Firdaus is a Persian word which means “garden”or what would have been the “Garden of Eden” in ancient mythology. Gardens are a favourite backdrop for painters and poets in Islamic culture; even the Holy Koran promises paradise to all good Muslims in the heavenly abode.
If you look at any Islamic architecture, paintings or tales, you will see they are all set in picturesque gardens with water channels, fountains, fruit-bearing trees, peacocks (peacocks were meant to be birds of paradise apparently) and other exotic birds, fragrant flowers – in particular rose, which symbolises love, and nightscapes with crescent moon symbolising alienation of lovers, pining to see their beloved.
The Biblical word “paradise” comes from the word Firdaus where Adam and Eve wandered freely, drinking from the fountain of youth and eating fruits of longevity. I was told that when Eve lived in Firdaus, she swore by 3 fruits to maintain her eternal beauty – Anor (pomegranate), Anjeer (fig) and Khurma (persimmon).
Pomegranate or Anor is known as the king of fruits – it is the only fruit with a crown. Its ruby red seeds signify prosperity, abundance and fertility.
Persimmon or Khurma represents good fortune; its gold colour signifying wealth. There are many variations of persimmons – some hard, some with brown interior, some ribbed (female), others smooth (male). You need to plant the male and the female together for the trees to bear fruit.
Figs or Anjeer, were apparently Eve’s favourite. She ate them to retain her eternal beauty and youth.
Now, if ever there was a Firdaus on earth, it would have to be in Uzbekistan. The country is blessed with nature’s best and I saw a mere glimpse of it in its sprawling Chorsu bazaar.
Row upon row, stall upon stall of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fresh pressed juices, dry fruits, sun-dried vegetables, pickles, honey, meat, halvas, breads, sugar sticks, fresh curds and cheeses, sauces, even cakes, wedding favours and flowers – all of it organic and generous in size and colour.
I saw cauliflowers that could put a football to shame; apples that promised a crunch with every bite; plumpest of plums; juiciest of grapes; sweet, sweet persimmons; succulent melons; tomatoes with red flesh and nearly zero seeds; ruby red pomegranates; fresh breads from the tandir; pots of honey with bees around it; freshly cut flowers buzzing with a hummingbird, halvas made from pumpkin seeds, almonds and sesame seeds; cakes, puddings, dried meats and vegetables – it was as if the best of all that was in the garden of perpetual abode was transported to Chorsu Bazaar, ready for the taking.
The beauty of visiting a bazaar is sampling the food. The vendors are ever-so-willing to talk to you, share samples of their produce, and if you are good at bargaining, they’d love you for that. I didn’t see the need to bargain as it was so affordable. I bought pressed berry juice for 200 Som (800 Som makes a dollar); a dozen tomatoes for 500 Som; half a dozen persimmons for about 300 Som; nut baskets for 1200 Som; about half a kilo of dried mulberries for 500 Som; halvas for 400 Som; paprika and dried tomatoes for about 300 Som.
Blue is the favourite colour of all Uzbekis. For a landlocked country with no access to sea, they just look up to heaven which generously gives them blue skies for more than 250 days of the year, lush green valleys that puts fresh food on their tables and wide open rivers that quench the thirst of their fields of cotton.
The Uzbekis have rightly captured heaven and earth in their country’s flag with a blue band on top, green at the bottom and a white band reflecting the purity of their heart in the middle. No flag could be more truer representation than Uzbekistan’s.
As we walked through the bazaar, picking and sampling and stopping and talking, on our way to travel its metro, my guide forlornly said to me: “You know, the only thing we can’t grow here, is banana,” and I thought to myself – Firdaus can well live without bananas.