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huma_xceptionAFTER AN OVERWHELMING WELCOME at his designated encampment at the Garden of Desire in Herat, Humayun begins to make himself comfortable. With hospitality this indulgent, exile is a distant thought. After a month, he is finally invited to meet the young Shah Tahmasp. The scion is as gracious and magnanimous in person as his delegated hospitality suggested, but before long he brings up the matter of a cap. Humayun had been expecting this; only last week, his right-hand man Bairam Khan had told him of a face-off he had with the Shah over the matter of the cap. The Shah had offered him the traditional Saffavid headdress, but Bairam Khan had refused saying he was in the service of Humayun and could not wear the cap of another kingdom. Tahmasp relented on that occasion, but conveyed his displeasure. This time, when Shah Tahmasp offers the cap to Humayun, he meets no resistance, tensions dissolve and Tahmasp calls for celebrations to begin.

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The Shah’s faultless hospitality carries a hint of expectation. The incident of the headdress belies this. Humayun (L), Tahmasp (R) from this 17th C fresco at the Chehel Sotoun, Esfahan, Iran

It’s a welcome party that has been planned for weeks in advance. The carpets are laid, guests are seated and one by one the sealed trays are brought in and broken open. There are various preparations of rice: chilau, pilau mixed with the meat of wild fowl, and lamb in another preparauib. The pilaf that catches Humayun’s fancy has bits of orange peel – the naring pilau. There are dense stews with the bones left in giving greater flavour, there is a dish of deer meat. Many of the guests present already know better than to indulge with abandon in these preliminary dishes, no matter how irresistible, to accommodate the popular favourite: roasts, served fresh and sizzling from the fires. There is patridge, lamb and even antelope. Every now and then, guests take a lick of pickle and nibble an onion.

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In full swing: From a fresco at the Chehel Sotoun, Esfahan, Iran

Humayun notes that the sherbets served at this feast, unlike the thin consistencies he is used to, are so thick they require a spoon to be scooped out. They are however not bad at all. This is Humayun’s first taste of Saffavid celebrations at the Court. In the following seasons he is invited to many countless hunting and drinking parties across the country. And even though Humayun gives the impression of having nothing on his mind but the pleasure of enjoying present luxuries to the hilt, he has not failed to pick up the note of expectation in Tahmasp’s communications with him. Bairam Khan has already asked Humayun to consider parting with the precious Kohinoor. Humayun knows it will happen very soon.

 

References:
The History of India, Mountstuart Elphinstone
The Tezkereh al Vakiat or Private Memoirs of the Emperor Humayun, by Jouher, trans. by Charles Stewart
Food in Motion: The Migration of Foodstuffs and Cookery Techniques, Vol. 2, (Alan Davidson, ed.)

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