Smell Of Roasted Hazelnuts

Dr. Azra S Hasan is a Microbiologist from New Delhi, India.

Azra S Hasan

Azra S Hasan

Istanbul, where cultures travel thousand years to meet is nurtured as a lost world. The city has many delights to offer; natural beauty, majestic architecture, alluring people, fascinating food and above all the smell of roasted hazelnuts sold by vendors on every prominent street of Istanbul. The not so dissenting protestors of Taksim square, the delightful hacklers of the Grand Bazar, the affable owners of roadside restaurants, the lovely friendly girls I easily chatted with on the benches of beautiful parks add to the definition of city’s magnificence.

Amongst the mystique and grandeur of the city I noticed the blemishes of past- the Kurdish refugees, the least cherished treasure in a city in love with itself. And even more charming in this cohort of the least implicit, were children – Girls and boys of different ages and diverse characters. The charm of their personalities amplified by the music of their flutes that never left your ears even in the din of Sultanhamet and the Istikal streets. That soulful tune fused with the breeze carrying the smell of roasted hazelnuts and with it an exquisiteness of a surreal pain that I had never heard in my life before.

I was amazed at the musical skills of these seven-year-old girls all dressed in pink faded T-shirts. Interestingly one little boy always played in a corner whenever we went on the street. His music was strangely too melancholic for his age. One could have a heart break with just that tune he played and his face ..oh !..There couldn’t be a sadder one .His clothes were worn out in the heat and dust of the passing cars and trams yet his beauty was yonder imagination. The little girl, some meters away, also played the flute with tiny hands, her fingers making the correct moves over the air holes; her soft pink lips turned white as she grasped the embouchure tightly; her amazing eyes were tired and kept staring at the cardboard shoe box in front- a make shift begging bowl. With every tinkle of the coin in her box, her eyes twinkled with gratitude, her music crescendoed..….her tunes even more sweeter! She had no audience but she was surrounded thick by hope; I think.…..hope of a warm meal today or hope of being cared and loved.


Image: Azra S Hasan

I asked a particularly handsome, extremely courteous old man sitting next to me where these kids came from and he told me the entire story. The south-east region of Turkey is predominantly Kurdish. During World War I, the Ottomans took over Kurdish tribal lands and mass resettlement was inevitable. Also then the Treaty of Lausanne, which defined Turkish independence and paved the way for protection of non-Muslim minorities including Armenians, Greeks and Jews, made no mention of the Kurdish people. Basically political reasons caused the mass displacement of the Kurdish people. Why don’t governments realize that all the instability they help create affects humanity so badly? Here these children could have been going to school, could lead their childhood just as others in this land. The old man said it’s fate; they suffer because of a bad fate.

While I was getting a hang of the background, a broad-shouldered, very fit man suddenly leaped over a hedge near us and these little girls in pink and those little boys in faded or no T-shirts started running, as if running for their lives .The begging shoe boxes toppled off and the coins scattered making their own frantic music on the ground. I noticed the man had a walkie-talkie and then more men followed with more walkie -talkies. I looked up with questioning eyes at my friend on the bench and he said “Police”. Ah, I saw clearly now!

The police in plain clothes was cracking down on these children for begging, however artistic their begging style was. To my mind, these kids were playing an instrument on the street and people were paying them for the music. Were they? As the men in no uniform chased the kids, I heard them chuckling and making fun of these muscular guys, even tease them as they played a game of “catch me if you can”. I didn’t see anyone go into the police van, but my friend told me about people talking about police tortures.

When the commotion got over, I bent down to collect and put back the scattered coins in the shoebox. A little boy came to take it from me, when I smiled at him, he said with a twinkle in his eyes, “You Indian? Indian music very good, I like very much and Indian girls too”. I handed over the liras to him and he disappeared into one of the by lanes. As I walked down the street I saw him again. He was buying roasted hazel nuts from a vendor. His friends waited atop a pile of pipes on a nearby construction site. This time the breeze brought in the smell of roasted hazelnuts sans the music.