Cake

This short story has two inspirations.

One, is my rickshaw-wallah from my school days. Unfortunately, being a child then, I don’t remember his name. All I remember is his daughter’s name, Sona. Which is the name I have used in this short story. That rickshaw-uncle, as I used to call him, visited us once with his wife and daughter. The only thing I vividly remember about that visit is his happiness that Sona and I, had finally met. We were around the same age. So…Sona…wherever you are…this one is for you and your family for the unconditional love and protectiveness shown by your father to me merely because I reminded him of his own daughter.

The second inspiration is something I said to my kid. I was craving a particular Indian dessert and ended up making it. The dessert is later on mentioned in this story. Won’t give you the name here though. My younger one was refusing to taste it. She eventually did when I told her it’s a different type of cake. Kids, man!

Additionally, I have included the recipe of my latest chocolate cake at the very end. For those who were asking. Do give it a try and let me know how it turned out.

Enjoy the story and the recipe.

The first cake I ever made and decorated. It was for Mr. A’s birthday, back when we used to celebrate them. Year 2013. It looks messy but I swear I got better with time. Don’t believe me? Check out my baking on my Instagram.

Raju slowed down the rickshaw and stopped in front of his door. Stepping off, he  walked the rickshaw to the side of the house, took out a bicycle lock and passing through the wheel spikes, pushed the edges together until he heard the satisfying click which meant the lock was in place.

Wiping his forehead with the thin gamchha (a thin cotton towel) on his shoulder, he parted the curtain and entered his home.

The other day, his daughter Sona, had come from school and showed him her general knowledge book. The chapter was about different types of houses. He was amazed to learn that in places he never knew existed, people lived in houses made of ice. He racked his brain to recall the word.

Ilgoo! 

He smiled proudly to himself.

But what broke his heart was when Sona had pointed to a picture and asked. “Teacher said this is a hut. We live in a hut Baba?”

Her wide yes had haunted her since then.

‘Yes child…your Baba is a poor rickshaw puller…we live in a hut…we barely make it through every month…it is the Almighty’s Grace that you study in a Convent…because the sisters there have an underprivileged quota…to make our basic ends meet your mother has to work in other people’s home…wash their dishes…sweep their floors…your Baba couldn’t give your mother and you, a life you deserved…’

But he said nothing. Merely looked at the innocent face before him, until his wife, Beena came to his rescue. She gently took the child away, asking her.

“Did your teacher say it was wrong to live in a hut?”

The child’s eyebrows knotted together, trying to think hard. Ultimately, she said.

“No…she only said that different people live in different houses…some people live in houses made of bricks, some of wood, some of mud and sticks, and…that’s all…”

Beena kissed her daughter’s hand.

“Go and play…your friends are playing outside.”

Sona ran off, squeaking in delight.

Beena poured some chai in a small steel tumbler and moved to sit with her husband. Wordlessly, he took the tea from her hands, taking a sip. The tea was good. As always. She extended the small steel tiffin in her hand towards him.

“Aunty made rose cookies today…she sent some for us.”

He merely looked at her…eyes distant, searching of a trace of complain, a stray thought of fatigue, a crease of disappointment on her calm face. All he saw was pure contentment. He was so blessed in having her beside him…but was she…?

“You should have married that constable that your father had insisted upon.”

“And what? Put up with his drunkenness? No thank you! I am quite happy with my family.”

“Beena…”

“I know what goes on in your head Raju. That you couldn’t give us the life you think we deserve, Sona and me. I have told you this before, I will repeat it until the day I die…you give us everything we deserve when you toil hard for our sake and love us unconditionally. What else do you think anyone needs?”

“A good home…stable life…a celebration once in a while…and Sona is…”

Beena cut across him patiently. “Sona will grow up knowing how hard her Baba worked for her sake. She will never shy away from taking risks, from giving it her all…is that not a treasure of a legacy you would be leaving for her?”

