By Nisha Susan Dec. 22, 2016
I’m yet to find a person who detests that rum-soaked fruitcake as much as I do. But I live in hope.
This morning my friends Rina and Siddharth were driving around Bangalore to tackle the trillion of tasks that emerge when a Nair and a Catholic plan to wed a week before Christmas. The dog had to be crated to their new home in South Africa; Salman Khan-the-blouse-tailor, Nancy-the-gown-designer and a number of Jesuit priests had to be seduced into blessing this unholy matrimony. But in the midst of this madness, there was one thing Rina had still set aside time for – Christmas fruitcake!
Now I detest Christmas cake; I think it’s best suited as a violent missile against a purse-snatcher or someone who cuts in line at the ATM queue. Frankly, if the purse-snatcher snatched some of that cake too, I wouldn’t chase him down. But the thrall of cake is so strong in Rina that she cannot help it. She made time to finish her annual baking practice. Mountains of chopped raisins and nuts were prepared. She has made Christmas cake every year with her mother since she was six. She doesn’t have a sweet tooth, but she can’t imagine Christmas without a fruitcake.
Rina follows her paternal grandmother’s recipe. Not for sentimental reasons, but because it’s really boozy. How boozy? A kilogram of fruitcake demands a half litre of rum. I suddenly understand why Rina makes this fruitcake. But a bottle of rum nothwithstanding, I can’t bring myself to make peace with it.
Fruitcake haters, such as myself, are rare, like those birds that make ornithologists cuckoo. A fellow-hater of fruitcake tells me of a scene in an Olsen twins movie where the sisters compete in a reality show. A carousel of gross foods appear for the contestants: Snake meat, worms, cat food and… Christmas fruitcake. The memory of this comeuppance makes my fellow cake-hater and me laugh. It reminds me of my childhood, when my parents would make lightning rounds of visits to relatives, and every household served the same orange squash and fruitcake. I learnt to squish it into balls and stuff it up the sleeves of frocks.
But as I was saying, the thrall of fruitcake is strong. So strong, that at times, even I have succumbed to its seasonal allure. It’s like going to the beach and taking the sea-between-your-legs-on-the-lounger shot that you know is an Instagram cliché, but you can’t stop yourself from doing it anyway.
One December, two friends and I were amiably wasting the weekend in conversation and a “do-you-remember-the-song” session when the Ghost of Christmas Fruitcake Past descended upon us. We found ourselves inexplicably making not just fruitcake but a lot of Christmas cake. Like the moon, the round dense shapes exerted some lunatic influence on all of us. It isn’t accidental that harmless crazy people are called fruitcakes.
Apart from all the nuts and dry fruits, we also ran out and bought a bucket to accommodate our lake of cake batter. We went heavy on the candied ginger in yet another failed attempt to be cool. My friends and I jury-rigged our pathetic kitchen and baked a full 10 kg Christmas cake through the night.
In the morning, we handed the cake to our innocent friends. Many greeted it with open arms, apparently eating to heal the wounds of childhood trauma. Others may have detested it but nobody dared tell us to keep that thing away! (Confessing to Christmas Cake hate is not an easy thing to do. It’s like confessing that you hate really small puppies.)
Last year my parents sent me out into the neighbourhood with parcels of cake and some wine my mother makes herself. At one house, the man kept me at the doorstep. He refused to take the package. For a moment, I thought to myself, “Finally! A fellow cake hater!” But as I put down the cake and offered him the wine, he began hopping madly. When I finally deciphered his mysterious movements, I realised he was saying no to my mother’s innocent, juice-like wine. The cake, he grabbed.
As I write this, I still haven’t met one person who hates Christmas cake as much as I do. But I live in hope. All this has created in me a conspiracy theory about The Godfather. I have a strong feeling that if that iconic scene had a fruitcake instead of cannoli, Clemenza would have surely said: “Leave the gun and for god’s sake, don’t take the cake.”
Nisha Susan is the co-founder of the feminist online magazine The Ladies Finger and the award-winning indie media organisation Grist Media. She also writes fiction.