Wednesday, 16 January 2013

a conversation on punitions (punishments) and pakistan

punitions, just out of the oven
late last year in writing about malala yousafzai, kamila shamsie used the words of pakistani writer nadeem aslam "pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. but no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave." those words resounded in my head through out january tenth and after when a series of bombs in quetta targeting the shia community left ninety-three dead and many others injured.

it appears that mine is a nation where resilience is punished with brutality.

i wonder whether humanity has extinguished itself in pakistan. at the end of twenty-twelve i had only one wish that pakistan may begin to turn a chapter (for the better). but barely two weeks into the year and the killing continues unabated with a brazenness that defies humanity and imagination.

in twenty o eight in the midst of working towards an msc in human rights i read that countries that have genocidal tendencies are retained on watch-list. that pakistan was on it came as a little surprise given our bloody history with bangladesh. we possess an unnerving affinity for killing our own, for manufacturing the kind of hatred that justifies killing anyone who is marginally different.

at that point in my life i was more interested in the resilience of the human spirit, about how fractured and torn societies replenish themselves. i aspired to hope because i always believed that humanity exists even in the deepest recesses of darkness. it glimmers like the faintest rainbow, the hint of a silver lining. it was in the stories of the survivors of the likes of rwanda, germany, poland and closer to home the partition. humanity it seems was in the collective conscience of the few. back then that was enough.

now it is not.

i worry ceaselessly for family, friends and the nation at large. i worry that perhaps the violence has depleted any sense of morality and humanity. i worry that our voices are drowned by all the noise. i worry that the concerns are too many and the voices not enough.

this always present angst often makes it to the kitchen. sometimes it is in the recipes from my family, the cooking of which brings forth memories of better times. that afternoon i made a batch of austere sounding ‘punitions’. punition is the french word for punishment and as i rolled and cut-out these crinkle edge biscuits, the irony of it made me angrier.

these little pale blond treats are buttery and crisp. they are a normandy tradition. their story came to dorie greenspan by way of the famous parisian baker lionel poilâne for they originated from his birthplace. apparently norman grands-mères would tuck these little delights behind their backs and in smiling and teasing voices would beckon their grandchildren to come and take their punishment. they remind me of the butter biscuits that babcia would make for christmas. their simplicity allows them to be a canvas for customisation hence my addition of citrus zest and a sprinkle of spice sugar. 

the pakistani nation is punished for its diversity, its plurality, its differences, its strength and its resilience. if only those punishments were as bittersweet and playful as these punitions.

one thing is for certain, that will not happen in my lifetime.

cutting out punitions
{punishments (punitions)}
paris sweets by dorie greenspan, adapted from boulangerie poilâne

one hundred and forty grams unsalted butter, at room temperature 
one hundred and twenty-five grams caster sugar
one large egg at room temperature
two-hundred and eighty grams all-purpose flour
zest of an orange and a lemon (optional)
spice or plain sugar (i used sous chef’s that includes cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove)

put the butter in the work bowl of a food processor* fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. add the flour all at once (along with the zest if using), then pulse 10 to 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.

turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. if you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about four hours. if you’re in a hurry, you can roll the dough out immediately; it will be a little stickier, but fine. (the dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to a month.)

position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to one hundred and eighty degrees celsius. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between one eighth and a quarter inch ( four and seven mm) thick. Using a one and a half inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about one inch (two and a half cm) space between them. sprinkle them with spice or regular sugar if using. (you can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)

bake the cookies for eight to ten minutes, or until they are set but pale. (if some of the cookies are thinner than the others, the thin ones may brown around the edges. m. poilâne would approve. he’d tell you the spots of color here and there show they are made by hand.) transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

do ahead: the cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about five days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to a month.

* though they were originally made by hand, greenspan encourages the food processor, because it works so quickly, you can get that “quintessential sandy texture that is the hallmark of these plain cookies.”


  1. I would say I'm your partner in angst and anger at what is happening to Pakistan but I do not entirely agree that the people of Pakistan have an affinity for killing their own.
    These are desperate times for everyone there and you would have to be there to understand the context. It isn't the violence that has depleted the sense of morality - it is outrage: at being exploited, broken, tested beyond human capacity and being trodden upon.
    I comprehend this intolerant Pakistan as little as you - the country I loved & continue to love was never this way.

    Is there hope? I am not always sure. But I know that I'm not going to give up believing there is..

    I like your punitions - Dorie never lets you down :)

  2. Thank you for dropping by and reading. I did not mean that everyone kills, just that we have had a tradition of killing that dates back to the inception of our nation.

    I do agree that times are desperate that does not make it any easier for me to understand the context. I am still very firmly connected to Pakistan. My family is there, I visit as often as I can. The elements that are outraged come out and protest without killing but then you have the vigilantes and the targeted killings of Shia's, Balochi's, Christians, Hazara's... where does it end?

    Hope is perennial, although sometimes it feels dim. I will never stop hoping, even if it is against hope.

  3. I don't know where it ends and to be honest, I'm scared :(

    Do you notice, each time you go back, how different it all is? I do. I left 10 years ago And I'm beginning to face the fact that the Pakistan I yearn for is not the Pakistan of today. I'm often sad, confused, angry all at once. For now, like you, I just head into my kitchen and try to recreate things we ate and follow rituals from that other life. That's how I keep myself connected. Meanwhile, my fingers are desperately crossed for a better future :(

  4. I think we are all scared. What strikes me most is the co-existence of resilience and resignation when I visit. I think change is inevitable because even places with less upheaval morph into places that do not resemble our recollections. That explains our nostalgia for things past. Where are you based? I think what we do need to do is have a store of memories of good things. They are essential to what we tell future generations if only so that they can aspire to a different Pakistan, especially when you can show them that there was something different.

  5. In the Middle East for the past 10 years and heading much, much further west in a year. . . farther and farther away from Pakistan, is how I see it.

    I'm with you on the co-existence of resilience and resignation. It's something I've noticed too. But I don't know - are we really that resilient? Or are we just telling ourselves we are because we have to plod on. . . because for many of us who still reside in the country there is no choice in the matter.

    I think people would *like* to be hopeful and would *like* to believe change will come. But with each visit back home, I see more quiet desperation, less tolerance, a certain insensitivity ... it breaks my heart because, at the end of the day, I still get to walk away from it and they still have to stay there. Isn't that sad?

    That's what I'm doing - trying to build my store of memories so I can introduce a Pakistan to my kids who will probably have little or no association with it.

  6. It is a little bit of both I believe. But then there are so many things happening in defiance. Young people organising citizen's cleaning drives, docufilm makers like Obaid-Chinoy, a blooming fashion industry, South-Asian Literature and festivals as well...