Christmas dinner with Mam, mum and zoolbia bamieh
December 28, 2001
It has been a difficult Christmas. In fact, the last eight weeks have
been extremely challenging, after recent business traumas. So I was looking
forward to Christmas dinner.
I insisted on cooking (I normally do at my parents-in-law, but this time
at home) and we invited seven special guests. The guest with the longest
journey arrived on the 22nd of December. The lovely Mam flew all the way
from Bangkok to join us. She lies fast asleep on the sofa across from the
TV as I type this.
Earlier this year Mam worked with Varinder for four weeks on a pet food
project with low income households in Bangkok. They got on so well that
Varinder pleaded with her to come and spend Christmas and New Year with
I find Mam to be extremely funny and diplomatic. I have tried to cook
her my version of Thai food and even though I knew it had gone disastrously
wrong -- too much salt -- she tasted my concoction, nodded her polite approval
and claimed that it tasted delicious.
Tomorrow, Varinder will drive her to a local Thai supermarket so she
can choose her own ingredients and cook for us later in the week.
My mum arrived on the 21st of December and left directly after Christmas
dinner to be with my sister up in Leeds. She mispronounced Mam's name by
constantly calling her Maam at every opportunity. Mam, in turn, referred
to my mum as Ma'am (in courteous American style).
It is all very confusing and I kept meaning to get around to asking Mam
to refer to my mum as, Jaleh, her name, but I never did. Mum had mentally
locked herself on to referring to Mam as Maam and I knew she was beyond
help. Occasionally, and this was the most irritating part, I even heard
my mum calling her name and pronouncing it "Mum".
To cap it all my mum kept asking Mam if she was good at cooking Chinese
food. We reminded her repeatedly that Mam is from Thailand and an excellent
THAI cook. It was pointless: "Cheshmaash ke cheeniye, deegeh cheh farghi
meekoneh -- cheeni yaa taailandy?"
I had to force my clenched fist into my mouth and breath out through
my nose to calm myself.
Our wonderful close friends Sam (the economist) and Arosha (the eye specialist)
also came on Christmas day. Sam can cheer up a terminally depressed Canary
in a cage with his humour and laughter. I was counting on him to keep me
entertained while I slaved over the stove. Instead, he had been collared
by my mum in the lounge. She wanted to know all about how was Sri Lanka
different than India (Sam and Arosha are both proud Sri Lankans).
I strained to listen in case she said anything to embarrass me. You see,
I still suffer sudden twitches from the time she left a message on my answer
phone which I played unknowingly in front of a now ex-girlfriend. The first
part was in Farsi and the second part in English (with a strong Farsi accent)
-- I had no time to switch the machine off: "Pedar Sag ye zang be man
bezan. Panj rooze az to cheezi nashneedam. If you don't call me tonight
I vill come to your house and cut your cock off."
I explained to my ex that the police were trying to trace these calls
and that whoever the caller was would soon be arrested. She was not convinced
and stopped seeing me soon afterwards.
So, I spent most of Christmas day alone, sober and sweating in the kitchen.
When time came to eat, I lifted the beautifully browned turkey out of the
oven and carved a slice from its breast. As I cut deeper with each slice
I realised that the bird was still only half cooked. Red, still uncooked,
turkey juice was going everywhere and Arosha the doctor pointed out that
it was so undercooked that a kiss of life would revive it.
I had to agree. Fortunately there was enough cooked breast to feed the
carnivores. The rest of the carcass was returned to the oven for a further
40 minutes at 190 degrees. Varinder had pasta which I had prepared at the
same time and one of our guests, who has a phobia of birds including cooked
ones, ate lamb -- which I had prepared as well.
By the time we sat down to eat I looked and felt exhausted, had lost
my appetite and still had to sit through the entire meal listening to my
mum calling Mam, Mum or Maam and all this interwoven with the Queen's speech
in the background.
Dessert was Iranian. We ate bakhlava, noon Napeleoni and zoolbia bamieh
with tea from our samavar. Heaven. I soon fell asleep on the sofa to the
Maam-Mum lullaby. When I opened my eyes again the others had fallen asleep,
including Varinder. I seized the opportunity to have more bamieh and noon
A few days have passed since Christmas (it is the 28th today) and a colleague,
Nick, from work came by to say hello. He took one look at me and said, "Siamack,
mate, what have you done to yourself -- look at your gut -- you're going
to kill yourself!"
Varinder gave me one of her "you fat f**k" looks and I braced
myself for what was to follow after Nick left:
"Will you ever lose weight? Do you want to lose weight? What about
our future kids? What if you die young and I'm left all alone with three
kids to raise?" (who said anything about three kids?!)
There is nothing I can say to any of the above but let her work it out
of her system. Lord knows I want to be slim again. Lord knows I want to
say "no" to sugar. Lord even knows that I want to grow to a ripe
The low carbohydrate diet worked and I did lose two stones, but then
I gave in to my beloved rice and bread. I am back to where I started --
seventeen and a half stones. There is another attempted weight loss still
in the planning stage (involving a prescription drug procured by another
medical friend -- not Arosha) I will keep you informed.
Finally, my Christmas presents. My most gorgeous Varinder and
her wonderful cousin (the dentist) have ordered a Nintendo Game Cube for
me. It won't even be in the UK til March but most people who know me are
suggesting that I will become addicted and will never wash or work again.
For me Christmas presents also include those intangibles, which I have
collected over the past twelve months and am taking into the new year. The
most important of these are lessons learnt from my father-in-law. In the
past few months we have been thrust together in a business capacity. I had
no idea up to that time who he really was, other than Varinder's dad, or
what he was like.
He took my hand and walked me safely and soothingly through the business
equivalent of a minefield -- literally, one wrong step, word or action and
we would have sunk without trace. Granted, he may have done it for his daughter
more than for me, but I still learnt valuable life lessons. A paragraph
here will not do this experience/lesson justice. One day I will write all
about it -- even though he has asked not to be referred in my stories. It
would be a gift worth sharing.