Culture and Heritage:
We - Kokkhars have an interesting rich cultural heritage from the merging of centuries old and modern civilizations. Whenever you come in Kot (Fatehpur), or visit any Kokkhar’s house in urban areas, everywhere hospitable hosts will greet you, saying "Assalamo Alaikum!" It seems that there is nothing special when people greet their friends, relatives and guests. But in Kokkhar’s Kot, the greeting is something special. The words of the greeting follow in a definite order, for example: " Assalamo Alaikum! Kya Hal Hai Janab? Bachchon Ka Kya Hal Hai – Gaon Ghar Ki Kya Qhabar Hai?" From Kokkhar’s dialect it means: "Hi! How are you? How are your children, nears and dears?" answering the questions the interlocutor shall ask the same questions.
When men meet each other they shake their hands by putting their left hand on their heart, which means that the greeting comes from the deep heart. The best tradition of Kokkhars is their hospitality. Everyone, regardless of position is always treated as if Almighty Alloh sent him. Even the poor are always trying to share with travelers whatever they can offer and their only demand as payment for their hospitality is that traveler relates his stories, poetry and some teatime gossip to them.
Curiosity is another feature of Kokkhars people. They like to communicate with others and interact between themselves. They like meeting people and hope that by treating their guests warmly the gesture will be reciprocated. Another common pastime of Kokkhars people, they like to spend their leisure time in someone’s house for Chaurah (Gossip), someone’s Deira (elder gathering) and under the Mango, Banyan and Mahua tree for recent events affecting relatives.
Though the nation of Kokkhars is hardly recognised as an ethnic minority under Indian constitution, but we do not feel shy to relate ourselves with Mongols, Taimur, Babar and other warriors of central Asia, Kokkhar’s culture is one of the most ancient and refined in Central Asia.
One particularly distinctive and well-developed aspect of Kokkhar’s culture is our cuisine, which we inherited from Mughal’s time in India. Unlike our Hindu neighbours, the Kokkhars have had a settled civilization for centuries. Between the barren lands and mountainous topography, in the oasis and fertile valleys, we Kokkhars cultivated grain and domesticated livestock. The resulting abundance of produce allowed us to express our strong tradition of hospitality, which in turn enriched our cuisine at Kokkhars home.
The seasons, specifically winter and summer, greatly influence the composition of the basic menu. In the summer, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are ubiquitous. Summer Fruits grow in abundance in the banks of Jamuna river- melons, cucumbers, pomegranates, dates are found in visible quantities. Vegetables are no less plentiful, including some lesser-known species such as radishes, Capsicum, dozen of pumpkin and squash varieties, in addition to the usual eggplants, peppers, turnips, cucumbers and luscious tomatoes. But gradually such cultivable culture is disappearing gradually due to migration of Kokkhars to urban India and to Middle Eastern countries. The winter diet traditionally consists of dried fruits, and vegetables and preserves.
In general, mutton is the preferred source of protein in the Kokkhar’s diet. Fatty goats are prized not only for their meat and fat, but for their skin too. Beef is also consumed in substantial quantities provided Kokkhar’s community does not come in clash against the slaughter of Cow in Hindu India. Buffalo and sheep meats are less common. The wide array of breads, leavened and unleavened, is a staple for the majority of the population. Flat bread, or Nan, is usually baked in Tandoor ovens, and served with tea, not to mention at every meal. Central Asia has a reputation for the richness and delicacy of their fermented dairy products that delicacy has reached to Kokkhars of Kot by their ancestors during the times of Aladdin Khilji and Moguls. The most predominant - Dahi or yoghurt made from Buffalo milk, and Khoa, dehydrated milk similar to sweet cottage cheese, are eaten plain. Or added to soups and main products, resulting in a unique and delicious flavour.
Pulaov, the Uzbek version of "pilaff", is the flagship of Kokkhars cookery. It consists mainly of fried and boiled meat, onions, Ghee and rice; with raisins, chickpeas, or fruit added for variation. Kokkhars men and women honour themselves on their ability to prepare the most unique and sumptuous Pulaov. The Kokkhars chief cooks from their pampered barber clan, which not only cuts hairs but also are the cooks in marriages. The Kokkhar’s often cook Pulaov over an open flame in Daigh (Heavy Metal Pot), sometimes serving up to 1000 people from a single cauldron on marriages or occasions such as Qhatna and Aqueeqa. It certainly takes years of practice with no room for failure to prepare a dish, at times, containing up to 100 kilograms of rice.
Kokkhars dishes are notably hot and fiery, though certainly flavourful. Some of their principle spices are black cumin, red and black peppers, coriander, and poppy, pistachio, almond and sesame seeds. Other seasonings include Saffron, liberally applied to Pulaov and marinades, and fermented milk products like Dahi, Mattha and Maska.
This is the most appreciated mutton and beef preparation specially cooked in earthen pot over open flame and finally flavoured with charcoaled pure Ghee. Kokkhars prize their pride on such a dish, which is highly spicy, organoleptically tasty and gossiped about its palatability.
Kokkhars Tea:Tea is revered in the finest oriental traditions. It is offered first to any guest and there exists a whole subset of mores surrounding the preparation, offering and consuming of tea. Boiled tea with pure buffalo milk and sugar is the drink of hospitality and predominant. Though Indian brand the Brooke Bond tea is preferred though boiled teas with milk are taken with Malai or sugar. An entire portion of their cuisine is dedicated solely to tea drinking. Some of these include Qhurmi, Kebabs, Samosa, Fried bread, halva, and various fried foods. The "Chai Qhanaa" (teahouse) is a cornerstone of traditional Kokkhars society. Always shaded, preferably situated near a cool stream, the Chai Qhanaa is gathering place for social interaction and fraternity. Robed Kokkhars men congregate around Charpoys centred on beds adorned with fancy Cheddars, enjoying delicious kebab and endless cups of boiled tea.
As in bygone times, today's Kokkhar’s singers men and women alike invite us to share in the hospitality of the moment, to open our hearts and senses to the joy of living, and to join in celebration of their marriage parties. Their artful and sensuous emotional and aesthetic expressions summon catharsis, awaken archetypes and enliven the spirit. Kokkhars songs have been adapted with Indian musical influence and have traded influences with the music’s of India, China, Persia and Arabia and elements of this seminal tradition can be traced all the way from Central Asia.
The native language of the Kokkhars belongs to the Urdu family, but most Kokkhars are bilingual in Urdu and Hindi, and many also speak the English language of their job-related matters in India. Along with a rich reservoir of folk songs and dances, Kokkhars Kot (Fatehpur) is home to one of unique Indian Pathan traditions. Writings of local poets and historians from the first millennium A.D. show that the professional traditions of the area we now call Kokkharpan predates the 14th century (and Islam) when musicians from the legendary Silk Route centres of Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent were already resident artists in Chinese courts. Though most Kokkhars are shy of playing music and singing songs but special groups rich in local culture come forward to express themselves in terms of songs during marriage ceremonies and recreational festivities. In urban locations, Kokkhars of India are not different than any other tradition but the music and culture is more based on drum, Niagara and Dholak beats than a well-organized orchestra.
Qamrul A. Khanson Aug. 2006