“You have a bright heart, Tara. A grateful heart” - Rauf Mohammed says as he sips his whiskey behind the counter with me, nearly ready to close Lahori Falooda shop.
On Thursday evening, wandered in just as Rauf was bubbling some lamb biryani. “Ahhhh, where u been!” he lights up whenever I come. This time, swings up the counter - invited back to have a look:
A few weeks before - he slides a mango lassi made with (end of season) pakistani honeys through the front. Say I’m looking for a good chaat masala - he marches me next door to buys his favourite one and locks up shop.
I gave him my superlam keyring bought earlier that day to try and give something back. Sometimes you can give nothing better than you unfiltered curiosity, and presence.
“There is a great longing upon us, to live again in a world made of gifts” - writes Robin Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass. Her words on the gift economy, cannot recommend her book enough:
Unconditional Hospitality - “15 more minutes, sit down it will be ready and it’ll be ready”. I do that.
He feeds me and wont let me pay and I cannot tell you what this means.
(Last time - plate of potato curry a naan raita - and ALWAYS conversations with other customers, who offer to buy me kulfi rubbed in almonds and my heart gets belly full:
“You, come back with your friend after 10pm. We will have a party I’ll make biryani and show you how to make alu paratha” (just when I thought it couldn’t get any better) - “call me and let me know”.
Communication through exchange and acts of generosity and open hearts. He always asks me - are you happy? We can’t fully communicate because I don’t speak his first language, but I almost love this more and somehow becomes more beautiful.
Conversations by the lampshade and wake-me-up tonic - eating kulfi ice cream letting down the guard. “It’s really very difficult in life to do exactly what you love” - customer, Kashif, PHD geneticist turned IT specialist then cricketer and body builder(!) - who’s aboded in Pakistan, Scotland, Berlin and London gives me his side advice. (Next week he’s bringing the whole team down for salty lassis, mmm).
Thursday - Iman, a customer I met in March 2020 when we were both gulping down Rauf’s chicken soup - squints in recognition through the plastic front. “It’s you!” We back, we chat, circularity - a place to come and get good food and distil.
It’s during these moments, of unconditional hospitality, I realise what matters is not the conquering of “life’s mysteries” - or where we’re from. But how we bump each other along. Being invited in - door to the kitchen, where the magic happens, trust and flow of story. Deep relationships grown from the small and prioritising time to do this. That moment you know you’ve both won.