I Made This

Awanthi Vardaraj

I am three years old. My eyes are large, my eyelashes sweeping the tops of my cheekbones when I blink. I am watching my ammamma (maternal grandmother) as she sits at the dining table; the bowl in front of her is filled with a mixture of sweet semolina and melted ghee and everything else that is needed to make rava ladoos, one of my favourite sweets. I can smell hot sugar and fried cashewnuts; I can smell a hint of sweet cardamom and spicy clove. I watch as her hands pick up and rhythmically shape even portions of the hot mixture in front of her and I ask, ‘Can I do one?’.

I am lifted into her lap and I nestle against her soft warmth; I feel her cool crisp cotton sari touching my skin. She picks up a small portion of the mixture and blows on it to cool it, working with it quickly in her hands, before she hands it to me. I try to follow the movements as best I can; the roll of her wrists; the way her fingers shape the ladoo before placing it between the palms of both her hands and moving them clockwise, so the ladoo is as round as possible. I show her the wonky thing I am holding and she tells me it is perfect.

Later, when the ladoos have cooled and set, I sit with my family on the verandah outside. The adults have hot masala tea, and I have a glass of milk. I can smell the earth in the air and I tell myself – and everyone else – that it’s going to rain. I sing to myself as I cook with my little play kitchen and I look around in time to see my grandfather taking a bite of his ladoo. ‘Thatha’, I cry self-importantly. ‘I made this.’

I am thirteen years old. My body is changing and I am noticing things I never noticed before. Boys are interesting, but still not as interesting as books. I have grown into a quiet, sensitive child, preoccupied with books and dance and music. I look up from my book to see my mother reading a recipe book and I am interested. I have been helping in the kitchen for years, and I can already bake simple things on my own. ‘What are you making?’ I ask.

She is making a cake she has never made before, and I offer to help. I slip the skins off of soaked almonds, giggling as my enthusiasm sends a couple skidding across the kitchen; my mother tells me why this cake is different from other cakes as she sifts two types of flours. I cream the butter and the sugar with the small handheld mixer, and crack the eggs into the bowl. One. Two. Three. I fish an errant bit of egg shell out of the bowl with another egg shell, the way I’ve been taught to. Four. Five. Six.

The scent of vanilla essence is one of my favourite things and I add some to the cake. One teaspoon exactly. I sneak some essence on my finger and dab the base of my throat, running my finger up and down my neck. I like smelling like vanilla. It is one of my favourite perfumes.
The almonds are ground gently. I want to leave them in for longer. ‘No’, my mother instructs me. ‘They’ll become like butter if we do.’
I want to know why and she tells me about the natural oils in nuts and what happens when we grind nuts for too long. I am told that this is how peanut butter is made. I inform her that almond butter would be delicious. Nevertheless, we don’t need almond butter now, so we add the ground almonds to the cake. I am taught to gently fold the mixture and receive a tap on my hand when I am too vigorous. The cake looks delicious when it is poured into the prepared tin. It goes into the oven. I look at my mother and she nods.

It doesn’t matter how old I get; this is still one of the ultimate pleasures in life. I stick my fingers in the bowl and scrape it, licking my fingers. I tell my mother for the millionth time that I like cake raw. She laughs.

Later, when the cake has cooled, we slice it. It smells like almonds in here. My grandparents each take a piece. I have a cup of tea now, but my younger sister has a glass of milk. I watch my family eat the cake as everyone talks about how delicious it is.

I forget my mother for a second. ‘I made this’, I say.

Painting of Young Woman from Moghul Dynasty (17th century)