Hoda Dutt, Cairo, 1939

Hoda Dutt, Cairo, 1939

Leila Sen shares the story of Hedeya Khayat, her Armenian mother’s unusual story and journey from Turkey to Egypt, to India, to England and finally to the USA.  As part of a people who define themselves as ‘survivors’, one wonders what it was like for Khayat who became Hoda Dutt after her marriage and learnt to navigate her life as an Armenian in Calcutta? What kind of food did she serve in her Armenian-Indian kitchen?  What memories did she carry of her birthplace in Turkey?

Khayat was born at the turn of the 20th century into a well-to-do family in Turkey. As a young girl she lived in the ancient town of Diyarbakir in the Anatolian part of the Ottoman Empire.  Sen says, her mother was a young girl in 1915 when she and her parents were forced to endure the horrors of the Armenian Massacre. The only child to survive out of six, she and her parents eventually managed to escape Turkey. Sen describes their difficult flight and how they eventually reached Egypt and settled in Cairo.

Khayat married and divorced.  She had three children, two boys who lived with their father, and the youngest, a daughter who remained with her. During WWII, an interesting turn of events led to a chance meeting that changed her life.  Khayat met a young Indian officer, a doctor from the British Indian Medical Corps. on leave from the war against Rommel in the Western Desert.  He fell in love with her and proposed on their third meeting. She accepted his proposal and moved to India with her young daughter braving the turmoil of World War II.  She settled down in Calcutta where the couple’s daughter, Leila, was born.

After twenty five years in her adopted country, the couple moved to England, and later to the United States.  In 2001 Khayat passed away in San Francisco holding a little gold cross she had managed to save when she fled her childhood home in Diyarbakir.

Sen has written a book about her parents called “Age of Kali.” It is the story of her parents based on discovered memoirs, a story about destiny and love set against the flaming backdrop of World War II.



Hoda Dutt’s Recipe for Bisella:
Boil 1lb meat chunks and one chopped onion in water with salt to taste.
Put aside.
Chop one onion and fry till golden.
Add 3 chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder and 1/2 tsp mixed allspice (cloves,cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon)
Cook, stirring occasionally, till soft and mushy.
Add 2 lb shelled peas and cooked meat with its gravy.  Cook till peas are soft.
Serve with freshly cooked long grain rice, or rice cooked with vermicelli, or Arabic bread (aish baladi).