Features & Stories

Behind The Cookbook – Virsa: A Culinary Journey from Agra to Karachi

Virsa is my way of keeping both my parents’ legacies alive – forever.”

Shehar Bano Rizvi’s debut cookbook is a collection of family recipes and memories that she has dedicated to her parents. Her father was an ophthalmologist by training and a humanitarian by nature, and her mother, Cheena, demonstrated her love through food. Cooking for her family was a source of joy for Cheena – a gift the author wanted to repay by writing this book.

Like many home cooks, Cheena relied on experience and instinct. By committing her recipes to pen and paper – and then turning them into a full-color, beautifully photographed book – the author has saved heirloom dishes for posterity while giving readers an insight into her family’s food traditions.

The book was collated, tested, photographed, and written by Shehar. It won the First Cookbook category in the Gourmand International cookbook awards held in Paris in 2021.

Proceeds from sales of Virsa help to fund 100 cataract surgeries each year at LRBT Eye Hospital in Pakistan.

By Shehar Bano Rizvi

Virsa: A Culinary Journey from Agra to Karachi is not just another recipe book. It is my way of keeping both my parents’ legacies alive – forever. Let me explain.

The recipes in Virsa are my family heritage – hence the name: virsa means heirloom in Urdu. The book pulls together family memories and 100 Pakistani recipes that have been passed down through generations of my food-loving family.

My family originally hails from Agra in India. My paternal and maternal grandfather migrated to Karachi, Pakistan, in 1948, following the partition of India in 1947. The tomb of my forebear, Mir Zamin Ali Rizvi, still stands tall in the Shahganj district of Agra.


The entrance to Shehar’s grandfather's great-grandfather's tomb in Agra, India.


These family recipes have traveled from Agra to Karachi and beyond, and anyone who has a palate for Indian or Pakistani food will enjoy them. At the heart of the book are my mother’s and my grandmother’s recipes – no-fail dishes that are so simple that even a beginner (as I once was) can cook them with confidence.

Compiling, recreating, and photographing these recipes has been a labor of love – a dedication to my mom, Cheena – who is a fantastic cook. I wanted to pay tribute to her during her life, rather than after. This wish was triggered by the loss of my father, Dr Hasan Rizvi, to lung cancer back in 2014. He was an ophthalmologist and a philanthropist who worked for years in rural areas of Pakistan setting up free eye clinics.

Losing him was a life-changing event for me. His passing left our family completely devastated. My siblings and I paid tribute to him with an endowment fund with LRBT Eye Hospital, and I always wished my father could see what his children have done to carry on his legacy after his demise. He would have been so happy.


Shehar’s mother Cheena, of whom she says: “All that I am, I owe it to her...”


That made me think: Why do we pay tribute to people after they are gone? Why not celebrate and appreciate them during their lives? That was the initial motivation behind doing something for my mother. I wanted her to be happy – now – so I wrote and photographed this book. My friends and family around the globe came together to help me distribute it worldwide.

I wanted my father to be a part of this book’s story, so I decided to donate 100% of the book's proceeds to LRBT Free Eye Hospital in his name.

God truly blessed this project. Within one year, we set up an endowment fund of PKR 8million (£33,600). The annual profit from this fund will sponsor 100 cataract surgeries every year – forever. So, it will be as though my father will live forever carrying out 100 cataract surgeries every year, and my mom's recipes will help many new cooking enthusiasts like me.

Try a selection of the most popular recipes from Virsa: A Culinary Journey
from Agra to Karachi

About the author

Shehar Bano Rivzi is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a software engineer who has lived in Qatar since 2004. When her maternal instincts took over from her career aspirations, she gave up her banking career. She is now a mom of three children, as well as a speaker, writer, photographer – a multitasking mom who shares sharing her passions through her blog, Diary of a PMP Mom. She was identified as Qatar's Top 30 Influential people to impact their community in 2019. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook (@thePMPmom).

A story about Virsa’s success was featured on the BBC Urdu channel. Find more details about the book at www.virsacookbook.com.


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