I wonder if I ever had a yellow dress that my Ma loved to put on every day if she could because she thought I looked like sunshine?
I wonder what my mother would have thought if I ever sang, “tinko tinko little star, how I wonder ant you are” or “ba, ba bad sheep, heavy wood, es, es one for monster….”
Did Ma miss singing lullabies that she never knew the words to because I fell asleep without one? Did Ma stare at me while I slept peacefully in their bed and think that I was the most beautiful child she had ever set her eyes on? Did she hold me for a little while longer, feeling my warmth and wondering about the time when cuddles would be a rarity?
Did Ma kiss my little forehead and say that the squirrel or the mouse or the kangaroo will be back later when I woke up in the morning looking for the visitors from my dream?
Was there a time when my mother ever wondered what else was hiding in my vocabulary that would make a surprise visit, baffling her, or even laugh at my mixed-up words?
Did she secretly gloat with pride when strangers admired her baby or complimented with an “oh, she is a smart one!”? Was I as courteous with my “Thank yous”, or ‘Please”, or “sorrys”?
Did my father think I was a little genius? Did my mother remind my father that it wasn’t a good idea to say that out loud so often?
Did she look forward to feeding my little mouth, opened like a bird, with her bare fingers? Did I look for rice everyday? I wonder if I always ran up to her for a little bite of whatever she was eating.
Did my mother ever spend silent moments listening to me sing “Oh matter be, Oh matter be” while bathing in the warm blue ocean in my father’s arms, or just watch me and my father have special moments together? Did she feel her parents’ love for her when she watched me quietly?
Were there times when the thought of me leaving her household as a young adult made her think that life was unfair?
Did my mother’s heart break a million times over when she disciplined me or heard me say sorry?
I wonder if Ma felt her heart sink a little before it leapt up in joy when she saw me walk, or say words she never thought a toddler could say.
Did Ma secretly wipe a few tears every year around my birthday because her little girl was growing up?
Ma never forgot a birthday without ‘payesh‘ (a Bengali rice pudding) because it is supposed to carry life forward. “The Payesh“: never eaten by her or Dad as a symbol of giving their life years for their young ones.
I know I will never forget ‘payesh’ on Saira’s birthday because that is where my Ma’s blessings are.
My Saira is two today.
Chaler Payesh (a Bengali Rice Pudding)
- Aromatic rice such as Gobindo Bhog, or Basmati, or Thai scented rice: 1/4 cup
- Milk: 2 cups full fat evaporated and 3 to 4 cups whole milk
- Sugar: 3/4 cup or to taste to your desire
- Raisins: 2 tablespoon
- Nuts: cashew and pistachio 1 tablespoon each
- Cardamom: 4 pods
- Ghee or Clarified butter: 2 tablespoon
- Wash and soak rice in running water for 15 minutes. Drain water and set aside.
- Soak raisins in luke warm water for 1hour or till they are plump.
- Chop cashew nuts and pistachio but reserve a few chunky pieces for garnishing.
- Lightly beat the cardamon pods till they break.
- Heat ghee and cardamon in a shallow pan over medium heat. When the aroma leaves the pan add the rice and gently stir for a few minutes to coat the rice.
- Over medium heat add the 2 cups of the evaporated milk to the rice and stir. Lower heat and keep stirring gently to prevent burn.
- Now add the other 3 cups of milk and let the rice boil in it. Do not cover and continuously keep stirring the bottom of the pan. To check if the rice is cooked take a grain and test between your fingers to see if it breaks.
- Boil rice and milk till rice is cooked.
- Add sugar, raisins and nuts and boil for another 2-5 minutes. If needed add the extra milk to thin out. The consistency will be thinner than desired but when cooled it will set.
- Cool in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
- Garnish with nuts before serving.