Wednesday 1 May 2013

Kissed her silly and gobbled her up

Chotto-Ma loves going to nursery. She misses it during long holidays; she skips all the way to the school gate, ponytail bobbing, lips smiling. But last week  it suddenly changed. She didn't want to go. She said she'd miss me, hugged my hand to her chest. And a river ran down her cheek.

Taken by surprise, we ran her through a gamut of questions: Did something happen in school? Was she sad, worried, scared about something? Had anyone been unkind?

Well, a boy had held her by the throat and pushed her a few days ago, she said, but that wasn't why she was sad. Was she sure that wasn't why, we asked. "Yes", she said, "I just make sure I don't play near that him any more." I made a mental note to talk to her teacher about the boy, and moved on to other questions.

D and I asked her every question we could think of, but nothing. She wouldn't say why she didn't want to go to school, but she didn't want to. All the while, she tried to blink back tears. We backed off a little; and told her to take her time, tell us what was bothering her when she felt ready.

A couple of hours later, as I sat there with dark thoughts flitting through my head - I have a viciously fertile imagination that travels like a drunkard's sports-car - she came and sat down on my lap. "Maybe we can hug for A Very Long Time when I come back from school every day?", she asked.

And suddenly, I knew. "Are you worried about me going back to work?" I asked. Many months ago, I'd talked to her about me returning to work after she turned four, I'd explained that she would have to stay at a childminder's till we picked her up after work; I'd told her it would start this year, sometime in the summer. She knows it's nearly summer now.

As soon as I asked the question, she buried her face into my hair. A long silence followed. "Maybe", she mumbled after several minutes. So, there it was. A child, sad because her mother's going back to work - nothing to write home about. But, it was what she said after the mumbled 'Maybe' that made me write this here. Here's our conversation as it happened in Bengali. I'll translate in a bit.

Me: Ma-r job niye tomar ki mone hoy?
She: Aami bhabi Ma office jaabe, tokhon aami ekta onno lady-r baarite thakbo. Ba-o thakbe na.
Me: Tokhon tomar sad laage? 
She nods, then after a silence, says: Aami jaani aami jeta bhaabchi, sheta jodi na bhaabi, tahole aamar school-e jete easy hobe. Kintu (and she touches her head), jokhon amar mathar bhetore eta khali bhaabi aar bhaabi, tokhon bhaaba ta stop kora easy hoy na.
Me: (hugging her, my heart in my dry mouth): Tumi eta niye kokhon bhaabo, shona?
She: Aami night-e bed-e boshe boshe bhaabi. Aar morning hole school-e jete chai na, Ma-r shaathe thakte chai.

Translated, that would be:

Me: What do you think of when you think of Ma working?
She: I think...Ma's going to start work soon, and I'll stay in another lady's house. Ba won't be with me either.
Me: That makes you sad?
She nods, then after a silence, says: I know that if I don't think like this, it'll be easier to go to school. But (and she touches her head), when my head thinks these thoughts, it keeps thinking it and thinking it, and I can't stop it easily.
Me: (hugging her, my heart in my dry mouth): When do you think of these things, shona?
She: I sit in bed and think at night. Then in the morning, I don't feel like going to school, I feel like staying home with Ma.

Of course, I talked to her about it some more, hugged her for A Very Long Time, and she felt better when she went to school the next day. It'll pass, I know. But I still wanted to put her words down here, for nothing else but for me to remember.

{You're just four, Chotto-Ma. Yet you sit at night and try to work through your worries without worrying us. You know your thoughts with utter clarity, yet say them aloud after much consideration. You're just four, yet you try without being told to try. It makes me want to hug you in, in, in, and keep you safe. But, like you say, my tummy's too small for you now.}

And so we did what we do best. We kissed her silly and gobbled her up and made her giggle till she could hardly breathe.

We also did a few other things:

D gave Chotto-Ma her first Aikido lesson - he's been waiting to do this since she was a blip. (Throat-grabbing boy, beware.)

