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Qatar-based Pakistani speaker, blogger and professional photographer, Shehar Bano Rizvi, who officially launched her first book, ‘Virsa; a culinary journey from Agra to Karachi’ last year, has decided to donate the entire proceeds from the book to Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT), Pakistan’s largest non-governmental organisation working to fight blindness in the country.
Established in 1984, LRBT is based in Karachi with hospitals and primary eye care centres throughout the country. LRBT is believed to be not only the largest eye provider in the country but also the largest eye care provider in the world -- it has treated more than 47 million patients in 35 years.
Shehar has created an endowment fund in memory of her late father Dr Hasan Rizvi with LRBT Free Eye Hospital in Pakistan and 100 percent profits from the sale of the book go to that endowment fund. With one year of sales, the endowment fund has now reached Rs 8 million, which will ensure 100 cataract surgeries annually.
Born in Karachi, Rizvi is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a software engineer by profession. A Pakistani expatriate living in Qatar since 2004, her maternal instincts took over her career aspirations leading her to give up her high-profile banking career to be a hands-on mother. She is a multitasking mother who shares her passions through her personal blog. Rizvi began her culinary journey with minimal cooking experience but has now developed a successful blog with a recipe section that has gained tremendous popularity due to its detailed and easy to follow recipes.
The book was officially launched in Qatar last year. The book was so well received that even before the formal launch, the first sets of copies were completely sold out in Qatar, Canada, and the UAE. A launch event was held at the author’s residence, which was hosted by famous food writer and TV presenter Kim Wyatt and moderated by Lia Bonfio of Just Wow Qatar. Rizvi’s mother, Shehnaz Rizvi, to whom the author dedicated the book, joined in the conversation and the official launch virtually from the USA. The book has won 3 Gourmand Awards 2020 and also the Best in the World Gourmand Award 2020 for the Best First Cookbook.
The book is available in the hardcover format on the website www.VirsaCookBook.com. It is also available in a digital Kindle format and paperback format on Amazon.com. In an interview with Qatar Tribune, Shehar spoke about her book and what led her to donate the proceeds to an eye trust. Excerpts:
What inspired you to give the name ‘Virsa’ to your book?
Virsa, which means heritage in Urdu language, is a homage to my cultural heritage and background, hence the name. It’s a celebration of my roots and an ode to my family heritage. Food is undoubtedly an essential part of the culture in Pakistan. From Karachi to Khyber, the conversations change from nihari to chapli kebabs, but they still revolve around food. ‘Virsa – a culinary journey from Agra to Karachi’ has some delicious recipes and memories from a foodie family. This book is a collection of recipes that are my family heritage and passed down over generations. My family originally hails from Agra, India. After the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, my grandparents migrated from Agra to Karachi.
My maternal grandfather, Syed Haider Raza Rizvi’s great grandfather Mir Zamin Ali Rizvi’s tomb still stands tall in the Shahganj area in Agra. These family recipes have travelled from Agra to Karachi and beyond, and anyone who has a palette for Indian or Pakistani food would enjoy these recipes.
Who is your target audience for the book?
I wanted to compile a book that helps beginners like me and gives them everything they need in one book. Virsa is a cookbook full of simple recipes with precise measurements for someone like me who had never cooked anything before moving out of my parents’ home to Qatar. I kept the inexperienced 23-year-old myself in my mind and what I needed to be equipped with to start my culinary journey. It also includes helpful guides with categories such as a desi cooking styles guide, homemade spice blends guide, and a visual lentil guide for beginners stepping in the kitchen for the first time. It is specifically designed for beginners but also features more complex recipes for experienced cooks. It caters to everyone irrespective of their level of culinary skills with a variety of recipes from the everyday daal sabzi type simple food to fancier dawat food.
What inspired you to write this book?
Virsa is my way of keeping both my parent’s legacies alive, forever. Compiling, recreating, and photographing these recipes has been a labour of love, a dedication to my mother, a fantastic cook. Why I wanted to pay tribute to my mother in her life (and not after) was triggered by a thought back in 2014, when I lost my father, Dr Hasan Rizvi, to lung cancer. He was an ophthalmologist and a philanthropist at heart and worked for years in rural areas of Sindh setting up free eye camps with Henderson Red Cross Eye Hospital. Losing him was a life-changing event for me. His passing left us all completely devastated. My siblings and I paid tribute to him with an endowment with LRBT Eye Hospital, and I always wished my father could see what his children have done to carry on his legacy after his demise. He would have been so happy. That made me think. Why do we pay tribute to people after they are gone? Why not celebrate and appreciate them in their lives? That was the initial motivation behind doing something for my mother. I wanted her to be happy now, so I wrote and photographed this book, and Markings Publishing brought it to life.
What should your readers expect from the book?
The secret sauce to a successful launch in the world of cooking for a beginner like me was the notebook that I scribbled down, full of my mother’s ancestral family recipes when I was moving to Qatar. Seventeen years later, I still cannot cook without that book and would be completely lost in the kitchen without it.
It is full of my mother’s NO-FAIL recipes that have never failed me. Since the day I stepped into the kitchen, I followed these recipes and the food has always turned out delicious. Now compiled and photographed by me in the form of Virsa, this cookbook has an array of recipes with some simple chutneys and raitas, lentils, vegetarian meals, meat dishes, rice, bread and desserts.
What led you to decide to donate all the proceeds of your book to eye trust?
I wanted my father to be a part of this book’s story, therefore, I decided to donate 100 percent of the book’s proceeds to LRBT in my father’s name. Almighty Allah truly blessed this project. Within one year, we have sold out 3,000 copies of Virsa and set up an endowment fund of Rs8 million with LRBT Free Eye Hospital. The annual profit from this endowment fund will sponsor 100 cataract surgeries every year.
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