A letter to my children.
It’s 8.20 at night. I’m on my second bowl of rice and Dhandar dahl mindlessly watching Netflix. My carb-heavy meal is soothing amid the noise. An absolute cacophony – of laughter, very loud clapping and screaming – from you kids and your dad makes me want to run away from here into some, any, silence.
Inside, I feel jealousy unravelling her talons. We have our bedtime thank you game and Sunday snuggles where we all sit on the same chair. And I’m proud of being the official nail-cutter. But there’s hardly any silliness. Or much laughter. Not as many photos of us together either.
With me, there’s “Please, just please, finish your food before you go off running.”
There’s, “Well, if you didn’t empty the shampoo bottle on the floor and I didn’t, maybe the giraffe did.”
And, “I’m sorry but you really need to sleep in your own bed.”
You know what this tension between love and need, between being the rule enforcer or the party clown reminds me of? Rice.
I’ve been in a co-dependent, always loving, sometimes frustrating relationship with rice all my life.
Growing up in New Zealand maybe rice doesn’t hold the same meaning for you. But me? I don’t think I’ve gone more than a week of my life without eating rice. The way I haven’t gone more than a week without you guys around.
I eat rice for dinner with my dahl or curry. For lunch, I’ll use up leftover rice in a pulao or rice salad situation. Sometimes I’ll indulge in a rice kheer for dessert. And whenever I invite someone home, I’ll pull out the stops and make a nice biryani.
I don’t feel like I’ve eaten a meal unless I have at least a small heap of rice (ideally doused in ghee). It’s the way most Indian food is meant to be. The way I count down till you’re asleep so I have some quiet but then spend all the quiet time drinking in your tiny but heavy feet resting on Mummy’s squishy tummy.
It makes me angry though, that we don’t celebrate rice. Like the food I cook for you, the baths I give or the energy it takes to listen to you say “mummy” 478 times a day.
We take rice for granted because it’s just there. Cooked and ready to be eaten in the fridge, a spare pack in the garage if we run out. A staple. Always on the grocery list.
When I get home from work, I cook the rice in the Thermomix on autopilot. And, while I do expect praise for the Dhansak I made for you on Sunday, I’d roll my eyes if you said, “Wow, what amazing rice you’ve cooked”.
It’s not noteworthy. Like me. Sitting silently in the dark on the floor, between both your beds, arms stretched holding two tiny hands while I wonder how many audio stories it will take before you’re asleep.
The only time I’m reminded how much I love rice is when I go without.
Mumma’s fish curry tastes nice with a kachubar (tangy onion salad) but it doesn’t give me the post-curry all-is-right-with-the-world feeling without rice. The same way that no praise from a reader, an editor or my boss fills my heart quite like when you run speedily out the door shouting “my sweetheart” when I come home from work.
Cauliflower rice is a decent enough base for dahl that fills me up. But it’s too vile to eat daily (don’t tell your keto, paleo friends). And nothing brings together boring leftovers that don’t work with one another like a frying pan of fried rice or pulao. In the same way that no one can kiss your invisible scars away like I can.
Rice has been with me through every season of life. When I began eating solids, I started with rice and dahl arancini-esque balls. The first thing I learned to cook was rice. When I sought comfort from being bullied, I drowned my tears in a bowl of rice. And when I was breastfeeding you I ate my weight in rice because I was so, so hungry.
I’ve flirted with red rice. Tried black rice on for size. Brown rice, Arborio, Jasmine. Doesn’t matter what colour or how rice is cooked, I love them all.
Rice is the foundation of every nice thing I’ve eaten in my life. The way I’ll be yours.
I might be the boring parent. But my aspiration is to be your bowl of rice. The stage on which you shine. The thing you come home to.