In less than 24 hours. Jalsa Salana 2013 officially begins! Tents have been pitched up, cars packed with guests from all over the world are arriving and the kitchens of the Promised Messiah(as) are in full swing.
One of the most demanding jobs during the course of Jalsa is to feed 30,000 or so people at one time. That’s right, thousands queue up for lunch and dinner not only taste the delicious aloo gosht (meat and potatoes)or the famous mix daal (my favourite) but also to partake of the blessings of this food. During Jalsas in Qadian and in the days when they were allowed to be held in Pakistan, Ahmadis would bring home naan (bread) from the Langar Khana, crush it into small pieces and mix it into their flour before making roti, solely because this came from the blessed langhar of Promised Messiah(as).
So we decided to visit the new Langhar Khana at Hedeeqatul Mehdi to find out ‘what’s cooking‘. The volunteers were all hard at work slicing and dicing away .
Here’s what they had to say:
Mr. Tauqeer Ahmad – Naib nazim langar khana
“… I started yesterday (July 28th) at 9:30 am in the morning and worked to prepare food until today (July 29th) 5:00 am” [that’s a whopping 20 hours!]. “Our basic task is to prepare the meat, and that’s done by first boiling it, and then adding the onions and tomatoes and finally the masala [spices]. This prepared meat is then cooled, and put in the fridge for the next day…”
“… Right now there are 60 pots filled with meat that is being prepared for tomorrow’s aloo gosht …”
“… Today a request came for 20 pots of daal, that later increased to 22…”
Explaining the demand system Tauqeer said “the way it works is that an order comes in from Mehman Nawazi (hospitality) for, lets say, 24 pots of aloo gosht. We then work to supply the order. Our job is to cook continuously… ”
“…There are a lot of pots being prepared for tomorrow, we are aiming to make 80-90 pots of aloo gosht and daal for the first day of Jalsa Salana…”
Adil Shah – Meat preparation
“… I’m 19 years old and am currently studying. My preparation (specifically for Jalsa food) started yesterday at 12:00pm until today 4:00am “[wow!]
“… My task all day yesterday was to chop and grind onions and today I have been helping wash the meat.”
“…Alhumdolillah our facilities are much better now, the washing area is hard wired, not temporary. We also have extractor fans fitted, which cool the whole kitchen down as it gets way too hot”
When asked about why he volunteers for this duty, Adil said “… to serve the guests of the Promised Messiah(as)… that’s why… it’s all about serving the guests of the Promised Messiah(as) …”
Amir Ahmad- Potato/ Onion chopping
“… By profession I’m a lawyer. I’ve been chopping potatoes and onions for more than 7 years! The bulk of the work started on the inauguration when we had to chop potatoes for 5,000 people. It’s amazing! Jalsa hasn’t even started yet and already we’ve gone through more than 22 bags of onions. At the end of Jalsa we will go through 10,000 onions, InshaAllah…”
“… One bag of onions is 25kg and each palate contains 50 bags …”[that’s 1.25] tonnes! ]
“… Potatoes and onions are essential for saalan so its imperative that we keep the supply going. It’s amazing how this all started in the Promised Messiah’s as own kitchen and now we have a jamaat kitchen [which is huge] in Hadeeqatul Mehdi. Its pure blessings…”
“… One great aspect of working in the langar is that everyone is teaching each other. The experienced teach the less knowledgeable, so after about 20 years anyone can become a professional aloo gosht cook [laughs]…”
“…There is also an astonishing sense of brotherhood. At 3:00am when you’re tired and feel like quitting, a brother will come, pat you on the back and motivate you to carry on. This way we continue our work night and day in positive manner…”
“… It’s amazing how people from all walks of life come here and volunteer, someone’s mopping the floor, another’s peeling onions whilst others cook the food. A true sense of brotherhood. Nowhere in the world do people volunteer to cook for 30,000 people! ”
When asked about whether or not his eyes water whilst cutting onions Amir said : “ … [laughs] Some say that putting a spoon in your mouth reduces your eyes watering but I don’t believe that “[more laughs]… my eyes have got used to it, they don’t water anymore…”
Stepping into the Langar Khana at Hadeeqatul Mehdi was like entering a whole new world. There was steam, heat and the strong aroma of masala. Everyone was totally immersed in their duties. They were focused, dedicated and tired, but these men soldiered on with a continuous smile on their face. They are not getting paid or receiving any material gains. Instead their reward is with Allah.
Next time you eat the tasty aloo gosht or mixed daal, remember the hard work which has gone into making it and pray for those who are staying awake late into the night to serve the guests of the Promised Messiah (as).