by Chimene Suleyman
Growing up in Finchley, in the 80s, my neighbours were the Soods. Their adult children lived mostly in America; their grandchildren - older than me in age - completed a close family. They were an old Indian couple, who I called, fondly, Grandpa and Grandma Sood. With their children abroad, and my older relatives in another country, they enjoyed me as another granddaughter, there daily, the love very much mutual.
I was in my 20s before I experienced my first English wedding. Yet, in two decades, the Indian marriages and celebrations we had shared were uncountable. On birthdays and Christmas, Grandpa Sood gave gifts; encyclopaedias, a thesaurus, dictionaries. Once a teacher in his youth in India, he told me I must always love words. As memory faded, the same gifts - naturally - were repeated. As a result I received, multiple times, “The Reader’s Digest: Big Book of How To Be A Strong Beautiful Woman”. I have 12 copies.
With both grandfathers passed before I was born, Grandpa Sood was the closest I have come to having one. When I was 19, Grandpa Sood passed away. He was 98. Grandma Sood had gone a few years before. Though my parents still live in the home I grew up, the Sood’s house has been demolished. There is a railway track that has stayed, running alongside the space.
I do not remember the exact dishes that we ate in the tight kitchen; laminate floor that was easy to wipe clean with Grandma Sood’s bracelet-dressed hands. I do not remember the names of the sweets she made, or the meals that she cooked, after school, or on weekends with my parents next door. I do not know how she prepared the food, the ingredients, or length of time it took. I cannot remember which vegetables she preferred, or the spices that dominated. Cooking, I believe, is instinctive, sculpted and natural. I have never learnt to cook. Or wanted to. And whilst, sadly, the best Indian meals I have eaten have left with the Soods, I have 12 copies of “The Reader’s Digest”. They are not half as delicious, but just as wonderful.