Nations, states, and borders are constructs. They are imagined , fluid, and are a complex phenomena. Borders either confirm differences or disrupt units that belong together by defining, classifying, communicating and controlling geopolitical, socio- cultural, economic and biophysical aspects, processes and power relations. Borders represent the edges of the reified imaginaries of polities and societies, their power and their territorial control. They divide and they are crossed. They are lines and transitions. Borders are limits and opportunities.State borders which provide the structure for the state are found crisscrossing the globe, delineating spaces, and raising barriers to movement and trade. At the heart of any nation are common traits like religion, language, culture and ethnicity. These characteristics create the national identity that reinforces the construct of the nation by identifying who those in the nation are as well as who they are not. In this sense, nations are as imaginary as states and their borders . Both are constructed in the minds of those who participate. Without people participating, they cease to exist. Borders are increasingly complex human responses and social constructions in a world where the globalizing forces of instant communication, expedited travel and enhanced economic flows, confront the basic \nhuman concerns for security and certainty. As people migrate, generations of stories, traditions and ideas naturally travel with them, and are introduced to an entirely new land. Food culture too travels as well as are constricted by borders .Ina new imaginary land it evolves with the history of a nation as well as through time responding to shifts in environment, politics, economy.
From the land stretching beyond Hindukush till Bay of Bengal in East, Arabian Sea in West and mighty Indian Ocean in South came to be known as the Indian Subcontinent. The biggest onslaught on the concept of united India came in the form of Radcliff Line, which divided British India in two independent countries India and Pakistan in 1947. It was named after its architect, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who, as chairman of the Border Commissions, was charged with equitably dividing 175,000 square miles of territory with 88 million people. The line separates India and Pakistan from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat till international border in Jammu & Kashmir as well as dividing Bengal.With this man made division following no logic or rationale the subcontinent was divided across villages and even homes.But it being imaginary and a construct failed to divide the culture and with it most importantly its food culture.Differentiated by man-made markings of flags, check-posts and guards, the exit and entry points in a sense the borders become vividly illustrative of imposed differences.Yet similarities in food taste,method of cooking persist and illustrative of such bonding stands Sarhad ,a restaurant barely a kilometer from the famed Wagah border and Attari,the last village on the Indian subcontinent.Peace through food is the driving force behind the concept of the restaurant
People and the lore they create, including food ways, cannot be separated from the socio-cultural and physical environments in which they are created. People ascribe meaning to the physical spaces they inhabit. Foodscapes, articulated through place specific food associations, are one example of such ascription. The term foodscape is gaining increasing popularity in the parlance of scholars concerned with food. Food scapes are social, cultural, political, economic, or historical landscapes that, in one way or another, are about food. The concept incorporates the dynamics of global exchange, including the translocal and transnational character of modern food practices. Foodscape, broadly conceived, represents a marriage between food and landscape, both the conceptual notion of landscape and actual, physical landscapes. Foodscape refers to the food(s) peculiar to the locality and/or people under consideration, sites as well as activities like methods of procurement and preparation, and modes of display and performance related to those foods or practiced by those people.
Sarhad with its melange of food,culture and history represents the foodscape of erstwhile Pre-independence and Pre -partition Punjab. Sarhad meaning frontier in Urdu is more than just a restaurant or a dhaba on a highway,it is a place for nostalgia,a place where cultures meet and recreate themselves,a place of culinary discoveries.Opened in 2012 on the Indian side of the border ,the menu is curated in a manner to recreate the shared stories of the two countries.An ode to the lost history and brotherhood it sort of draws a bridge between now estranged Amritsar and Lahore.Designed by prominent Pakistani architect Nayar Ali Dada simplistic in decor the red brick building has an open courtyard inspired by the houses of Lahore’s walled localities. The marble inlaid tiles in geometric pattern are quite similar to the Golden temple.The colored window panes are inspired by the havelis of Lahore.The ceramic jali work from Lahore and the wooden colored chairs designed by Ansa Zafar adds to the uniqueness of the restaurant.The courtyard showcases the shared interests of the two nation and excerpts of pages from history. Called the museum of peace the catch word for Sarhad is borders without barriers.A celebration of the common architectural,cultural and culinary heritage of Amritsar and Lahore it seeks to recreate the nostalgia and pride in the common culture and history.Pages from the newspaper Tribune in the months preceding the Partition are put on laminated boards. Advertisements of popular films,pictures of the two cities adorn the courtyard.The painted trucks by the legendary Pakistani artist Hyder Ali at the entrance offers an eye view of the cultural heritage of Pakistan.
