New Delhi: A small cafe in Delhi is providing people from Jammu and Kashmir a space to sit, eat and talk. Otherwise, the fractured politics and the chequered history of the state do not always make it easy for people belonging to its different regions to brush shoulders with one another.
At Samavar, however, the air bears a whiff of home for Kashmiris in Delhi. The convention centre and multi-cuisine restaurant offers a calm environment and a lavish menu.
Located in south Delhi's upscale Pamposh Enclave, this five-year-old facility is not only the official caterer for Rashtrapati Bhavan but also a platform for everyone to discuss Kashmir and revive Kashmiriyat (roughly defined as social consciousness and cultural values of the people).
A dimly-lit large hall, bannered as a club, offers several types of food and drinks. It is built on about five hectares of land that belongs to Kashmiri Pandits.
Inside the hall reverberate the voices of young people - Pandits - whose parents were forced to migrate from the Valley during the early 1990s due to the outbreak of an Islamist insurgency that claimed the lives of many Pandits.
Those young people hardly remember their own homes. Now, they gather here and talk about their exile, faded memories and their possible return to the Valley.
"I will go back to my home where I was born. And I know it will be peaceful," young professional Prerna Bhat told IANS.
Bhat and her friends often sit in Samavar and talk about Kashmir to revive the memories of their hometown, Srinagar.
Samavar was founded by businessman Ramesh Kitchloo, a Pandit, in the hope of reviving the lost culture of the Kashmiris and ensuring their bonding.
Kitchloo moved for studies from Kashmir to London in the early 1980s and later started an enterprise there. He supplied Indian readymade garments, jewellery and other Indian artifacts to many countries around the world.
Years later, he moved back to India to start this restaurant. Samavar is the Kashmiri name of the traditional copper teapot used in homes. It has hollow tubes inside it that are filled with burning coal to keep the tea hot.
"Samavar is a daily need of people in Kashmir. Also, it is an important part of traditional gatherings," Kitchloo told IANS.
Kitchloo said that Kashmir's hospitality and its unique tradition of being good hosts need to be emphasised. "Kashmiris are spread all over the country and there are many sects within the society. I am trying to secularise the concept of Kashmiriyat. I am providing space for all the people to sit and talk - like we would do in Kashmir," Kitchloo said.
At Samavar, marriage ceremonies and parties are held in traditional style. Non-Kashmiris also book the place for their parties and events. The staff is mostly sourced from Kashmir but only professional Kashmiri chefs prepare the delicacies on offer.
There is a traditional Kashmiri baker outside the hall who sells all the varieties of Kashmiri bread. "I have my regular customers. Every morning I sell roti to 30-40 families - Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri," Duni Chand, the baker, said.
"Now, people from other regions also like our bread. Some of them are regular customers," he added.
Samavar has not left out any Kashmiri delicacy from its menu. For instance, haakh, a very well-known vegetable generally grown in the kitchen gardens of Kashmiris, is an important vegetarian main course dish.
"Generally, Kashmiri non-vegetarian cuisine is a favourite, but vegetarians are served special delicacies like nadru (lotus stem)," Jogendar, the convention centre in-charge, said.
Food is not the only thing that drives people from across Delhi to Samavar. The discussions among Kashmiri migrants about their return to the Valley are nowadays a hot topic.
Kitchloo, however, felt that what happened to the Pandits in the Valley is in the past. "Somebody killed my brother and my mother at that time. But we cannot chop off his head now," he said.
Samavar has become the nerve centre for Kashmiris, Ladakhis and Dogris in Delhi.
"Kashmiri students from different universities come and enjoy the food here. I give the food free of cost on the occasion of Eid. So that they feel at home," KItchloo said.
With Kashmiri music playing softly and black and white photographs of the Jhelum river decorating the walls, the aesthetics and aroma of the restaurant dull the cacophony of the street outside.
"Food and music are two things that can bring even enemies closer. And that is how I try to play my role in reviving Kashmiriyat," Kitchloo concluded with a smile.