Muhammad Ali laughs as he enters the room. He’s taking in the V&A’s south Asian collection and the 16th-century Ardabil carpet on to which my brother and I have manoeuvred a low table. He grins at me: “Man. All this stolen shit, huh?”

Sally Rooney, who has already arrived and is sitting to my left, chuckles. The Irish literary prodigy introduces herself to the boxer with a firm handshake. He is delighted by her accent. The pair fall easily into conversation about fame, poetry and Ali’s great-grandfather, who came from County Clare.

Saadat Hasan Manto and Benazir Bhutto arrive together, looking pained. They have time-machine-pooled, not because they are very keen on each other’s company, but because they are coming from the same country — Pakistan.

The irascible alcoholic Manto, who wrote perfectly crafted stories about the pain of partition and died a few years after it happened, is less than impressed by the update on the nation’s affairs that Bhutto has given him. And that’s based on what she remembers before her assassination in 2007, during a political rally. I’m dreading telling them both about the past decade and a half.

Manto, never one to bother with niceties, sits down with a sigh and offers his hip flask to Jeremy Strong, who politely declines and greets him: “Assalamualaikum.” The actor hasn’t converted to Islam — he has just committed to the function, in the same way he commits to all of his projects. Serious and thoughtful, he is playing his new role of the perfect iftar guest impeccably.

On the table are the best of the foods I have had over the years at iftars, the fast-breaking meal eaten at sunset during Ramadan. My father’s nihari, the silken lamb stew he learnt to make not from a family elder but from the Dishoom cookbook. All the traditional fried offerings — pakoras, samosas, kebabs, falafels — because I don’t make the rules.

Golden, crispy tahdig, from the Persian place opposite my flat. That fiery aubergine dish from Afghan Kitchen in Islington. Nargisi kofta, boiled eggs coated in a spiced meatball mix, which is painstaking to make. Naan from the shop near my grandfather’s house in Lahore, miraculously fresh upon arrival.

My younger brother Taimur is waiting on us. He’s doing a terrible job. An amateur boxer, he has only agreed to help out because he wants to breathe the same air as Ali, his idol. He keeps topping up the sportsman’s glass with ruby-red Rooh Afza and offering him the biggest, juiciest pieces of meat.

As we tuck in and those of us who were fasting come back to life, conversations merge and the group finds its dynamic. Strong and Bhutto discover common ground over the pressures of being a scion with a legacy to continue. Bhutto is referring to the political mission her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto entrusted her with before his execution by Pakistan’s military. Strong is talking about his role as Kendall Roy in Succession. I overhear the actor say to Pakistan’s first female prime minister: “There’s this new term — ‘nepo-baby.’”

Manto is explaining the story of Tipu Sultan’s wooden tiger, which lives in the V&A, to Rooney and Ali. The mechanical beast belonged to the ruler of Mysore, who put up a good fight against the British East India Company in the late 18th century. It clutches a European soldier between its jaws and, when you turn a handle on its side, produces a spine-chilling sound: the “dying moan” of its victim. The trio have managed to unlock the tiger’s case and are taking it in turns to spin the handle.

Dessert arrives: the tart, pistachio-flecked fruit salad that graces my aunt’s table every Ramadan and thick slices of chaunsa mango. Bhutto smiles ruefully. “Is it bad to say that, in exile, our mangoes were what I missed the most?” she asks me.

Having won Manto’s respect, Rooney is discussing their shared craft. With characteristic humility, she has read his stories in translation ahead of tonight’s meal. The man who wrote an epitaph for himself that read “Here lies buried Saadat Hasan Manto in whose bosom are enshrined all the secrets and art of short-story writings” has not returned the favour. But I can tell that, as a member of India’s Progressive Writers’ Movement, he is intrigued by Rooney’s views on capitalism and art.

I can also tell that if I don’t act now, the post-iftar stupor will hit my guests. Luckily, I have arranged for Kashmiri chai and espresso shots. I want to spend these last few moments explaining what Ramadan means to Muslims the world over. But Ali is already on the case. He tells the others that fasting during this time is an act of worship, as well as an exercise in self-control. “It’s hard to be humble when you’re this pretty, this quick,” he says. “But even I am humbled in this month.”

Zehra Munir is the FT’s junior opinion editor

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