Well-known and celebrated author of Indian cooking, Zuleikha Mayat, has died. She was 97.
Her book, Indian Delights, became a staple in many homes; as it provides easy to prepare recipes, that includes curries, rice and vegetable dishes and desserts.
Mayat, who was also a social activist and philanthropist, recently published The Odyssey of Crossing Oceans. The book, which was largely non-fiction, spanned 1 500 years.
“It focuses on the people who migrated from Arabia to India and, over time, made their way to Gujarat and eventually emigrated to South Africa," she had told the POST soon after its launch in 2021.
“The book is historical fiction. It is based on stories told by real people, rather than what is spread by the Western media. It is about a life spent by different people, in different lands, and how they endured life and challenges that arose in those lands."
Mayat, who started writing at the age of 14, said she was inspired to write this book following the success of her previous book, History of Muslims of Gujarat, in 2008.
The great-grandmother, at the time, said it was important that the history of people of Indian descent and colonised people be recorded, recounted and celebrated.
“Young people today are denied insight into their rich heritage. Through research, use of the archives, and oral histories, youth must come to understand their past and proudly embrace it.”
Mayat was the brainchild behind the Women's Cultural Group and was a firm believer that women should not buy take-away food but spoil their families with home-cooked meals because nothing compared.
She grew up in Potchefstroom and her parents, Mahomed and Amina Bismailla, ran a family business.
“My mother hardly had time to cook, let alone teach me. She was at the shop most of the time. My dad spent most of his days involved in sport and politics. The few cookery skills I acquired were from my sister,” she had told POST a few years ago.
Mayat married in 1947 when she was 23.
“Back then I was considered too old," she had said.
Her gynaecologist husband, Mohamed Mayat, who died in 1979, came from a family of “super cooks”, Mayat had said.
“Fortunately, I was not at all intimidated by this. I used the little knowledge I had to make the best meals possible. After four years of marriage, I decided to form the Women’s Cultural Group. It was here that the idea to launch the Indian Delights book was born.”
The success of Indian Delights saw the compilation of a second edition, Enlarged Indians Delights. This was followed by Super Indian Delights, then Best of Indian Delights and A Treasury of South African Indian Delights.
All the recipes that featured in the books were from close family and friends.
"If we knew someone who made a certain dish very tasty, we contacted them for the recipe.”
But, it was not easy going.
“Each of the women had their own style of making their dishes and many did not give us the proper method and measurement of ingredients. I had to test every recipe to make sure we got it right,” she had said.
This process helped her enhance her cookery skills and discover several kitchen secrets.
“Soon I was cooking and baking up a storm at home. This is what I wanted to give to other women. I am certain we achieved it."
Mayat and members of the women’s group used the proceeds to invest in social responsibility programmes. They gave out bursaries and interest-free loans to students wanting to pursue a tertiary education.
Her funeral is expected to take place this morning.