He raised his small, sticky arms above his head and screamed “YALLAH” as loud as his voice would allow. My dad at three years old, sat on a cool tile floor with syrup dripping from his tiny fists. In either hand, a milky white ball, a rasgulla. He loves to tell this story.
Rasgullas are sweet spongy things with a mysterious history. Many regions of India try to claim their origin story. They went from being a special occasion dessert to being so beloved that people have tried to pass them off as healthy. Much like other Indian desserts they are bold in their sweetness, they glisten, served in generous portions. Their favour is rivalled only by the glorious rasmalai, made of saffron threads, a galaxy of pistachio, rosewater, and the heaviest cream.
After I was born in London on Christmas Day, 1987 my dad developed a fondness for calling me “rasgulla cheeks.” He was twenty-eight and I was a chubby first born, with a pale round face and Sonic the Hedgehog hair on end. He often recalls that day at the hospital — I looked around at his sister, brother, and parents with a look that said, “who the hell are these people?” He tells this to me while playing my first cries out loud. He recorded them on a cassette tape.
My dad sat on that tile floor in 1960’s Chittagong, Bangladesh. He was raised by ayahs there and then came of age at a boarding school in Lahore, Pakistan. He was sent there at age five.
I was a first generation Indian born in Britain. I spoke Urdu before I spoke English. I lived in a ramshackle multi-generational household on the side of an A-road for most of my childhood. I didn’t have my own bedroom until I was ten. None of these things were unusual for an immigrant family not two decades out of war. No one spoke about the war.
I never thought about the fact my dad didn’t grow up in a home, but in a school. There were no pictures stuck up on our walls other than the ones I made in school. It was a house completely bereft of nostalgia. I didn’t think about this. No one wanted to talk about how we came to be in England so I decided I was as British as you could be, that was the culture I had access to. There was no Indian in me, as far as I was concerned. No-one at school asked me about my race or my heritage, so the perpetuation of…