I spent the whole day worrying about the party. Firstly, about how to make cake icing. For Elias’ first birthday, I had made an un-iced pumpkin cake, which was extremely tasty (according to my taste-buds) but was very lumpy and not appreciated by our guests. So this year I decided to make cake like most people make it — pretty and sweet. I was not very successful, what with our half- broken oven that burnt the bottom and left the top soggy. And then in the hot weather, the icing got very runny.

I had invited guests to come at 6 pm. By then Jacob had drawn a donkey and made a tail for a kid’s game, Daniel had blown up balloons, Amina and I had made our first ever chicken biriani, the mangoes were cut, and my sari was on (after three tries and lots of laughs and safety pins!). Time to sit down and wait, because no one shows up on time here.

I didn’t know what to expect of my neighborhood guests. I had spread the word around, but only informally. I thought lots of people would come, and I was ready to serve them dinner if they weren’t going away! But at 7pm, they hadn’t come, so I went outside to pull them in. The kids came in and we played pin the tale on the donkey. Our other guests were close friends, and I wonder if the neighbor ladies were uncomfortable mixing with people they didn’t know and whose social status was different.

So we had neighbors peeking in and being all embarrassed while the rest of us sang a loud Happy Birthday to Maia, who was looking shocked by the candle and the noise. She was wearing a too-tight birthday present dress, and the day had already been a long one for a baby who was teething and who had missed her nap. But the first birthday parties are never really about the kid anyway . .

After we sang, then the real work started for me — dishing out the food. In this culture, people are served individual dishes. Putting the food and a stack of plates on the table and telling people to go to it would be culturally strange. I had too few small plates, and my big plates were too big, and how could I fit Bogra baked yoghurt, cake, spicy snack mix, magoes and apples all on the same plate? And my cups were too big for the kids, and I didn’t have enough forks .. . but everyone did get fed. My upstairs neighbor sat down and chatted to me as I served up the food and hunted for clean spoons. We talked about her sons’ schooling, how I should have used bigger plates, how to clean a water filter, about how forgetful Jacob and I are, and about the comparison between Rajshahi baked yogurt and Bogra’s. Better to talk about the yogurt than my unappetizing cakes! The guys in the living room talked about the world cup. Tushar sang some songs. Imon, our neighbor, spent an hour looking at our books.

At 9 pm, the neighborhood kids had disappeared leaving the floor covered with bits of mango and toys and their food half-eaten. I was wondering if I had made enough biriani to fed the crowd still present or whether I should wait. After a few more people left, we settled down to a very informal meal of biriani with Shumon. Good to talk to someone I know, who really doesn’t care if I forget to serve him water. Besides lacking salt, the biriani was a success.

The clean up was fast, thanks to Daniel. I pulled my sari over my head, grabbed Elias’ hand (my dear chaperon) and walked across the field with plates of leftovers to the neighbors who hadn’t come. One of my friends said that she hadn’t come as her father in law was getting his leg amputated and she had to be at the hospital — a good enough excuse. We were hyper what with the sugar and noise . . and so was the weather, full of blustering winds and rain. A late cool (and thus happy) night. Just think, we have to do all this again in one month for Elias!

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