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Bakarkhani made by Murshid Quli Khan’s general immortalizes lost love

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Lost love has often been celebrated in history through poetry, stories or paintings. But here is the tale of a lost love that has been immortalized through a recipe. Bakarkhani is a recipe cooked up by Aga Bakar Khan, an aristocrat from Bengal for the woman he loved, Khani Begum. He never got Khani as his own, but left the tale of his eternal love through Bakarkhani --- a crispy, spicy bread with layers. This is also a delicacy in Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

The tale of Bakarkhani has all the elements for a dramatic potboiler from ill-fated lovers, treacherous villains and the story of a failed love. The history dates back to 18th-century. Murshid Quli Khan,sold as a slave to a Persian noble had travelled to Persia with his master from India. When he returned and started working under the Diwan Of Vidarbha, he caught the attention of Emperor Aurangzeb, for his supreme command over administrative matters. Murshid Quli was thus promoted as Diwan of Bengal. He posted, Aga Bakar,a military strategist and scholar in Persian and Arabic as the military commander-in-charge of Chittagong district. 

Aga was in love with Khani Begum, a dancer from Arambagh who he saved from the clutches of a local kotwal, Jainul Khan. But Jainul had laid a trap for the duo, and Aga Bakar was arrested and produced before Murshid Quli Khan who had become the Nawab of Bengal by then. As a punishment Aga was sent to a cage of a hungry tiger, and the brave warrior ended up killing the tiger. 

Meanwhile, Jainul Khan kidnapped and killedKhani Begum. This left Aga Bakar devastated. He settled in his jagirs of Salimabad and Umedpur, that were known as Bakarganj. Aga took to cooking to forget his pain and made the flat bread, naming it after the woman he loved- Khani Begum. To immortalize the tragic love story, he named the bread Bakar-Khani. 

Aga Bakar died in 1754 CE but his ode to the love of his life thrived and travelled across South Asia with the help of traders and troops. It became highly popular in Kashmir in the beginning of the 19th-century. It evolved as it travelled. In some areas, it is a circular flat bread with cheese stuffing, sweet semolina and dry fruits. Some people make it with butter and ghee and in some areas, it looks and tastes like a biscuit. It is still available as a street food in Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong. When it comes to Kolkata, a variant of Bakarkhani is served in areas like Mominpore with hot tea as a staple breakfast. The city might have been taken over by fast food joints but Bakarkhani has survived, just like Aga Bakar Khan’s love story has been immortalised.