It is just 3 days past my birthday – and belated birthday wishes are still pouring in on Facebook. And I ain’t any celebrity. Social media makes you feel like one though – of course, if you choose it that way and keep your birth date visible in the settings. I chose to – because, face it… which other day would friends (as in all who are in the Facebook Friend list – close friends, good friends, foodie friends, family, school friends, college friends, ex-colleagues and casual acquaintances included) from all corners of the world, and from all walks of life, write to you. The first wishes started pouring in from India much before the clock struck 12 in Dubai and heralded my birthday here. I woke up in the morning with a Google notification reminding me of my age. Facebook screamed that aloud as well. Really, time did fly very fast. Usually, these are feelings associated with seeing your children grow up in front of you, not yourself. I woke up to an older myself, and I changed the settings so that the age was now invisible to friends.
How was I going to celebrate my birthday? What were the big plans? Well, I had been in self-imposed exile for the last few days because of chicken pox. Not one to publicise it on Facebook, only a few of my friends knew about it. And the rest – whoever called up to wish me screamed out – ‘But how did you manage to contract it?’ ‘Are you kidding me?’ ‘Really? Didn’t you have it when you were a kid?’ I was in an apologetic mode – ‘Sorry buddies, I don’t know why I have got it, and how I have got it. Maybe I am not that old not to get it.’ Yes, that struck a chord. I am not too old to have chicken pox. I am pretty young to have got it actually. Gratitude begins there. The Z-Sisters would have to remain outside my room while I would be inside – Lil Z offering her chocolates and ‘air huggies’ and hand made cards. This had been the toughest part – staying in isolation and trying to be away from the girls. It must have been tough for S to have managed the school runs and Lady M who has had to do everything alone. Gratitude again – to have them in my life. In fact, the power of gratitude message harnesses itself many times, more so in times of emotional stress.
Once you become a parent, what you want to eat, which cake you want to order becomes irrelevant. While going out to school, Big Z placed an order (to me, of course) for a 4-cheese pizza while Lil Z wanted a pepperoni one. And of course, the cake would have to be chocolate and almond flavour. Who cares about the birthday girl? Does it matter that me – the mum – the birthday girl – pretty please – might prefer a mutton biryani from Shiraz or a home cooked Khicuri? And then what about ordering from one of her favourite budget eats – from where food comes home within 20 minutes of placing the order – Appa Kadai (Jasmine aka Pear Tree Diaries mentions it also as one of her fav budget eats). Did I ever write a post on it? No, never. Where was my gratitude? My gratitude poured in later via ordering a birthday treat.
A dream lunch from a few days back played on my mind – bull’s eye appam, beef sukha, egg curry, chicken chettinad, Malabar fish curry… Appa Kadai delivered home. Disregarding the outbursts from Lil Z that would ensue soon – ‘Mama it’s too spicy, I never ever want to eat from Appa Kadai again, not even their Chinese’, Mama’s order for her birthday lunch soon was egg curry and bull’s eye appam… and a mutton sukha! Just to mention here, Appa Kadai borders on being a multi-cuisine restaurant, much to my dislike. The Appa Kadai lunch was followed by cake cutting in the evening from (Brownie Point) – yes, I took a chance to come out of my bedroom into the living room – feeling like a heroine in a movie who would soon see her hero – in slow motion. And that was followed by pizza from Papa Murphie’s. A birthday spent at home, amongst family, with food and lots of love showered on me.
gratitudeˈɡratɪtjuːd/nounnoun: gratitude1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Often, we don’t think much of what we have, what we should be grateful for – in that particular moment, or on that particular day, or the days that have gone past. A home delivery or a cake order that one is expecting anyway doesn’t make one feel grateful – as if these things are granted in life. Not until a few surprises jerk you up and make you feel tearful. Like the flowers that arrived from my Punjabi friend Shelly living in the same building or the Payesh, the traditional rice pudding that my Marwari friend Seema had sent the day earlier (of Gulab Jamun Rabri had been her recipe, and the special Marwari dinner of Daal-Bati-Churma was at her place). Or the huge bouquet of fruits that arrived from Edible Arrangement, order placed by Bohochics – a group of 8 girl friends – my soul sisters now, with whom I travel to a new destination every 18 months (started with Prague and our last destination was Florence). But why fruits? Because, I had been off sweets for a while due to medical reason. So much of discussion, so many secret group chats (sans me of course) must have ensued. Yes, my gratitude.
But why suddenly talking of gratitude? Has this birthday made me more wise? Not at all. Actually in the last month, we have been doing a round of gratitude messages amongst the friends in Bohochics – a gratitude message from each of us, every day… we are already into our third round and what is fascinating is how each message connects to everyone and makes them feel grateful for having a similar person in their lives as well. It made me think of people that I hadn’t thought of in many days, some in many years – but who I am grateful to, for what I am today. It made me remember moments that have given wings for me to fly, and shaped my dreams. It made me think of my family – my loving brother, my extended family, long lost friends, special relationships and random incidents. It also made me realise the power in following some sort of a prayer or a ritual of thanking that exists in many religion. Isolation from my own family, and these gratitude messages made me realise how much I have got in life and how grateful I should be today. I wish I could share these gratitude messages here, but I can’t as many are very private. We have become so busy in our daily lives today that we rarely pause to think of people around us. Think of special privileges that surround us – like the precious hand written card that comes from my mum-in-law every year before my birthday. Now, I have taken it almost for granted – Ma will definitely send one. Or the phone call that comes from my parents early in the morning, trying to catch me before I become busy in my daily chore. That too, I have taken for granted – my parents and brother will obviously call me up.