***

Beena’s words echoed in his ears as he tipped the water from the pitcher into a glass and squatted down for a drink. The food would be made and covered under the straw basket, he knew. Beena would not come back until a few hours later. She worked for a widowed old lady. Looked after her and her house. She was her companion on Sundays, taking her to church and then shopping. Other days, she cooked, cleaned and ran other errands for her. Aunty, as they both called her, had lost her husband a few years ago. Her son lived in another city and the daughter was married in another city. Beena had been a boon to her, as she always said. The pay was good, and during the times of festivals, a bonus and gifts were always bestowed. Raju had met the old lady quite a few times. He liked her, mainly because of the love she showered on his wife and daughter.

He pulled the basket to him. The meal was simple. Rice soaked in water with salt, a side of onion and green chili. Filling, without being too heavy on the stomach. He looked at the small phone on his hand. Last year, he had saved enough money to buy the cheapest one from a small used phone shop. The screen clock flashed 1:30. He had to be at Sona’s school to pick her up by 2.

Gulping down the liquid lunch, he washed it down with some water and got up.

He had never kept his daughter waiting.

***

Beena and Raju looked at each other and then at their daughter.

Sona had been gloomy ever since she came back from school. Refusing to talk to anyone or even play with her playmates. It was dinnertime. Beena had cooked egg curry with plain chapatis. Sona ate without looking at either of her parents.

“So…how was your school today?”

“Good.”

Usually Sona would be full of stories for her parents.

“Sona…is anything the matter? You know you can tell us anything.” Beena asked her gently while a thousand thoughts flashed through Raju’s mind.

Had someone misbehaved with his daughter?

Called her names? He knew it! These rich people and their spoilt children!

Did a teacher single her out for staying in a hut? He had always been against putting her in that school! Much too high class for them! How could he even think that a rickshaw puller’s daughter can fit with such people?

“It was my classmate’s birthday today.” Sona’s small voice broke through his reverie.

“And you are upset because she celebrated her birthday?” He asked, astonishment creeping up in his voice. What on earth was the matter with this child?

Sona looked at him, her wide eyes shining with unshed tears.

“She said she will cut a cake in the evening. Tomorrow is my birthday! I want to cut a cake too! Baba please…!” The child scuttled to her father, burying her face in his chest. “I will be six years old tomorrow…I just want to cut a cake. I don’t want gifts…I don’t want to call my friends…I just want to cut a cake…”

Raju’s heart was hammering, but he patted the back of his daughter, his gaze meeting with Beena’s in the process. Those cakes were quite expensive, he knew. Equal to a whole day’s earnings. The tiny body was now shaking with sobs.

“Of course…Baba will get a cake for your birthday tomorrow…and we will cut it together…happy now?”

Sona looked up, eyes wide with disbelief and pure joy. She jumped up, giving her father a tight hug and a peck on his cheeks. Beena merely looked at him, concern waving over her features.

It was when Sona had been tucked in for the night, the couple sat talking on the verandah.

“These cakes come expensive.” Beena spelled it out. He couldn’t see her face clearly in the dark, but her voice was all he needed to know what she would be thinking.

Yes, it was expensive. A whole day’s earnings spent. But she was their only daughter. What good is earning anything if not for her?

“I’ll get it.”

“But..”, the hesitancy in Beena’s voice pierced through to his heart. “…this might be a good opportunity to teach her…”

“Let her be a child for one day Beena.”

***

She went quiet at the resolution in his voice.

It wasn’t so much for the cake that she worried.

They weren’t very well-to-do, that was true. It was a Grace of the Almighty that despite it all, their daughter was able to study in a good school. All thanks to Aunty and her initiation with the Sisters at the Convent. Beena suspected that maybe she even paid for Sona, but she wasn’t very sure. And scared to question her employer.

Aunty was really nice, but one thing she completely disliked was being questioned. Beena had been with her long enough to understand when to talk to her, and when to leave her alone as well as to never question her decisions.

She and Raju worked hard. Life was content. They didn’t have many luxuries, but they had each other and the calm, constant quality of her husband’s love was sufficient. She would hate for the value of one whole day of her beloved’s sweat and blood be spent on something as momentary as a child’s whim. Sona was quite a mature child, but a child, nevertheless. Beena knew that she could easily talk to her, find an alternative and make her understand. But this time, it wasn’t about Sona. It was about Raju and his desire to make his daughter happy.

