By Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu
Birnin Kudu. The 1960s. An incredibly wonderful town. Still a wonderful town! Even more, wonderful, friendly people. So far away from Kano that a whole limerick was composed to warn of its distance ‘Birnin Kudu da nisa take / ɗa ya ɓata bare jika /.
For me, the town evokes memories of wonderful summer months spent there in my auntie’s house in ‘Gangare’ quarters, literally, a sloppy part of the town located in a depression. Years later, they filled the depression on the main road, making it easier for motorists to travel through the town easily. The mountain range has a wonderful greenback during the rainy season. The range stretches as far as the eyes can see, providing a wonderful wallpaper for the students in the secondary school (BKSS) at the foot of the mountain.
Memories of her earthen water storage pot (randa) with jema-scented grass floating in to give the water a cool, pleasant scented taste. The mere presence of the jema grass also scented the room. Then there is the river, about two kilometres away from her house. More like a brook than a river, the clear water flowing over the underlying rock bed was a wonderful sight for a city boy. I used to spend hours just watching the water bubbling gently under the bridge towards an unknown destination and trying to read my African Film (Lance Spearman) pictorial novels
And the rocks that littered the town – dark, broody, holding centuries of secrets. Massive rocks – you can see them from the atrium of her house. It became a pleasure to sleep in the open atrium, the night sky framed with those slabs. The rock paintings enhanced the appeal of the town discovered a decade earlier, in the 1950s. Conferring on the town an ancient status – and they had evidence of a 2,000-year human artistic activity.
However, the best memory was the kindirmo (yoghourt) market, right by the roadside near the entrance to the market. Sold by the stereotypical Fulani milkmaids. Kindirmo is so thick that it breaks up like ice floes on a frozen river when you hit the skin film on top of the large calabash holding it. Kindirmo is so sweet that it harks back at an ancestral memory of existence. Pure. Natural.
My old aunt was an artist and adept at churning up the thick kindirmo with equally massive balls of fura. Using a ludayi (ladle) carved from a gourd plant, she was adept at blending the fura right into the kindirmo floes in a calabash. The end product was a supremely nourishing, rich, tasty meal of classic fura – containing all the ingredients needed to nourish the body. Absolutely no sugar is needed or even desired. As you slurp it, you are often lucky to come across an unblended fura – gaya. Taken in a calabash container with ludayi. The ecstasy can only be imagined.
Sold with the kindirmo was fresh butter. Aunt used to fry the butter into a ghee. Pour a spoonful into any meal – ecstasy reloaded! Evoked Hassan Wayam’s verse:
Ga fura ta mai nono /
Tuwo na mai nama /
Years passed by, and my childhood memories of Birnin Kudu were kept in storage in my mind. Whenever I passed by the town – my aunt had left the place in mid-1980s when her husband passed on – and crossed the bridge, the memories came flashing by. Of the only friend I made, a Yusha’u, whom I cannot trace.
The daily grind made it difficult to re-create the culinary pleasures of my aunt’s fura. Further, I was too occupied with other things. One day, the urge came back after my return from studies. The question was, where would one get a fura meal? I was told it has now become a franchised business, and right opposite the block of flats I was staying in, Zoo Road, was what I called ‘Fura Café’ run in a kiosk. I dashed up there for a treat.
I was shocked. First, the fura balls were tiny. Like a baby’s fist. And white – not enough millet, obviously. Then, horror of horrors, he dropped three of them into a BLENDER! Would you believe it? A BLENDER! That’s the machine I saw my wife using to grind those ingredients used in making a soup! The worst was yet to come.
Next, he poured WATER into the blender. I could not stand it any longer, and I stopped him, asking for the kindirmo. ‘That was it. I just poured it into the blender,’ he saucily replied. Nothing like kindirmo – more like ‘tsala’ – watered down milk. He pressed buttons. Everything churned and chugged in the blender cup. He stopped, removed the cup, and then poured the lot into a PLASTIC cup – more like moɗa! I was speechless throughout this charade. I decided to see it through.
I asked for the ludayi. He gave me a look that clearly indicated he had never heard the word and passed on a PLASTIC spoon – y’know, the kind that comes with a cheap rice takeaway. I paid, took the cup, and had a sip. It was horrible. Sour. No pleasant flavour (garɗi) of a true kindirmo. Seeing the expression on my face, he offered cubes of sugar. I passed. I handed the entire sludge to him and left. That was the end of my first attempt at rekindling a memory.
Years later, after a five-year absence from Kano, I came back to see modernised Fura Cafes all over – Habib, Yusrah and the new kid on the block – Rufaidah. I was told some, e.g., Habib, had been around for a long time. Knowing I might regret it, decided to relive Birnin Kudu again. So, I popped into Rufaidah for a treat. Better than the horrid kiosk I had been to before. I was attracted by the post-modernist décor. Like the airport in Dubai.
Ahaf! The same Furakenstein monster was there. A blender, watery milk, lots of sugar, tiny chunks of unblended greyish fura, and a ‘dambu’ – moistly powdered fura as a spare. All are neatly packaged in a pretty container. It’s not as bad as what I had before, but it’s still a Furakenstein monster. Seems the Rufaidah Fura Café is the ultimate in the fura business. I am happy for them and impressed by their franchise. But for old codgers like me, even at our Fresh Young Dattijo (FYD) phase? Thanks, but no thanks. I can’t stand the monster – Furakenstein – that is the modern blender-churned fura, no matter how ‘ultra-modern’ their café is. Young people who throng the place, happily taking selfies, have no idea what they have missed in the generational journey.
Fura, as a meal, should be churned in massive chunks of kindirmo floes, the likes of which I am pretty sure can only be found in Birnin Kudu, Bulkachuwa and Danbatta. With huge dark grey fura balls providing high millet content. Spicy fura. Thick floes of yoghurt. No sugar. Not because you are on a health kick, but because it is almost a sacrilege to put sugar in such yoghourt.
So, to celebrate this culinary purity, I am sharing the third painting in my office of classic Fura da Nono and fresh butter lost heritage scene painted on a medium canvas by the brilliant Bashir Abbas of Kano Polytechnic. It reminds me of the idyllic, peaceful and wonderful Birnin Kudu, with its rolling hills, tema grass (still available?), and the now drying river.