This is the story of a little girl from Peshawar, Nuzhat, with shining emerald green eyes. The sixth child in eight siblings, she loved her parents, her home, brothers and sisters and all things beautiful such as flowers, butterflies … the only thing that she didn’t like and which made her sad sometimes was her school.
That was where try as hard as she did she always lagged behind the others. Nuzhat couldn’t read very well, neither could she write with flow because she just couldn’t spell right and even if she managed to do that, her alphabets were all upside-down or reverse. She knows now what was wrong with her. Dyslexia is a known learning disability now but no one had heard about it during her childhood.
“My daughter is very creative and talented. I know she is not stupid but her notebooks tell me something else,” her mother used to say. Still the girl despite her shortcomings grew up surrounded with love. Her brothers and sisters, although being children themselves did sometimes make fun of her with their friends, also loved her a lot. And her parents never made her feel that she was inferior to their other children in any way. At school she may have been Nuzhat the nil student but at home she was the apple of everyone’s eye. She was Lal.
Several years later, Lal Majid, now a proud mother and grandmother, not to mention the successful entrepreneur that she is, smiles as she narrates her story while sitting at a table in her patisserie. In between she urges you to try her chocolates. “You know how we Pathans are. We go out of our way to make you feel welcomed and comfortable,” she laughs.
Wrapped in gold and silver foil each little chocolate treat bears the Lals label. She waits for you to put the chocolate into your mouth. “You should never have to bite into or chew at a chocolate. It should just melt in your mouth,” she says while picking up the little golden foil with her name. “Lal was my mother’s pet name for me,” she becomes a bit sentimental. “The very first time I saw my name on this, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I wished my parents were around to see this. My father would have been so proud to see me finally achieve something in life.”
Lal Majid’s four brothers and three sisters are all doing well in life. “They are all professionals who have achieved a lot. But married at 18, I was just a plain housewife,” she says. Lal’s husband, Majid Sultan, has been her pillar of strength all his life. “He is the consul general of Latvia and a former senator,” she informs. They have two children, a boy and a girl, both grown up now. In fact her daughter, Madiha, handles the business side while the mother enjoys creating new delights in her kitchen. She also loves packaging the treats. “That is a big part of the Lals’ experience. I just love making bows with ribbons and gift wrapping my creations. Attention to detail is everything,” she says. Today, the mother, daughter and a three-month-old granddaughter, Sophia, go to work together.
“I have always been very hard-working. I keep at what I set out to do until I have perfected it. But my kids were growing up and I had nothing to do besides decorate my house and cook nice food for my family,” she remembers. That was when, one of Lal’s older brothers suggested she do a course in floral design. “I took a course at Rangoonwala Hall to learn how to make flowers from ribbons. I have done plenty of such courses along with cooking courses from all over the world now. “It’s good to take such short-duration courses. You take a course or attend a workshop, conference or exhibition and it opens up your mind.” she says.
“I already was a hard worker but then even a donkey works hard,” she laughs. “What was different with me was that I also had a vision. My courses in chocolate from culinary institutes in New York, Dubai, etc. helped me even more. Today, I also train my people in these,” she says. “Most of Lal’s staff is Pathan. I have to help my community,” she smiles. “It’s all teamwork,” she adds.
Having recently published her book of recipes Deliciously Yours — Chocolates and Desserts, Lal says she has no problem sharing her recipes and techniques with anyone. “I have TV shows, too, so that’s not an issue. Besides, everyone can have the recipe but not everyone can do what we do as one of the main ingredients in my cooking is ‘passion’,” she says going on to narrate an incident where this Dutch bread chef came to Karachi to show her his macaroons and perhaps strike a deal with her.
“Now, if you go wrong making macaroons, you end up with very tough cookies,” she says. “I am proud of our macaroons and consider myself the pioneer of French macaroons in Pakistan because it took me one year to perfect these. When the Dutch chef wanted me to taste his macaroons, I also asked him to taste ours made from real almond meal. He took one bite and requested me to return him his bag of macaroons before I could taste any as he knew they couldn’t match with ours,” she laughs. “You see, I believe in giving my customers quality. Everything offered here has to be worthy of the money they are spending on it,” she adds.
Today the small business started by her just a few years back is flourishing well. Lal’s has two outlets in Karachi and one in Lahore. In the meantime, Lal Majid keeps herself busy experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. “We use Belgian chocolate but the nuts are all bought locally. During Ramazan, we had chocolate-coated dates and the dates happened to be the best of the produce from Saudi Arabia. We have also come up with gluten-free pastry and sugar-free chocolates for diabetics. Our gelato is all pure. In fact, I went to Italy for training in making gelato. Our Khyaban-i-Shahbaz outlet has five floors with the top two being used for storage. We also have a cold storage as with chocolate you have to take care of the temperature. The third floor is the kitchen and the rest, mezzanine included, houses my office and the café,” she shares adding that besides desserts they have also stepped into savory, salads, pasta and meat dishes now.