***

The sun was hot. It trickled down Raju’s back as sweat as he labored to pull the rickshaw. The passenger was heavy and the destination nowhere near. But then the pay would be higher too. He had inquired the price of the cake at the fancy bakery first thing in the morning. It was around Rs.200/-

Raju usually charged his passengers somewhere between Rs.10 and Rs. 20 for standard distances. It would take him a whole day to gather the amount needed for the purchase.

“Stop here!” The passenger screeched from behind his back. He slowed down, coming to a complete stop. It wasn’t the address he had been initially told of. The passenger heaved to get off, baggage and all. Taking out a couple of notes from his shirt pocket, the man handed Raju a single note. Ten rupees.

“But Sir…this is too less…”, Raju stammered, blinking at the note in his hand. The man waved him off.

“This is alright. You just brought me a little way…this is in fact too much.” He walked off without a second glance while Raju called after him fruitlessly. Helplessly, he watched as his passenger was swallowed up by the traffic. The money in his hand seemed as futile as his attempts. His eyes welled up as once again, the vulnerability of his situation engulfed him. Sona’s smiling face filled his despairing heart, at once providing a little upliftment. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, Raju turned the rickshaw towards the railway station.

He must get that cake for her. It was the first thing she had ever asked for.

***

It was almost evening. He knew the bakery closed at 8. If only, he had under two hours to get the cake and rush home. He was still short by twenty rupees. What had the man behind the counter told him, a smug smile on his lips?

‘They start at Rs.200/-’

Raju knew what that meant. The one he might want to buy might be even higher costing than the basic 200. Raju did have a smaller, cheaper bakery in mind. But he knew which one Sona would love. The one she deserved.

Lost in thought, he would have almost missed the passenger whom other rickshaw pullers were trying to entice. Raju only noticed the young couple as they climbed on his rickshaw. The man prodded him gently.

“Chalo Bhaiyya!” (Let’s go, brother)

He started and turned to look back at his passengers. A young couple. Newly married. Most probably the first visit to the bride’s family.

“Where to?” He asked, commencing pedaling the rickshaw. The man quietly gave the address. Not far off. Not more than a 15. He sighed. Anything would be better that nothing.

***

They got off before a purple gate, the woman entering, calling out to her family joyously. The man stayed behind, disengaging the small luggage he had. Raju helped him with the remaining bags of what he presumed would be mithai (Indian dessert). The young man smiled sheepishly at him, an endearing smile.

“It is our first visit at her home after marriage.”

Raju didn’t feel like it, but he smiled back at this gentle creature. “Congratulations.”

He waited patiently as his passenger extracted his wallet and took out a hundred rupee note. Raju made to open the small bag tied at his waist to extract the change needed, when the man gently pressed the currency into his outstretched palm and closed it shut. He smiled at Raju a last time before entering the gates, surrounded by the sounds of joy and laughter.

Raju stood stunned. Disbelief overtaking every single emotion he was feeling. Had he just been paid a hundred for a fifteen-rupee fare? Eyes bulging out with shock, he slowly undid his fist and stared with distrust at the now slightly crumpled bit of paper.

Was it forged money? How else could someone part so easily with so much cash?

Unwillingly, he raised the note. The watermark was clear, screaming of its authenticity.

His heart leaped with joy causing him to laugh out loud. A few passersby eyed him suspiciously. He didn’t care one bit.

Finally! He could get Sona a good cake. She must be waiting for him eagerly.

Rejuvenated, he pedaled harder and faster to reach the bakery. He still had a good hour left for it to close. Silently, he thanked the Almighty. He was Kind despite Raju’s ungrateful behavior.

Spotting the polished glass doors, he jumped off the rickshaw, scrambling to find a place to park. Finding a spot across the road, he hurried to lock it. The traffic was usually high in the evening. If it were possible, Raju would have flown across the traffic. He made do with jogging with care.

Hesitating a bit outside the see-through doors, Raju paused, taking in his sweat-drenched and grubby appearance. What was he even doing here? He didn’t belong in these fancy shops…these delicate trends…if not for Sona…

Reaching out with a trembling hand, he pushed the door open. The smug man of the morning wasn’t in sight. In his place was a young girl. She looked at him curiously. The frankness in her gaze made him recoil slightly. What if she thought he was there to rob?

