Cooking Pak player’s goose at Curry Mile
A video of three cricketers puffing away at Three Sixty has gone viral on Pakistani social media and this predominantly Pakistani neighbourhood is not happy about it.Updated: Jun 18, 2019 16:07 IST
Ahmed Maseen, the chef-cum-head waiter-cum-busboy of Al-Madina in south central Manchester, is experiencing a terrible start to his week. The meat delivery van is late and one member of his three-person cooking staff has gone back to Pakistan to attend a funeral, forcing Maseen to get his hands dirty. He grumps his jowls as his fingers massage the mince paste on to metal skewers and sighs regularly. “I would’ve dealt with all of this better, maybe even happily, had Pakistan put on a better show yesterday,” he tells me in Urdu. “I mean, I don’t care that they didn’t win. I am angry that they didn’t even compete.”
The word Maseen often mutters under his breath is ‘haddh’, or limit. He washes his hands in a nearby plastic bucket and wipes them on his apron and asks me to follow him out of the restaurant. Maseen points at a place called Three Sixty, a sheesha bar with a glass front located some five doors down from Al-Madina and says: “A night before the match, a few of the Pakistani cricketers were there, smoking sheeshas till about 2 a.m. They have come here not for a World Cup but for a holiday.” (The PCB later issued a statement saying that the video was not shot on the eve of the match, but two nights prior.)
A video of three cricketers puffing away at Three Sixty has gone viral on Pakistani social media and this predominantly Pakistani neighbourhood is not happy about it. Not only because Three Sixty was the scene of Pakistan cricket’s first misstep of the weekend in Manchester, but mainly because modern establishments like it are putting the kebab joints and doner takeaways out of business.
This is Wilmslow Road, a narrow, mile-long street hemmed in on both sides by some hundred-odd Pakistani eateries. Wikipedia even claims it is the ‘largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside of the Indian subcontinent’. In Manchester, and all over England, this row is better known as Curry Mile. And here in Curry Mile, amongst shops named Lal Qila Grill and Chandni Jewellers and Qaiser Sweets, Three Sixty sticks out, and not in a good way.
“In the 90s and the early 2000s, Pakistani cricketers would come to our shops for our samosas and jalebis, and we would make them feel like they had gone back to Lahore or Rawalpindi for an evening. Then they would also play like they are in Pakistan,” says Maseen, who hails from Jhelum, a city next to the river of the same name, still speaking in Urdu. But here he switches to English, and in a thick Mancunian accent he says: “Worse thing abou’ Pak’stani players is yeah, they play for themselves and not the coontry, you na wha’ I mean. If a Pak’stani scores fifte roons, he thinks he’s doon his job. Whatabou’ scorin’ a hoondred and not like leave it yeah for soombody else, you na wha’ I mean. Should’a seen it coomin’.”
A day after they were humiliated by India, the Pakistan cricket team is copping it in several different languages on Curry Mile. Across the street from Al-Madina is Saajan Halal Takeaway and here, as I enter, part-owner Nadeem Abdullah and his staff are already in deep conversation about Sarfaraz Ahmed’s side in Punjabi. Abdullah looks 50-something and he is the sort of man who easily includes strangers into an ongoing discourse. Most of his discourse is not suitable for print but I can report that he punctuates every sentence with a word that sounds a lot like Ben Stokes.
“If you are at a sheesha bar till 1:30 or 2 in the morning when you have a match to play at 10:30 am, even you will come out on the field yawning,” Abdullah says, referring to a visual that caught the Pakistan captain doing just that at Old Trafford during the match. This video too, with Ahmed’s mouth cavernously open, went viral. “Bhai jaan, of all the embarrassing things that our cricketers have been caught doing, and there is a whole range to choose from, nothing has made me angrier than that yawn,” he says. “India versus Pakistan at the World Cup. And our captain yawned.”
Abdullah is from Sahiwal in Pakistan’s Punjab and he likes to start most of his monologues with the line ‘mein tanu ikk gal dhasni ey’, which, in Punjabi roughly translates to ‘I have to say something to you’. One of those stories involves a prominent Pakistani batsman from the previous decade who arrived at Saajan Halal with a ‘female friend’.
“So, they were sitting on that table, and our cricketer friend was talking animatedly with the woman. But just then a Pakistani journalist arrived to eat as well, and the cricketer panicked and introduced his female friend to the reporter as his cousin sister,” he says, already smiling at the thought of his upcoming punchline. “I run a take-away and it was the first time a Pakistani left the place empty-handed.”
Abdullah, like most of the people I meet on Curry Mile, gets nostalgic easily about the great Pakistan teams of the not-so-distant past. “Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib—those were real fast bowlers. And what great batsmen Inzamam and Yousuf and Saeed Anwar were. Inshallah, our bad time will end soon,” he says, prompting me to ask him if any of them have visited his joint. Abdullah looks offended: “Janaab, Wasim Akram is my favourite cricketer and Saajan Halal is his favourite eatery outside of Pakistan. And if you don’t believe me, you can feel free to check with him when you see him next.”
I ask him what Akram likes to eat here and Abdullah doesn’t take a second to think. “Paalak gosht (spinach lamb),” says Abdullah, ready with another punchline. “If you eat lamb and spinach a day before the match, you play like you have had lamb and spinach. And if you smoke a sheesha until hours before a match, all you have to give is hawa, hot air.”