A token of gratitude to my Iranian chef
'Some people are to remember and some to perish/ But a few people are so memorable that one cannot but cherish.'
The name of Mehdi Mostafa rings no bell as he has no relevance to the readers. Neither was Mr Mehdi a great personality who did something stupendous in his life to be immortal. But to me, he'll always be extremely important and perennially venerable. Why? Because he was my mess supervisor at a school in Iran who saw to it that I always got to have pure vegetarian meals in a completely non-vegetarian set-up.
In my one decade in an Iranian school in Tehran, I never had to eat non-veg and would always get very tasty veg food, thanks to Mr Mehdi Mostafa, who was the main chef as well as the mess supervisor.
I remember as a child, I got admission to a school in Iran where everyone was a hardcore non-vegetarian barring me. My religiously non-vegetarian father asked the warden whether it was possible to serve pure veg (not even eggs) food to me. The warden was clueless. He never saw any student in the school and hostel who was a pure vegetarian. Non-veg was the de-rigueur in Iran. Yet, he was considerate enough and called the mess supervisor Mr Mostafa and asked whether it was possible, rather feasible, to serve pure veg for just one student.
Mr Mostafa told him in Persian and also in his fractured English that he'd cook veg for me and won't even put eggs in the meals.
He stuck to his promise for ten long years and I'd delicious Iranian veg items prepared by him during my stay in that Persian school till matriculation.
Mr Mostafa was so considerate and affectionate that he even asked me whether I'd feel comfortable having meals with all non-vegetarian students.
I said, 'I'd no problem.That much I could manage.' Even during special occasions when he'd prepare lip-smacking non-vegetarian Persian culinary delights for the students and hostel staff, he'd not forget to cook some very delicious veg item for me. He even served me home-made eggless fruit cakes.
I never experienced dietary marginalisation or culinary apartheid in that school, because of Mr Mostafa. I used to love pyaaz-shorba (pyaaz for onion is a Persian word) with Iranian buns and he'd invariably prepare that for me. For others, he'd put lamb meat or chunks of chicken in that broth! But mine would always be purely spicy onion broth.
Never even indirectly did he suggest that I should try non-veg at least once in life. Moreover, he instructed the students never to force me to have anything even remotely non-veg.
So when I got a call from an Iranian friend, now settled in London, that Mr Mostafa died a couple of days ago, I cried and remembered English poet Robert Southey's immortal lines: 'My cheeks have often been bedewed/With tears of thoughtful gratitude.'
Au revoir, Mr Mostafa. Your loving gesture would forever remain etched in my mind. I shall remember you till the wrinkled eve of my life.