The foods that no one ate

The Story of Daal, Rice, Achar and other foods….


Following the Ugandan Asian expulsion in 1972, Luckymann (not his real name) and his family went to settle in the ‘Newfoundland’. Lucky and his wife had worked hard while in Uganda and saved a bit of cash, enough to give them a better start in the new country of their choice than many hundreds of other Asians in the same situation.

Lucky told this to me some time ago and I cannot say more for the reasons you will soon discover. After the usual resettlement agenda had been taken care of i.e. house, car, getting the children into school, Lucky started to miss the freedom he had enjoyed in his own business and the income that he become accustomed to. Here they were now in  the ‘Newfoundland’, while his extended family were seemingly having a great time in East Africa; enjoying the sun and having their clothes cleaned and ironed by Opio, the loyal house worker.

One day, there was a knock at the door. At the same time Lucky heard the sound of a large truck with a loud engine reversing into his drive and coming towards his house. Lucky opened the door and found that it was a parcel delivery truck. The delivery man walked up to Lucky and put a cardboard flap with papers under his nose, asking Lucky to sign for accepting the delivery of a huge crate, the size of a single bed.  But Lucky told the delivery man that he was not the man to whom the crate was addressed. He was not going to take the delivery. The man insisted, saying that as far as he knew, Lucky was also from Uganda and that perhaps he could help find the real owner of the crate, which had left Uganda about four months earlier.  Lucky took the delivery with some sense of guilt and some anticipation; perhaps the true owners would be found…but where was he going to look for them?

On the following weekend, Lucky and his wife started to open the crate, knowing that it was bound to carry household stuff that the unlucky person had sent to  the ‘Newfoundland’ but after such a long delay, the parcel was effectively lost. It is also possible that the owner did not pursue the post office believing that the parcel had never left the country; those very helpful people in East African Airways had indeed helped, but only themselves. Lucky got the packaging out of the way and saw that there were several round metal canisters with secure lids, also made of the same light metal sheeting that was very popular with the wahindi. He recognised that it was the type of container which was used to store uncooked food, mainly lentils, rice, dry food powders, haldi, red chilli powder and other masala ingredients, in his mother’s old kitchen.

 Lucky put his hand into the first canister of urid daal to check whether it was infested with insects, soaked in water vapour or dry enough to cook. It was in good condition and Lucky decided to check whether the can was dry right down to the bottom. He did not get a chance to hit the bottom. Instead his hand felt a solid object with a smooth surface. Lucky took it out and found that he was staring at a large gold nugget! He called in his wife who so stunned by their discovery that she had to rush to the toilet.  When she came back they decided to shut the door and draw the curtains of the room, also remembering to push the children into the lounge to watch the television…there so many good programmes on Saturday mornings?  ‘Now please go, okay beta?’

Lucky and his lucky wife went from one canister to another, opening in haste and rushing to pull out more and more nuggets of gold. The precious metal was found in all dry foods except the achars. Lucky and now his also lucky wife started to pack the gold quickly, almost expecting to hear a knock at the door. A passing truck got Lucky thinking that the delivery vehicle was back, coming to reclaim the crate. They worked out a plan… the crate had to be discarded quickly and the canisters had to be stored at the bottom of empty suitcases in the cellar. The gold had to be hidden away in the attic. Lucky decided that keeping the separated items in one location was not a good idea. They had to be dispersed. He spent the whole of his Sunday morning breaking down the crate into small pieces so that they could fit into the boot of his tiny car. After several journeys to the waste yard, the crate had been safely disposed off, just before the yard closed for the day.

Lucky and his wife decided to be patient and to hold on to their newly found treasure for a few months, until the Ugandan Asian ‘matata’ had died down.  Then one by one, after safely long intervals, Luckymann and wife disposed off the gold and the refinancing of the poor, poor Ugandan migrants’ life had started. No one knew where the true owners of the crate were. It was later generally understood that many departing Asians had stuffed gold or other precious items into cheap looking parcels and crates. One would hope that the majority of the owners were safely reunited with their goods. It was inevitable that some would not even leave the country and other crates would be lost in transit. Luckymann’s gain was someone else’s loss. It took Luckymann over 20 years to divulge their secret. I have not told you this story. I am merely reporting what Luckymann told me thirty years ago.  I have since lost contact with him.

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