The list continues. The fact that I am surrounded by adopted family and friends, who have stood by us for years and are more than family now. I have also found foodie siblings across the world – a British sister in Debbie Rogers (author of Coffee, Cakes and Running and also working with me in Food e Mag dxb), a Bengali brother in Kalyan Karmakar (author of award-winning blog Finely Chopped whose blog post on Dubai made me that I had grabbed the main character role in a foodie blockbuster), another Bengali sister in Asma Khan (supperclub organiser in London and author of Darjeeling Express). I have found love and acceptance by a huge fraternity of blogger friends from Fooderati Arabia, braced and guided by the Mama duckie for all – Sally Prosser aka My Custard Pie. We bounce our ideas with each other, guide each other and most importantly support each other. Yes, I have found love. And gratitude. And much to my excitement – Payesh.
Payesh or Traditional Rice Pudding
Payesh or the traditional Rice Pudding is what brings on the birthday celebrations in a Bengali household. All celebrations for that matter. Payesh is reserved for an auspicious ocassion. It is the first non-solid food that a Bengali child eats and it is the ultimate symbol of celebration (I have written about it here). Payesh is drilled into our DNAs like a lot of other dishes. Like Luchis – the crispy puffed up flour flat bread – lost in translation yes, but resurrected in explanation and genuine feelings. Like Mishti Doi – the sweet yogurt, after a celebratory dinner. Like Khichuri and the very many fritters when it rains in a Bengali dictionary. Cake cutting, champagne and whatever fancy puddings you might offer, but at the beginning of it all, it has to be Payesh. At the beginning of all, literally. Payesh brings back a lot of nostalgia – my Dida or my maternal grandmother, her love for cooking – her dedication to her 7 children and their sub-branches. Specially, when it is sweetened with season fresh jaggery instead of sugar – Notun Gurer Payesh (above). As for my birthday Payesh, I poured Seema’s Payesh in a silver bowl that had been used for my Annaprashan, when I was five months old (below) and felt my Ma’s love surrounding me immediately. On the mornings of my birthday, she would wake up early to make Payesh, so that I could have a spoonful, before I left for school. A silver spoonful of Payesh – a spoon from the many spoons that grace my cupboard today – brimming with love, memories and nostalgia – essential ingredients to my cooking. I don’t have my Ma here, but my birthday Payesh had been there. Again, my gratitude.
Payesh or Bengali Rice Pudding
2 lt low fat milk (many prefer to use sweetened condensed milk – in that case you will need much less milk)
1 cup fragrant white rice or Basmati rice*
2 cups sugar or 1 cup sugar with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp ghee
2 green cardamoms
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 cup pistachios (optional – for garnishing) 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water (optional – for garnishing)
1/2 cup almond slivers, (optional – for garnishing)
- Soak the rice in water for some time and drain out.
- Boil the milk in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan (Dekchis are usually used for cooking Rice. Please note that Payesh is always made in utensils meant for cooking rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of it’s susceptibility to catching the smell of other cooked items. Constant stirring is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt).
- Add the rice when the milk comes to a boil. Throw in the bay leaves, cardamoms and a bit of ghee.
- Keep on stirring so that the rice is boiled properly and the milk thickens to almost three-quarters of it’s original quantity.
- Add the sugar and the sweet condensed milk only towards the end, and keep stirring continuously so that the Payesh at the bottom doesn’t get burnt.
- Take it off the fire when your desired thickness and consistency has been achieved (some prefer it runny, some prefer it a bit thick).
- Garnish with Pistachios, raising, Cashew Nuts. Serve it cold. However, some prefer to eat this Payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire!
*The fragrant Rice that is traditionally used in making the Bengali Payesh is a special type of rice called Gobindobhog. Wikipedia defines it as ‘Gobindobhog is a rice referenced in ancient Indian literature. It was used as an offering to the gods because it was known to be, “The rice preferred by the gods”. It is a short grain, white, aromatic, sticky rice. It is grown traditionally in West Bengal, India. It has many traditional Bengali recipes intended for it specifically. It has a sweet buttery flavor and a potent aroma. There is a type of rice which comes from Bangladesh – the Chinigura Rice (similar to Basmati and Jasmine rice but with very tiny, short grains, resembling sushi rice). The latter, though less fragrant than Gobindobhog Rice is easily available in Bangladeshi shops in the Sharjah Backet. Also try the Notun Gurer Payesh or the Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding or the Simuiyer Payesh/Vermicelli Pudding from my blog.
Last February, I met up with a very old friend of mine – Buddy, a film maker whose debut film Teenkahon, is doing the rounds of the international festival circuits in a big way. His film has been one of the most powerful films that I must have watched in recent times. Cinematic influence, melodrama, chicken pox hormones – blame what you may, but a story built up in my mind and I shared it with him – the story of a woman… it’s very difficult when you are not physically handicapped, yet not able to touch your children… and see them gradually getting used to not asking for the mother (specially the little one)… I imagine myself to be that woman who’s suddenly have to be confined indoors for life because of some contagious illness that she has contratced. Her entire view to the world is through her smartphone, the computer and a window that looks out into a building with 100 windows staring back. What about the husband? What about the children? How long would they need her and remember her? And what if she slowly gets bored and tired and broken down emotionally and slowly brainwashed by some extremists… the woman who is a travel writer traveling the world until she fell ill… There was obviously more to it. But right now, I am grateful that I have come out of that character and have shed my spots and tucked my girls in bed last night! Unblogging it all… Ishita
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