Memories of Grandad & rice pudding (with a mango twist)Posted: August 20, 2015
We’re going away for the weekend to what has been dubbed the wedding of the century. My parents are in some way responsible for the union, and now, after three successful matches under their belt, they’re convinced they’re experts on love.
Their attempts to play cupid with their own daughter, however, have been slow and unsuccessful – and a little annoying. Whilst bachelor X may be good enough for person Y’s daughter, he’ll require a great deal more vetting, a strenuous grilling, and a very thorough (read: invasive) background check, before he’s approved for me. And that’s just Stage 1.
My Dad couldn’t get the time off work, which means Mum will be even more of a handful with no one there to reel her in after she starts getting overexcited and playing 20 questions with the cute doctor, or the 30-something accountant. And why can’t I just come over and say “hello”?
Rumour has it it will be quite an extravagant event and a quick google search of the venue confirms it. I can tell Mum is already getting ideas in her head, whilst I’m just worried about fitting into my dress after all the post-Eid indulging I’ve been doing. I ate a store-bought cheesecake for breakfast this morning and the calories on the back were so big it made my head hurt. But, damn, it was good.
As I mentioned before, Eid was a little different this year. For as long as I can remember we’ve always congregated at my maternal grandparents’ house, which everyone in my extended family has lived in at one point or another (me from ages 0 through to 3; afterward we moved into the flat downstairs and I stayed at Grandad’s upstairs every weekend till the age of 8). Eid mornings would start with the sound of the frying pan spitting and Mum dishing up platefuls of samosas and other cholesterol-spiking deep fried goodness.
I would never be able to stomach it so early in the morning and would resign myself to a bowlful of Cheerios before showering and getting dressed. As if on cue there would be tears from Saira because we weren’t doing enough to make her look pretty, and when my brothers returned from the mosque we would
sprint walk sensibly over to Grandad’s (which, after age 12,stopped being the flat two floors upstairs, and instead became a ten-minute walk away), because that’s where the real party was at. Our Aunt would do everyones hair and make up, and once I was officially ready I would welcome all the pilau rice and fried stuff with open arms.
My cousin and I always made an Eid trip three floors down to our Grandad’s best friend’s home. That’s when it would really start to feel like Eid; bantering with the 80-something year old pillar of the community we’d known our whole lives. The kind of man I wish everyone could be lucky enough to know and have in their lives.
Everyone would eventually disperse to visit other friends, but my extended family always reconvened at Grandad’s in the evening, where there would be a giant cake waiting to be sliced. Now that Grandad’s retired to his homeland and can no longer spend Eid with us, we never fail to make a long-distance phone call to wish him and tell him we miss him.
As a family who don’t spend much, if any, time together, Eid traditions have always been something we’ve all held dear to our hearts, even if we’re not the type of family that would say that kind of corny stuff out loud. Except this year, there was no Grandad’s. After a long battle spanning two-and-a-half years to convince Grandad to not sell and leave some of his family homeless, we gave up and let him do what he wanted. The flat was more than just a stack of bricks to us, it wasn’t just my childhood home, but my mother’s too, but trying to explain that kind of sentiment to a man hardened by life (and, I’m just going to say it: greed) was never going to be easy. The whole thing has left a bitter taste in our mouths. There are now strangers walking around house number 50, and I don’t like it.
When I think of my Grandad I think of the Lion candy bars he would sneak into my hands when my parents weren’t looking, Bollywood movies and his crush on every female lead, his faux fur muffler, and his chair. He is the figure that ties our family together, and growing up I was always equally scared of him and in complete awe of him. He is a leader; he is strong, and impatient, and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him. He’s also ridiculously funny, and fiercely loves his family in his own special kind of way. With 20-odd grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, some of whom he’s never met, I was lucky enough to experience his fun and comedic side as one of the elder grandkids. When I tell Saira stories about him playing with us in the past I’m sure she thinks I’m making it all up. But with 6,832.5 miles between us, a change in the dynamics of our family was inevitable.
When we saw each other again after years apart, we failed to reconnect. We couldn’t understand each other, we had nothing to talk about, and time together felt awkward and artificial. I complained to my Mother that he lacked warmth; later I discovered he had made the same complaint against me. My sister found it easier to bond and show affection; they bantered and talked like friends. One day he asked “What happened to her?” I’m sure he meant for me to overhear and was maybe even hoping for a response. But, trying to squeeze the seven years of my journey into early adulthood that he had missed out on into a couple of sentences seemed too difficult. All I could do was ask the same about him.
Our relationship has now shrunk to a monthly phone call. The conversation is always the same. When news arrived that he’d finally done it – he had gotten rid of the communal house – my heart broke. It was the only real connection I had left with a man I love but who no longer recognises my voice when I call.
We got ready this Eid, but we didn’t make a trip to Grandad’s best friend’s apartment downstairs, there was no cake, and we didn’t call him.
But, funnily enough, the absence of all our usual traditions created a united desire to establish some new ones of our own. We made an effort to visit everyone’s home, the little ones received presents (it was my neice’s first Eid), and the celebrations continued the next day when everyone made a trip to our home and Mum went all out with the food. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand, nor agree with, the decisions Grandad has made which have affected us all, but we’re determined to make the changes work for us. I’m not saying we’re completely over it, but we’re getting there. A house is only made a home by the people who fill it. We may have lost the house, but my people aren’t going anywhere.
The last time we saw Grandad was when he flew back for my cousin’s wedding last year. He couldn’t miss his first grandchild walking down the aisle, now could he? He won’t be flying back for the grand wedding this weekend, but if I ever do decide to take my own trip down an aisle, I hope he’ll return for mine.
Here’s a fond memory I have of Grandad: We’re having dinner, just the two of us, him in his chair, me perched on the arm of the adjoining one. He’s feeding me spoonfuls of rice in between making me laugh with his commentary on whatever Bollywood show was on TV. He then reaches across, grabs a hanful of mango chunks and squeezes them between his hands and onto his rice. He picks up the jug of milk and pours it onto his plate, and begins mixing this pool of rice, mango, and milk with his hands. I laugh at how ridiculous he looks and feign disgust as he makes a show of it all. He offers me some and I scrunch my face up, “Ewwwww, rice is for dinner not dessert!”
I’ve watched my parents and other grandparents do the same on occasion over several years, so maybe it really is a thing and I’m missing out. Grandad is the inspiration behind this recipe. Unlike him though, I’ve used actual pudding rice and sweetened it. The mango is optional.
- 300g pudding rice
- 1 litre whole milk
- 100g caster sugar
- Handful of raisins (optional)
- 1 large mango, mashed (optional)
- Wash and rinse the rice, and then bring to a boil in approx. 450ml of water. Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the milk and sugar (and raisins, if adding) and allow to cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring often. Best served warm.
- Optional: top with mango after serving.
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Adapted from the author’s food blog, Your Sunny Side Up.
Nazia was born, raised, and still resides in London. Her favourite food in the whole wide world is toasted buttered bread, which she sometimes eats at every meal of the day. Her second favourite food is cheese. Besides spending a lot of time in the kitchen, she also really likes reading, writing, taking photographs, quirky socks, Chinese food, stealing rocks from places she visits (it’s not really stealing), wedges (not to be confused with wedgies), mornings, nail polish, washing dishes, pyjama bottoms, the colour yellow, making lists, rainstorms, handwritten letters, coffee, autumn, chewing gum, action movies and comedies, storytelling, and more.