It is all about heritage, about the deeply ingrained traditions of Old Dhaka. And in these older quarters of the capital city, food is a pivotal part of the rich tradition, ingrained in the spirit of the old town. In keeping with these traditions, the over 200-year-old zemindar house on Nur Baksh Road has opened its doors, offering the delightful ‘Lunch at Heritage Home’.
This red brick two-storey historical home was built in the middle of the nineteenth century by the zemindar or landlord Moulvi Abul Khairat Muhammad (1850-1930). And now, six generations down the line, Abu Muhammad Emran carries on the tradition of Bengali hospitality and the delectable meals of Old Dhaka.
The old city is on the wane. Old buildings, government and private establishments and historical structures are being demolished one after the other to give way to modern multi-storey high rise buildings. But Abu Emran clings on to the past glory, staunchly standing up for the promotion the protection of this rich heritage of the areas. He is an active member of the ‘Save Puran Dhaka’ movement. His ‘Lunch at Heritage Home’ is part of this endeavour.
This lunch has gradually become popular to expatriate guests, including foreign diplomats and dignitaries. They come to his home and admire the art and antiques and partake of delicious delicacies at the dining table with dates back to the days of Abul Khairat. In September 2018 to January 2019, Emran hosted lunches for guests from the US, UK, Germany, Australia and the Philippines.
Emran says, “It’s just been about five months that I have started hosting these lunches. But the tradition of hospitality has been in our family for over two hundred years.”
He says, “It was in this house that the poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote several poems of the ‘Bisher Bashi’ collection. Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq (prime minister of undivided Bengal), Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani (founder of Awami Muslim League and National Awami Party NAP), Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (Awami League leader and fifth prime minister of Pakistan), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Awami League leader and first president of Bangladesh), and other prominent leaders of the day had also visited this house several times. In fact, this house is even mentioned in Bangabandhu’s memoirs. Several meetings of the Jukta Front were held here in the fifties.”
In Emran’s family photograph album, there is a picture taken in 1937 with the caption, ‘Some stalwarts of East Bengal’. In the picture are Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Huq, Justice Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, Sir Hasan Suhrawardy, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Prof. Shahed Suhrawardy, Dr Syed Hossain, Syed Ali Ahmad and others.
And interesting is a picture in the album taken in 1929. It is captioned, ‘Moulana Showkat Ali entertained at Dacca by Aligarh Old Boys’. Traditions die hard!
Today traditions have taken a slight turn. One must phone in at least one day in advance to avail this heritage lunch and a visit to the Abul Khairat home. Around 20 to 25 guests can be hosted at one time. And it costs within only 1000 taka per head.
There is a ‘Lunch at Emran’s’ Facebook page which describes the variety of traditional Dhakaiya cuisine and also includes the address and directions of the house.
Emran is ready to give all credit to the Chief Executive and Team Leader of the Urban Study Group (USG) Architect Taimur Islam. He says, “Taimur has been working tirelessly for the past decade or so, highlighting the heritage and history of Old Dhaka to the new generation and the rest of the world.”
He continues, “Taimur regularly arranges the ‘Heritage Walk’ twice a week, bringing local and foreign persons, professionals and tourists to the old city. This is reintroducing the people to Abul Khairat and his family’s history and heritage. And this is the inspiration behind ‘Lunch at Heritage Home’.”
Looking back at the family tree, zemindar Abul Khairat Muhammad was a descendant of Munshi Alam who was born in Yemen. Munshi Alam’s two sons were Munshi Gul Baksh and Munshi Nur Baksh. Abul Khairat was the son of Nur Baksh. And his sons were Abul Hasnat and Abu Zafar Ziaul Huq alias Nabalok Miah. Nabalok Miah had six songs and six daughters, one of whom was MA Jahangir. And M Emran is the son of this Jahangir.
The four roads around this house in Old Dhaka’s Becharam Deuri are named after four members of this family – Nur Baksh Road, Abul Khairat Road, Abul Hasnat Road, and Nabalok Miah Lane. The heritage lingers along with the lineage!