Iclosed my eyes and breathed in deeply. “So your sister’s out, too?”

“Yeah....” Amna sighed. “You know how busy her line of work gets around this time. She’ll be closing several accounts for the next two months, so a two-day vacation is completely out of question.”

“But it’s literally just two days!” I exclaimed into the phone.

“Sorry,” was all Amna kept saying until I gave up arguing.

Everyone was dropping out. Freelancing, commuting, studying — the list of reasons for not coming to soup night went on and on. The hardest part of growing up was growing apart. Up till now, the only people who were coming for sure were my baby cousins, all under the age of 10. We had to miss last year’s soup night due to Covid-19 restrictions, and now everyone was too busy to take a break. With half the people going online for their work, while the other half was going physically to their workplaces, no one seemed to be on the same schedule.

I don’t remember exactly how we started doing family soup nights, but it just became a tradition out of the blue. Every year, during winter break, when all the cousins were free from the burden of homework and school and enjoying their downtime at home, my mother would invite them all for soup night, which eventually turned into a two-day thing.

All the cousins would come to our house with their sleeping suits and day clothes and other necessities packed with them, sans their parents. We would all have tea together, where my sister and I would bake something new and innovative we saw on the internet for all of us to enjoy.

After praying Maghrib, we would start working on making two giant pots of steaming chicken corn soup. Some kids would lounge about in our dining room, shredding the boiled chicken, removing kernels from the maize and talking about how their exams went. The older ones would be donning the stove, stirring this, mixing that, complaining about their college teachers. All helped in the clean-up and dishing out the final product.

My brother would be supervising all these activities since he was the best at making this delectable dish. Mama mostly stayed out of our way, only jumping in whenever needed. It was her idea to make it a completely kids’ party since she believed that when you let kids be kids and not butt in, they get the room to be creative and are able to forge real friendships that didn’t require their mums to force them into.

Once the flavourful and mouth-watering chicken corn soup had been served to us, we would gather around our TV screen and put on a horror movie and enjoy our soup with it.

Much later in the night, when my parents would be sound asleep in their room, we would sneak into the kitchen and make hot chocolate from scratch and top each mug off with baby marshmallows. Then we’d take our respective mugs upstairs to the rooftop. There we would lay down blankets and throw pillows, and just talk and lie down under a sky full of stars with cold air running through our hair and our bodies being warmed by thick, chocolaty drinks.

The next day, we would have a feast of tea, parathas, aloo chana, kachori, halwa, you name it and we had it for breakfast, which was more of a brunch. All of it would be handmade by my mother, whose fresh puris melted in our mouth with their softness. It was then that we would finally take a long nap and by evening, all the cousins would have gone home with sleepy smiles playing on their lips and a tummy full of happiness and warmth.

That was all fine and dandy until a few years back, when most of my cousins graduated from their respective institutions and started working, or doing difficult assignments till late at night. Except for my younger cousins and a group of cousins my age who were still in school, all our other cousins were too busy to hang out like this anymore.

I must have looked pretty distraught because my mother asked, “Are you okay? You look like your business lost stocks or something.”

I murmured something unintelligible in response.

“Ah, it must be soup night. I could tell by how quickly my phone card ran out of minutes,” she added casually.

Are all mothers mind-readers?

“Well, you had to know this day was coming. It isn’t like the old times when families stuck together through thick and thin. Now it’s just phones, phones and phones. Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten what your faces look like because I’m so used to seeing a laptop screen instead.”

“Ugh, mama! I’m already stressed out and you’re not helping by taking jabs at everything I do!”

I waited for mama to scream at me for speaking the way I did but, to my surprise, she opened her arms and beckoned me near her. I completely crumpled into her embrace and broke down into tears till I was hiccupping for breath. I pulled my head back and sniffed. “Growing up doesn’t mean you break traditions. I don’t understand why they don’t find it fun anymore,” I managed to say as I wiped my face with one arm.

“Well, you’re not wrong, you know,” mama leaned back into her chair as she spoke. “Keeping up with your traditions is very important, it helps you keep in touch with your roots. But, to progress with society, or in your case your cousins, we have to slightly mend these traditions with the changing times, so that they stay with us forever, just in a different form.”

“I’m stumped,” I blinked at mama.

“Well, I think you should start thinking about how you’re going to continue this tradition with your younger cousins.”

“But the younger cousins are so boring,” I whined.

“There was a time when you were the ‘younger cousin’, you know. And your siblings were always complaining about your little gang. I told them the same thing I’m telling you today; when it comes to keeping traditions alive and familial bonds strong, the only solution is to adapt and not force. To accept and not exile.

“Soon, you’ll be having so much fun with your younger cousins, you won’t even remember why you were shunning them in the first place.”

It turned out that my mum was right after all. I had my soup night last weekend, and although it started off pretty rocky, soon we got into the rhythm of things and had more fun than I ever could have imagined.

The 17- and 18-year-olds took over the jobs of our much older cousins, whereas the rest of us picked what we liked to do best. Sure, our soup didn’t taste as amazing as my brother’s, but it didn’t matter. Because it was never really about the soup or working or eating, it was always about being surrounded by the ones you love, repeating past stories, and creating new ones.

That night we might have started a tradition of our own, which was to not stay awake throughout the night but to sleep on the roof and wake up to the sound of Fajr.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 27th, 2021

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