QL features: Shehar Bano Rizvi
Losing a parent can be one of the most difficult things ever. But to channel that into a tribute that carries ahead the legacy of your parents can be the most rewarding thing. And that really holds true for Shehar Bano Rizvi, more popularly known as the PMPMom on Instagram. She is the author of the Paris Gourmand Award-winning cookbook ‘Virsa’, which won the Best in the World Cookbook title in November 2021. Bano is a certified Project Management Professional (hence the name PMP mom) whose career took a backseat as she took a 10-year break to become a hands-on mother to her three lovely kids.
Pursuing her passions
Shehar Bano came to Doha back in 2004, as a newly-wed bride. Having never set foot in the kitchen, she relied on her mother to share with her the failsafe family recipes—all of which she noted down and began cooking. Motherhood soon followed and she quit her high-profile banking career to focus on her maternal instincts. Not the one to rest, Bano also maintained an active interest in her passions that included cake-decorating, photography, home décor projects, party-planning, and DIY projects. While these activities did help her channel her creativity, deep down she still struggled to find her own identity apart from her role as a daughter, wife, and mother.
Paying a tribute to her mother
In the September of 2014, Bano lost her father Dr. Hasan Rizvi to lung cancer and that left the entire family devastated. While coping with a parent’s death is never easy, it made Bano think she must honor her mother while she was still alive, and the idea for a recipe cookbook came to her. She wanted to write, conceptualize, and photograph her own cookbook where she shared her easy but extremely reliable heirloom family recipes for the world to enjoy. She wished to dedicate it to her mother and make her happy. And that’s how Virsa came into being.
Virsa—the heritage and its legacy
Shehar Bano clarifies that Virsa was never a planned project. The idea began as an ancestral recipe book to honor her mother and soon turned into a dedication to both her parents. Even the name ‘Virsa’ just struck her one night when she decided she’d be naming the book as it contained recipes her family had been using for generations, right from when her grandparents migrated from Agra to Karachi, pre-partition of India-Pakistan. The name ‘Virsa’ means heritage in Urdu and just felt apt for the book.
While Bano knew that the book was a tribute to her mother and her immense love for cooking, she wanted to do something that also honored her father’s memory too. Since her father was an ophthalmologist by profession and a philanthropist, she wanted the sales proceeds of her book do something that carried forward his legacy. She set up an endowment fund at LRBT Free Eye Hospital in Pakistan, which gets 100% profits from the book. The sales proceeds have so far generated PKR 8,00,000 in 2021, which sponsored 77 surgeries last year and are expected to fund 140 more in 2022. To be able to facilitate that kind of tribute to her father in his memory has truly humbled Bano, and she hopes the Virsa legacy may continue on.
Virsa is more than just a cookbook. It has a universal appeal and going through most of the recipes highlights how many shared, similar ones our cultures. Plus, it is so simply well-put-together that anybody could cook them, quite literally. Virsa recently won the Best in the World Cookbook Award at the Paris Gourmand Awards. Bano and her book have also been featured in many local, Pakistani, and international publications as well. Most recently, Bano’s interview was also featured in BBC Urdu.
Shehar Bano says Qatar has been crucial to her journey of finding herself and Virsa. The country has given her so much and she’s watched it grow before her own eyes. The amazing support from the local community here has been extremely encouraging. On being asked what’s next, Bano is quite excited for her upcoming projects. Without giving away too much she says, there could be a Virsa 2, as her mother has quite a lot of family recipes to share. She also hints that there could be a possible project that draws parallels between Qatari and Indian-Pakistani cuisine and similarities between the palates.
Here's hoping and wishing Shehar Bano gets to continue the legacy of her parents and goes on to achieve greater heights!
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