One Dish Party
“What kind of party is it going to be?”
“It’s going to be a party where we all bring our own cooked food.”
“So we will all eat together, right?”
“Yes! That’s right.”
“But Jeni, you know I can’t cook!”
“Hmm! That’s a good point. Let me ask Razib about this.”
“Why Razib? Is he organising it?”
“Kind of. In fact it was his idea for us to get together like this. I am just helping him.”
Muhib didn’t like the sound of this. Helping Razib? His idea? All his interests going down? Muhib told Jeni not to call Razib, and said he could not be present at the party because of other responsibilities. In this way, he turned down Jeni’s invitation to go to the party with their friends from their former university days.
Jeni was a married woman with one child. Her husband Raihan was a very kind person. He was a government officer and was 6 years older than her. Muhib didn’t know him that well. Razib, on the other hand, was a friend of both Jeni and Muhib from their university days, but even after all this time, Muhib still couldn’t accept the friendship between Jeni and Razib. He had developed a strong jealousy of Razib while they were students and it had never gone away. Even though Jeni was married to neither of them, he still felt uncomfortable around Razib. He really didn’t want to go to a party organized by... him.
Muhib left Jeni’s home! He stopped at a tong* shop, where local boys’ drank tea, talked and passed the time of day.
His phone started to ring. It was Razib. He was hoping to convince Muhib to accept Jeni’s invitation.
“Hello?” Muhib spoke the word as if it was a question. He could see that the call was from Razib. He didn’t really want to talk to Razib at all. He tried to give his excuse about being busy, but Razib wasn’t listening.
“Dost*! Don’t worry about cooking anything. Just bring some bottles of soft drink,” said Razib. “I’ll bring something to share from both of us.”
“Really?...Ok then.” Muhib did not sound very eager to go, but it had always been hard to say “No” to Razib.
“You know what I’ll bring?” said Razib. He didn’t seem to notice Muhib’s flat voice.
“What?” Muhib could only bring himself to say one word each time he spoke.
“One packet of biscuits* for each of us, and two packets for Jeni’s husband.”
“Why does Razib always seem to have a plan?” thought Muhib.
“Are you sure he won’t mind?” he said.
“No! Don’t worry!” laughed Razib. “I’ve already talked to him about this! He’ll enjoy it.”
Muhib couldn’t say, “No” any more. It would not sound polite.
“Okay then,” he said, “I’ll come.”
As usual, Muhib couldn’t say anything negative to Razib. This was Razib! He always made it so difficult to go against his wishes. He was impossible!
Finally, the day came - the first of January - New Year! Six friends gathered together in Jeni’s beautiful home. They were sitting in the living room, talking about the food they had each brought for their friends. There were four girls: Jeni, Raina, Anisha and Tahera, all married now. Of all of them, only Anisha was wearing a hijab*. Razib didn’t recognize her first.
“Oh! Anisha, is that you?”
“Yes, It’s me.” she said, laughing. “And you are Razib, yes?”
“Of course.” he said, “You know me well. But what happened to you. Why are you all covered?”
“As a Muslim* woman, I can do that!” said Anisha.
“Ya! When I last saw you, you were the most fashionable girl in the class. Remember?”
“A hijabi girl can still be fashionable!” said Anisha.
Razib was surprised, but he wanted to be polite. “Well, you still look very beautiful in a hijab too.” he said.
“Last year, I performed my hajj* with my in-laws’ family. Now I observe hijab very strictly.” said Anisha. There was a touch of pride in her voice.
“Well, good for you!” said Razib.
This is how they got to know each other again. Jeni called everybody to see what they have brought for today’s dinner. Jeni’s husband Raihan returned home and also joined them. He was very excited to see all his wife’s friends together. All of them became silent when they saw Raihan. They didn’t really know him that well, as he had not been at university with them. It felt a little strange. Razib was the first to break the silence.
“Raihan bhai*, which one is your dish?”
“Me? Cook? No way!”
“No! No! No! You must have brought something, surely. Don’t be so modest.”
Raihan looked at Jeni. She took her friend’s side.
“Well, where’s your dish then?” she said, “I’m not doing it for you.”
“Oh well, I am out of it, then.” said Raihan. He started to move towards the door.
“Wait! Wait! Wait!” Razib stopped him.
“Raihan bhai, I don’t see a fruit basket on the table. You could arrange that for us.”
Raihan stopped, “Ok!” he laughed. “I can do that. Let me go and get some fruit from the shop!” He paused, “You should all start having dinner. Don’t wait for me,” he said, and he turned and left the room. After he left, the room was silent again for a moment.
Muhib relaxed into a chair. “Finally, I feel like I can talk.” he said.
“Ah! Why? Who stopped you from talking?” Razib thought Muhib’s words sounded strange.
“Talking to a friend in front of her husband is not easy, my friend. Husbands are so possessive* of their wives.”
“I think...” said Razib with a laugh, “...the problem is not with the husband, it’s you, Muhib.” Razib laughed and looked at the others as if he expected them to agree with him.