Sarhad opened in 2012 through its lovingly curated menu primarily pays homage to the shared stories of the two countries. While one can order Indian favourites such as Daal Makhani, Chicken Tikkas and Aloo Paranthas, there are also Bakarkhani Rotis, Chapli Kebabs and Miyanji ki Dal, sourced from authenticLahori recipes. The Bakarkhani Rotis were crisp with a sweetness which made it an ideal accompaniment to the Lahori Murg,succulent drumsticks in a saffron almond paste gravy.The Mia ji ki Dal a flavourful yellow dal could be a perfect accompaniment with a serving of a juicy Lahori chapli kebab and a Lahori Nihari Ghosht along with a Peshawari Naan.
Apart from introducing diners to the dishes of Lahore, Sarhad also stocks favourite foods from Pakistan for Indian diners to sample. One of these is the Khalifa khatai, made by Lahore’s famous Khalifa Bakers in Akbar Mandi in the Walled City. Similar to the nankhatai, the Khalifa khatai is a biscuit made from butter and sugar and is best eaten with a scoop of ice cream. Other items include Murree Beer, a non-alcoholic lemon drink from the British’s first brewery in Pakistan, and Shaan Masala, the cult-favourite biryani spice.
Cooking and managing the restaurant are locals from the village of Wagah Attari. To involve the youth of the region among whom many were victims of heroin addiction , the restaurant employs young men and women from the border villages. To deal with widespread unemployment of the region Sarhad, by bringing the youth into its kitchen, offers them an alternative livelihood and a platform to showcase their latent culinary skills.
Sarhad is not just a restaurant serving cuisine from both side of the border,it stands as a witness to history .The restaurant has an open air gallery which has a veritable treasure trove of laminated pages of newspapers like Tribune of the black days of 1947 leading to the Partition .The gallery has interesting film posters and cinema advertisements of pre partition days which points to the composite culture of Punjab.The gallery has also rare pictures of Government College ,Lahore ,dating back to 1912-13.The interiors of the restaurant has both interesting road maps and travel routes connecting important cities of the two countries as well as clippings of newspapers of the final negotiations between the British, the Congress and Jinnah over boundary lines. Sarhad has also an enviable collection of books for readers who want to go to the history of the bifurcated nation.
HOW TO REACH SARHAD
En route to the Wagah border ,Sarhad restaurant is around 26 km from Amritsar and only 2 km from the checkpost to the Wagah border.Visitors can drop in for lunch at Sarhad and then proceed to Wagah for the gate ceremony in the early evening.Please check timings for the ceremony as they are different during the summer and winter months. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Pul Kanjari . Legends say that”Moran” a dancer hailing from nearby village Makhanpura used to perform in the Royal Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. On way she had to cross a small canal linked to river Ravi, which was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in order to irrigate Shalimar Gardens of Lahore. During one such visits while crossing the canal Moran lost her silver sandals. This pair of sandals was presented to her by the Maharaja. Disappointed over the loss, she refused to perform in the court of Maharaja. When the incident was brought to the notice of Maharaja, he immediately ordered the construction of a bridge on the canal. Pul Kanjri was captured by the Pakistani army during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, and was recaptured by the Indian Army later. A memorial column, constructed in the memory of the Jawans of Sikh regiments, who had recaptured <span title=””>Pul Kanjri from the Pakistani army in 1971, stands as a testimony to the supreme sacrifices.The Mosque, the Shiv Mandir, Baradari and a Sarovar have been given a new touch and the place is worth paying a visit.
Two nations battered by border skirmishes…loss of innocents…..homeless migrants on both sides….negotiation tables….the story continues …the legacy of a hurried decision in 1947.
Food …shared culinary culture…culinary skills of common people across the wired fence….similar taste buds….food unites two battered nations…let the power and versatility of a shared food culture between the two nations override blood shed and loss of human as well as quantifiable national resources.