Hurriedly, he extracted the money from the pouch around his waist and held it out in both hands for her. She looked at the crumpled notes in his hands and then at his face.

“Cake.” Raju managed to utter.

Her face broke into a smile, relaxing his worries. She beckoned him towards the huge glass display counter.

“Which one?”

He looked at the array of beautifully displayed cakes. Never had he been so confused. His throat dry, Raju answered.

“Whichever one you think is right…”

“Who is it for?”, the girl asked him patiently.

“Sona…my daughter…”

“Is it her birthday?”

He nodded. She smiled back and extracted a pink cake with yellow flowers drawn around it. She went at the back of the shop and came back a few moments later with something written on the cake. Proceeding to then pack it carefully in a cardboard box, she handed it to him along with the remaining change. She smiled at him as he made to depart.

“Wish your daughter a very happy birthday from us.”

He smiled back at her, practically rushing out of the shop.

He couldn’t wait to reach home and enjoy the radiance of happiness on her face. Lost in elation, Raju failed to take into consideration, the constantly blaring traffic. Until someone zipped past him on a scooter, causing him to lose his balance, the cake box went flying away from his hands, in the path of an oncoming tuk-tuk.

The cry that came out of his throat was that of a helpless father watching the dream of his child being crushed under a pair of ruthless wheels.

It was all over.

***

Raju cried all the way home. The empty rickshaw feeling as if a thousand ton of luggage had been piled on it.

How will he face Sona?

How will he bear to look at the dejected face of his daughter?

He cried and cried and cried till the tears themselves dried off. With a heavy heart and a heavier soul, Raju dragged the rickshaw the last few feet to the side of his house. He clicked the lock shut and wiped his face on the gamchha at his shoulder even as Beena came out, Sona clutching her mother’s hand.

“Where have you been? We have been waiting for so long to cut the cake.” His wife demanded, causing him to tear up once again.

“Beena…I…”

Sona rushed forward, skipping in delight, tugging at her father.

“Baba! Come inside! Come inside Baba! Look…Ma and I made a cake for me! Isn’t it pretty Baba? Come look at it! It’s so pretty! I love it! And I made it…I made it myself!”

Raju turned his face to look at his wife.

Made a cake?

She simply smiled at him in encouragement.

Curiosity now got the better of him, as Sona pulled him inside. In the middle of the room, on a steel plate stood a circular orange cake, broken dry fruits scattered over it.

“Where did you get this?” He asked, dumbfound.

“We made it Baba! I made it with Ma!”

“But…how?” He turned to look at a now smiling Beena. She wordlessly extended her hand and held his.

“Well…I was making halwa (semolina fudge) for Sona’s birthday…and we thought…why not make it into a cake. So…we made it, put it into a bowl, and waited for it to cool before turning it onto a plate. It came out looking so perfect. Then Sona decorated it herself. Don’t you like it?”

Words threatened to drown themselves in tears. “It is beautiful…” Raju managed to croak, grasping the hand in his, tighter.

“Thank you…”, he whispered as Beena smiled at him, Sona dancing around them with joy.

The Almighty had blessed him with such an abundance of wealth, and here he was, constantly belittling himself and his loved ones. Never again.

“Let’s cut it Baba! Let’s cut it!” Sona had grabbed onto his shirt and started to jump up and down with eagerness. He laughed and picked her up, as Beena brought forth a knife.

Together, they knelt around the cake, Sona gently slicing a piece. Beena replaced the knife in her hand with a spoon, which the child used to shovel the small piece into her father’s mouth.

“Hmmm….”, Raju made a show of savoring it, inviting a bout of giggling from his daughter.

A noise outside made them pause. Someone was calling Beena’s name.

“Aunty?” Beena said to herself in a puzzled manner, then proceeded to pick herself up, stepping outside. Raju followed, Sona clutching his shirt.

It was indeed Aunty, with a man about Raju’s age.

