Rice – Textual Summary
Rice by Jhumpa Lahiri – Jhumpa’s father is seventy-eight years old and is a disciplined man. For thirty-nine years, he has had the same job: cataloging books for a university library. He has got a regular time schedule. Every day in the morning he starts his day with two glasses of water and walking for an hour, and flosses his teeth before to bed.
In the kitchen, too, he walks a deliberate line, counting out the raisins that go into his oatmeal and never boiling even a drop more water than required for tea. He knows how many cups of rice are necessary to feed four, or forty, or even a hundred and forty people. He has a reputation for andaj — the Bengali word for “estimate” — accurately gauging quantities.
She describes how her father is more famous for making pulao – a baked, buttery, sophisticated indulgence, Persian in origin, served at festive occasions. Lahiri often watches him making it. It involves sautéing (frying) grains of basmati in butter, along with cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. In go halved cashews and raisins. A certain amount of water is added, and the rice simmers until most of the water evaporates. Then it is spread out in a baking tray.
Despite having a superficial knowledge of the ingredients and the technique,, Lahiri has no idea how to make her father’s pulao, nor would she ever dare attempt it. She further explains that the recipe is her dad’s own, and has never been recorded. It is a dish that has become an extension of himself that he has perfected, and to which he has earned the copyright. A dish that will die with him when he dies.
In 1968, when Jhumpa was seven months old, to celebrate her annaprasan, a rite of passage in which Bengali children are given solid food for the first time; which is also colloquially known as a bhath, which happens to be the Bengali word for “cooked rice” her father made pulao for the first time. They used to live in London then, in Finsbury Park, where her parents shared the kitchen, up a steep set of stairs in the attic of the house, with another Bengali couple.
Her father baked pulao for about thirty-five people. Since then, he has made pulao for the annaprasans of his friends’ children, for birthday parties and anniversaries, for bridal and baby showers, for wedding receptions, and for her sister’s Ph.D. party. For a few decades, after they moved to the United States, his pulao fed crowds of up to four hundred people at different events and occasions.
Lahiri describes the difference when her son and daughter were infants, and they celebrated their first annaprasans with the same pulao her father makes. She hired a caterer, but her father made the pulao, preparing it at home in Rhode Island and transporting it in the trunk of his car to Brooklyn. In 2002, for her son’s first taste of rice, her father warmed the trays on the premises, in the giant oven in the basement.
But by 2005, when it was her daughter’s turn, the representative on duty did not permit her father to use the oven, telling him that he was not a licensed cook. Her father transferred the pulao from his aluminum trays into glass baking dishes, and microwaved, batch by batch, rice that fed almost a hundred people. When she asked her father to describe that experience, he expressed without frustration, “It was fine.”
Lahiri has such admiration for her father’s way of always keeping a positive attitude. She learned how to respect and admire her father’s decisions and the passion he had towards making his favorite dish.