I sewed her a dress! It's the first dress I've ever sewn, and though the finish was far from perfect, it made her a very happy bunny.

We read her this book of poetry by Freda Bedi, which we'd bought in Kolkata this year. Its words and drawings are wonderfully evocative - worth a hunt around bookstores.

And we made Shondesh. It's a sweet that Chotto-Ma loves. It reminds her of Kolkata, and of people she misses very much. 

Notun Gurer Kanchagolla
(A subtle, Bengali sweet made with date jaggery. Jaggery can come in different forms - as a hard cake, or in a more syrupy consistency. The latter is called Jhola Gur, and that is what I used. It's available in most Indian/Bangladeshi stores.)


1 ltr milk
Juice of 1 large lemon
4-6 tbs jaggery
1-2  tbs sugar

You'll notice that the the measure for jaggery and sugar isn't specific. That's because the sweetness should be adjusted to your taste. You can skip the sugar completely and make the shondesh with just jaggery.

First, to make the Chhana or cottage cheese: Pour milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Keep the lemon juice handy. As soon as the milk begins to rise, lower heat, and pour in half of the lemon juice. Stir. The milk will begin to curdle instantly. Keep adding a bit of lemon juice, till all the milk has curdled into cheese. You should be left with the white cheese floating in a pale green water, called whey. Sieve the whey away, till you're just left with the cottage cheese.

Leave the cheese in the sieve for 10 minutes to dry it completely. Then knead the cooled down Chhana (cottage cheese) with your hands for a few minutes.

In a non-stick pan, put the the Chhana, add half of the jaggery and put it on a gentle heat. Keep stirring in a gentle round motion. Taste for sweetness, and add more jaggery till you're satisfied.

In a few minutes, the Chhana will start to tighten up. When it's still soft enough to stir easily, take it off the heat. Don't worry if it looks too soft, it'll dry as it cools.

When warm, but not hot, divide them into portions, and with the palm of your hands, shape them into balls. Top each one with a raisin, or a cashew nut, or sprinkle of chopped pistachio.


  1. Makes my heart so heavy. But they grow up. And all too fast.
    All the best to the 3 of you, for getting back to work, and to each other.


    1. Thanks for such a beautiful note, Soumya. Yes, too fast, too fast.

  2. you write so beautifully :)

    1. Thanks for being here to read it, Nags.

  3. Heart breaking when your child is unhappy at school/nursery and you feel so powerless. Well done on working your way to the bottom of it and solving it through kissing her silly and gobbling her up. So beautifully written.

    1. AsturianDiary - Thank you. You're so right - 'powerless' is exactly how you feel. It's strange putting your child, such a essential part of yourself, out there in the world.

  4. Neatly written and deeply expressed. We went through the same whirlwind last month when I started my work again after 2 years. This too will pass and they will come over it very matured than we can imagine. All the best :)

    1. Thanks Anu, for writing in. I hope your little one has made a smooth transition by now :)

  5. Poor little Chotto Ma. At times the world just seems far too big for them doesn't it? I heartily recommend a book called The Kissing Hand which helped both of mine through these phases of change. My Six year old still asks for "a kissing hand" sometimes, although don't tell him I told you that! :D

    1. Just had a look at the book, Emma. What a lovely find! Thanks for that xx

  6. aaj kaal kar bacha gulo eto tara tadi mature hoye jai! Pia, I really appreciate how you guys dealt with the whole situation :) Big Hugs to Chotto Ma!

    1. Thanks for the hugs, Kankana. I'll make sure they're passed on :) x

  7. Oh my goodness. What a darling, sweet, and sensitive little girl. She is lucky to have such caring parents. To feel loved when we are nervous and unsure is so important. Well done. And I love the dress!