“What are you doing here Aunty?” Beena rushed to the old woman. “Is everything alright? You should have called me! Why did you have to come here?”

“I came to wish Sona a happy birthday! Where is my little girl?”

Sona shyly walked to Aunty, as the old woman pulled her into an embrace.

“Happy Birthday my darling! I got something for you!”

The man gently extended a large packet towards Sona, who looked back at her parents.

“But Aunty…” Beena started to protest but got cut off by her employer.

“You know I don’t like to hear a but Beena.”

“Ma and I made a cake!” Sona blurted out, happiness and pride lining her voice. “Come in! Come in and taste it!”

Raju felt his heart sink. His house wasn’t worthy of a person such as Aunty.

“That’s wonderful darling! See…Aunty has also made a cake for you! Not as precious as the cake your Ma made…but somewhat good! And my son, he brought with him a pretty dress and a doll for you. It’s not every day a little girl turns six!”

She looked at Beena and continued. “He arrived suddenly after you left. I had forgotten it was Sona’s birthday. You didn’t say anything either. I shall scold you tomorrow! Right now, let’s go in and cut both the cakes!” She looked down at the now skipping Sona. “Shall we my dear?”

The old woman and the little girl walked inside, hand in hand.

Bhaiyya (brother)…” Raju began, but the man silenced him.

“Without both of you, I would never be so much at ease knowing that there are people taking care of my mother the way you do. This is not a repayment. Just a little effort to thank you. Please accept it.”

Raju closed his eyes, raising his face to the sky. The gratefulness he felt was nothing he had ever felt before. His heart found peace as Sona’s laughter floated into the still night.

“I get to cut two cakes! This is the best birthday ever!!!”

***

Chocolate cake

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup cocoa powder

1 ½-2 tsp baking powder

1 ½-2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

4 oz unsweetened chocolate (chips or chopped. Roughly translates to ½ cup)

6 tbsp unsweetened butter (if using salted butter, skip the salt in the recipe)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups water

Method:

-Preheat the oven to 350

-Butter, flour and line with baking paper, your cake pans.

-In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Mix with a spatula to combine. Keep aside.

-In another bowl, put together butter and chocolate chips.

-In a saucepan, combine the water and the sugar and heat until sugar is melted.

-Pour it into the butter-chocolate bowl. Mix till one smooth liquid is formed.

-Let cool for a few minutes so as to not cook the eggs in the hot mix.

-Once the chocolate mix is cooled enough, add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix till combined.

-Add the flour mix 1/3rd at a time until all the flour is combined.

-Add the vanilla extract. Mix.

-Pour the batter into the cake tin.

-Bake for around 20-30 minutes or until the knife inserted comes out clean.

-Take out the cake and let it cool in the cake tin. Transfer it to the cooling rack.

-Let cool completely before assembly.

Chocolate frosting

Ingredients:

Sweetened chocolate (chips/chopped)- 1 cup

Heavy cream- 2 cups

Method:

Heat the cream in a saucepan (till small bubbles form on the side) or a microwave for around a minute or until hot.

Pour over the chocolate and let sit for a couple minutes.

Mix until homogenous and then leave to cool. Preferably chill it in the fridge.

Once cooled, use a stand mixer or a hand mixer or a whisk to whip it until the frosting is firm. It would take around 2-3 minutes depending on the speed of your electric mixer and longer by hand. If using as a drip or a more liquid frosting for the cake, skip the whisking step.

Assembly

-Divide the cake into two equal portions with the help of a knife.

-You may or may not trim the caramelized exterior.

-Spread a generous amount of frosting on the first half and smooth it.

-Place the other half of the cake over it.

-Dump the frosting on top of the cake and spread it with a flat spatula, going over the sides.

-Add extra frosting to cover any exposed areas.

-Add any decoration as per your preference or simply make waves with a spoon or fork and pop it into the fridge for an hour or two to set.

Enjoy!

16 thoughts on “Cake

Add yours

  1. Wow this story made me tear up! Vivid imagery and a sweet story, it’s amazing how things that mean so little to someone can mean so much to someone else. That cake looks good – anything I make always tastes good but never looks good haha!

    Liked by 1 person

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