“Me? Why, what have I done?” said Muhib.
“Nothing! Nothing at all,” said Razib, and he laughed again. Everybody started laughing loudly! They all knew how Muhib had felt about Jeni when they were at university together.
Seeing Jeni’s happy face, Muhib got lost in their chatter*. They were remembering the happy days of student life. As he listened, he remembered how he used to do so many things to make Jeni happy. He had always been able to make her smile, but he could never say anything to her about the wish of his heart. In the end she had married Raihan, and that was the end of it.
While everyone was enjoying the very first day of the new year, one of the other young women, Raina received a phone message. She seemed a little upset about something. Though she did not express her worries, they showed clearly on her face. She stood up, and quickly left the room, and went out onto the balcony* holding her phone. Jeni noticed the change in Raina’s manner and followed her out of the room to the balcony. This was her favourite spot in her home. She had made it into a calm garden space, where she kept some beautiful green plants in big pots.
Raina couldn’t stop the tears falling down her face. Her in-laws didn't like the idea of their daughter-in-law going to a friend’s place for a party. “Come home right now! You are needed here!”, their message said.
“What’s wrong, Raina?” Jeni asked very calmly, as if nothing had happened.
“I’ve got to go!” said Raina.
“Really? Right now? Can’t you stay until you have had dinner?”
“No! I have to leave right now. I’m sorry. Please carry on without me.” Raina couldn’t say another word, and she left quickly.
When Jeni got back to the party, she found everybody enjoying the taste of all the dishes and passing judgement on each other’s cooking abilities. She looked at each one, and thought about how their lives had moved on since their university days. Though they knew each other well, it was clear there had been some changes. Things were different now. Perhaps they would have to get to know each other all over again in this new phase of life.
balcony - a platform on the outside of a building, which is entered from an upstairs door or window
packet of biscuits - a paper or plastic bag holding sweet baked snacks
chatter - informal talk
possessive - adjective meaning to show a sense of ownership
bhai - brother. A term used among friends
dost - very informal expression used when addressing a male friend (in English, ‘dude’.)
hajj - Muslim pilgrimage (religious trip) to Mecca
hijab - a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women
Words from the second 1000 high frequency General Service Word list.
Words from the Academic Word List
Comprehension Questions (Try to answer these questions without looking back at the story)
Remembering: What was Muhib’s excuse for not going to the party?
Understanding: What was the real reason Muhib didn’t want to go to the party?
Remembering: Why was Raima upset?
Understanding: What does it mean in the story when it says Muhib “...didn’t like the sound of this.”?
Understanding: At the end of the story, why did Jeni think, “things were different now?”
Critical Thinking Questions
Analysing: The story describes a group of friends who knew each other well when they were at university. The story suggests there had been some changes in their lives since they had last seen each other. What kinds of changes had taken place? What other kinds of changes do you think may also have taken place? In what ways do people’s lives change when they stop being students and become adults? Think about your own answers to these questions, then discuss your ideas in English with a partner.
Applying: Who is your oldest friend? How long have you known that person? How has that person changed since you first met them? What has happened in your lives over the time you have known each other? Make a timeline showing your friendship with that person. Start with when you first met them, and add some of the events and experiences you have shared together to the timeline. Finish your timeline with today’s date. When you have finished, share your timelines with other students in a small group. Ask and answer questions to get more information about each person’s friend.
Evaluating: Discuss these questions in a small group
a) Muhib felt uncomfortable about going to the party. Do you think you should do something to please your friends even if it makes you feel uncomfortable? When would it be better to say “No” and stick to your decision, even if it upsets your friends? (Give some examples of real life situations)
b) Raina felt unhappy because she had to go home before the party was over. Do you agree with her decision to leave, or do you think she should have stayed a little longer and had dinner? Do you think Raina’s in-laws were being unfair towards her? Give reasons for your answers. If you were Jeni, what advice would you have given Raina in that situation?
Creating: 10 to 20-line dialogues
Work with a partner. Choose one of the following situations and write a short play in English to show what each person would say in this situation. Your play should have between 10 and 20 lines of dialogue. Practice your play, then perform it to others in your class.
Situation One. Characters: Muhib and the owner of the tea shop. Muhib is complaining to the owner of the tea shop about Razib and the party. The tea shop owner (who is a friend) is giving Muhib some advice about what to do.
Situation Two. Characters: Jeni and Raihan. It is after the party. Jeni is explaining to Raihan why she supported her friends and not Raihan, when they were discussing the party food. Raihan is a little annoyed with Jeni.
Situation Three. Characters: Raina and her mother-in-law. Raina has just arrived at home from the party. Her mother-in-law seems to have good reasons as to why she told Raina to come home right away, but Raina is still feeling upset because she couldn’t spend time with her friends.
Situation Four. Characters: Jeni and Muhib. It is after the party. Jeni and Muhib are discussing the changes in Anisha since she got married. They are surprised at the ways in which she has changed. They compare her with the way she was when she was a university student.