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akbarIN SIX YEARS OF RULE, Akbar has understood the importance of sound advice. The importance of being surrounded by persons of skill, judgement and nous. To this end, he has picked out his Navratnas. Nine Jewels. More than just ministers, this elite group of advisors are invested with powers that extend beyond their department. This means that Hakim Humam, one of Akbar’s Navratnas, who is the Mir Bakawal (Chief Cook) is also called up in the capacity of diplomat, connoisseur of poetry, and even to consult on matters of science.

Only last year, news of the extraordinary musical talents of Tansen, reached Akbar’s notice. Akbar has been taking music lessons since childhood and his Court needed a worthy Chief Musician. He had persuaded the King of Rewa to send over Tansen. In his very first performance, Tansen impresses Akbar sufficiently for him to announce that the musician will now be among the elite team of Navratnas.

Many of the Navratnas have pedigreed, classical training, but a few, like Mullah Do Piaza, have proven themselves on the job. Trained in philosophy and adept at Arabic and Persian, he was eager to perform in any capacity at Akbar’s Court and has steadily risen through the ranks – from poultry-caretaker to librarian – by proving his excellence. As a member of the elite corps, he now advises on jurisprudence.

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It takes some plodding before this Navratna arrives at the secret of the perfect Do Piaza. Image: From 18th Century Deccan portrait of Mullah Do Piaza

One of Mullah Do Piaza’s side-interests is cooking. Eager to showcase his culinary chops, he throws parties regularly at his home and encourages people to walk in for a good meal. These feasts are also an opportunity to gauge tastes and arrive at flavour combinations that draw widespread approval. As one-time Court librarian he has had access to some exceptional recipes such as those in the Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shahi (Book of Recipes) which records the making of preparations in the Kingdom of Mandu, under a King who took a personal interest in the art of cooking. It is from this document that he has been inspired to develop a dish that has become his piece-de-resistance, a dish so popular he has recently come to be referred to by it.

However it’s taken some time for him to arrive at the perfect configuration for the meat dish known as do piaza. Earlier on he understood it had something to do with the onions. He just had to figure out how much. At one party he instructed his kitchen to increase the quantity of onions by one part every time he clapped. In this way he was able to arrive at the right quantity before it tipped the balance. The results surprise even him – onions must weigh in at twice that of the meat. There are other trade secrets to the success of his dish – but this stands out.

Akbar is served this dish one afternoon and he is so delighted that he asks to have it served to him at least once a week. Mullah doesn’t reveal how exactly he goes about making this famous dish, but word among some cooks is that he uses no more than two onions. Whether two onions or twice the quantity of onions – the confusion will last as long as the legend of the dish and the mystic who makes it famous.

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