. This mentality has been imparted on us for generations. The thought process behind it has never been written, it is simply a tradition kept alive though sentiment. It is a scientific fact that humans do evolve and that wants and needs do change, but in the midst of this particular evolution, are we giving up a part of ourselves and our rich heritage and giving in to western oppression without realizing it? For the sake of status, the shaving of a few calories, we may be giving up a lot more then we bargained for.