  8. Sometimes I feel that the kids are more mature than us. There were times when I felt/feel helpless to see LD sad. He is still learning to speak and it makes it all the more difficult for him to express his feelings in words. But little he knows that his eyes speak volumes and as a working mother (err... not really sure about the title working mother, as we all are working mothers:) I have to swallow my tears and move on. I really loved the way how you guys worked out the whole thing. can I join you guys next time when you plan to gobble up up? :) hugs to little darling (compassionate and sensitive too) girl.

    P.S: hope you sorted out the prob with throat grabbing boy.

    P.P.S: I love the dress u sewed for Chotu Ma. I had similar ones made by my Amma :)

    1. Oh Sia, I remember that time well. When they want to speak, and struggle to wrap the little tongue around wobbly words. LD, your wait won't be long; soon you'll be telling your mommy and daddy long-winded tales, without a pause!
      The throat-grabbing boy has been mentioned (gently) to teachers, Sia :) Your hugs are so very welcome, and always passed on.
      How nice that you wore dressed sticthed by your mother - I grew up in those too. I had the prettiest wardrobe in town courtesy Ma and her sewing machine :)

  9. Pia , first time on your almost 5 posts now and loved each and every one of them..i guess the reason i came to the blog was the first post i saw..this one :) came here through Sandeeps FB page and wow am i happy. i sometimes crib about finding good blogs to read, though i dont have a food blog i follow mostly them hence the connect to Sandeepas page

    I have a 2 year old now, staying in india makes it easy to have grandparents come and take care of her, plus Baba is retired ! more reason for me to urge them to stay here. But someday this arrangement will end and she will have to stay with a nanny or maybe a daycare..for that day..this post shall get me going.

    Oh acha recipe taar bishoy toh likhteyi bhule gelam..kobey thike bhabchi j banabo but then i am not gettign notun think regular gud diye banaleyu bhaloi hobey ? na ?

    1. Sulagna, khub bhalo laaglo comment ta pore. Mone holo chena karor chithi :)

      Many hugs to your little one! I agree, it makes all the difference in the world to have time with your grandparents. My daughter misses my parents all the time; in fact, she'd rather live in Kolkata. But, as of this week, the good news is, that they're travelling to us for the summer. So, no childminders for Chotto-ma. Yeahhhh! :)

      As for the shondesh, Sulagna, regular gur diye kichhui kharap hobe na. Try it, I'm sure it'll be lovely :)

  10. This sandesh looks SO good, I can't wait to try it! Do you have a recipe for mishti doi by chance? I've been dying to make it, and it's the one sweet my Bengali mother apparently doesn't make :(

    Also, I've been a fan of your blog for a long time, and I've nominated it for a Liebster Award!

  11. Ki sundor likhecho and CM is so clear in her thoughts. Love that she speaks Bangla. Amar meye rao bangla bole but everyone(and I mean Bengalis) who hears them is surprised that they do so and I had this fear that maybe the language is not being spoken enough, thank god for that.
    Do you think if you keep her at the childminder's a day or two even when you are at home, will make her more familiar with the idea ?

    1. Sandeepa, bangla bolano ta was such a priority for us, that after she was born, D and I changed our habit of shifting into english at home. Yes, the Bengalis here too are surprised that she speaks only Bangla with us. It's because she hasn't known anything else, really.
      The childminding problem was beautifully solved recently - Ma and Baba are going to be here till she starts full-time school :)

  12. Pia, my heart got heavy as I started reading this, thinking about your Chotto Ma and my Saira. I have realized that the little one's can perceive a lot more than we give them credit. And so glad D da, got to work right away and gave her a much needed lesson in self defence. That little dress you made and the sondesh are perfect.
    I am curious about Rhymes for Ranga. Did Chotto Ma ever read Stella and Sam by Marie-Louise Gay?

    1. I just checked out Stella and Sam, Debjani - looks lovely, must get a copy.
      You must get someone to get you Rhymes for Ranga from India, or buy it on your next trip. It's beautiful. I'm sure Saira will love it as much as Chotto-Ma does.


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