Gulab Jamun

Honoring Traditions

I am not quite sure when it became a tradition but I do have memories of the first time we did it. It was the first time Mummy made homemade Gulab Jamun and by some stroke of sheer coincidence, we just happened to have vanilla ice-cream too. We weren’t the ‘ice-cream-in-the-freezer – eat it anytime – kind of a family. In fact, I wonder if any Indian family of the early ’90s was ever that way. Ice-creams were a very special treat even as I forget why we had that ice-cream that day. OR maybe, mummy had bought some just for that day.

New Year’s Day.

Unlike a generation of kids growing up in wealthy developed cultures, new year’s, during the time of my coming of age, was not something you celebrated with friends, partying and getting wasted. We spent it with family. It was always a family event. We bored ourselves to near-death by being forced to watch whatever Doordarshan, the only Indian national government television channel threw at its options-less viewers or depending on the programming, surprisingly getting entertained. Midnight programming on New Year’s Eve was the time for many new talent to shine. For example, I actually remember the time a relatively skinny and supremely-talented (by the standards of those times), Kumar Sanu making his national debut. I even remember him being introduced as someone who sounded like the evergreen Kishore Kumar. And he did. He blew us away.

I digress.

Mummy made the best gulab jamun. Combined with vanilla ice-cream, the hot and cold dessert also, naturally, blew us away.

That year onwards, it became our family’s tradition. We grew up. I left for Japan. My sister left for the US. I returned. Then, three years later I left again, this time for the US. The tradition continued. On our first New Year’s Eve night celebrating the promised new year, we were 6 of us. A few years later, we were 5. Another few years later, we were 4…then, 3…then, 2…until this year…ONE. We were ONE.

Death. Education. Travel. Marriage. Death.

In memory of my mother and her having started this tradition of celebrating the arrival of the new year with gulab jamun and vanilla ice-cream, I wanted to do the same this year. For my family. To start my family’s new year’s tradition. Except I forgot two things:

(1) I am not my mother.

(2) My kids are not 100% Indian. (more on this later).

Inspired, I bought the Gits Gulab Jamun Mix silently cursing my local Indian store for not carrying the Chitale Bandhu Gulab Jamun Mix – the gold standard for anyone who ever grew up or ever set foot in Pune.

At 5:00 p.m., I started making my dough and balls. Things were not going well. I should have known. It was 5:45 p.m. and I was still trying to make those darn balls. How did Mummy always manage to make them so smooth?

At one point, I announced to the husband and kids in the living room, “Next year, we are buying gulab jamun!” Nobody answered.

He came to check on me a few minutes later.

“How’s it going?”

“How do you think it’s going,” I snap. “It’s clearly not going well. I am 100% sure this is going to disintegrate in the oil and I am going to be left frustrated and angry, and stressed…” my voice rising with every word….

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I do. I do. I do”.

At this point, he left with Teju to pick up some Chinese food for dinner. TJ was glued to the television watching train videos.

I witnessed the slow disintegration of those stupid balls in the hot oil through my blurred-with-tears contact lenses. I paused for a couple of minutes as I mindlessly stared at the small kadai. Then, slowly, I found myself turning the stove off and melting onto the kitchen floor. In tears. I failed. I am not my mother.

I am not my mother.

I glance at her photograph on the door of the fridge. She is smiling at me. I apologize. “I’m sorry, mummy. I couldn’t carry on your tradition,” I tearfully tell her. Tell myself.

I pick myself up and clean everything. Within minutes, there is no trace of any sad little gulab jamun ever having been dreamed up and attempted in that kitchen. Except for the somewhat sweet, teasing smell of fried dough in the air.

That night, new year’s eve, we eat slices of store-bought pound cake for dessert.

New Year’s Day.

Just another day. The husband and I argue over something. I don’t feel like going out. I just want to stay home and do whatever my mind wills. He takes the kids out.

1.5 hours later, the garage door opens. “Mommy!!” “Mommy!!” I hear the pitter patter of feet running toward where I am seated with my back to the approaching footsteps. “For you, Mommy,” he says presenting me with a beautiful pot of flowers.

“They are beautiful, honey. Thank you,” I say, take the plant from him, and set it aside. Nice start to an apology from the husband, I think to myself.

Then, a second surprise. TJ brings me a box of gulab jamuns. He wants me to keep them right next to me on my chair, unafraid of any potential leaking of the syrup. I scold him. I pretend not to be moved. This was nice. My husband knew what this meant to me. He could perhaps tell. Even though I never made a big deal out of it…he knew.

Then, the husband walks in with a brown bag, greased on the outside somewhat. I know what it is. One of my favorite snacks – Samosas.

This sweet man took the kids to the Indian store, bought me those gulab jamuns, and samosas…whether it was to apologize, honor my mother’s tradition, or just because…I feel loved. (I don’t let it be known, damn ego!)

New Year’s Evening – He warms up the gulab jamuns and combined with vanilla ice-cream, we serve each other, and eat.

I didn’t forget about Lesson # 2. TJ refused to eat the gulab jamuns but Teju devoured it. My kids may not be 100% Indian but at least one of them is, dessert-wise, for now. I’ll take it.

As I hear Aaron tell the children about how our family tradition will now be to eat Gulab Jamun and Vanilla Ice-Cream on New Year’s, I quietly soak in the familiar tastes and memories of this dessert whilst thinking of her.

Happy New Year, Mummy. For you.

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A former Communication Studies professor turned a somewhat reluctant stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I blog about my adventures raising two multiracial kids. I write about parenting and living a multicultural Indian-Canadian-American HinJew life with honesty, a few tears, lots of laughter, and gallons of coffee.
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