Indian Aunties and Ice Cream Containers
Archive > Issues > Issue #6: Matriarchy > Indian Aunties and Ice Cream Containers

Indian Aunties and Ice Cream Containers

If you have grown up in a South African Indian home you will know about the habit Indian aunties have of storing leftover or prepped food in old margarine and ice cream containers. Open the fridge and freezer in most homes in Chatsworth, Durban and you will find, say, Rama margarine containers holding left-over egg chutney or Country Fresh ice cream tubs holding, say, pre-boiled and frozen sugar beans ready to hit the stove on a busy Monday work night.

Tupperware or similar products – much like the idea of phoning ahead before you visit – are largely foreign concepts in the Indian home. This is due, of course, to their often exorbitant prices. But a lot of Indian aunties also have an inbuilt thriftiness that has been honed over generations of privation. And this has created in them an almost psychotic aversion to throwing things away. Why buy a Tupperware when a margarine container could serve just as well? It’s as if the Indian auntie watches the television show, Hoarders, and instead of thinking, “Aiyoo, these people have problems”, they are busy jotting down notes and looking up to them as role models.

But in their defence it’s actually a very smart way to save both money and the environment. Not to mention the fact that when people come over to visit you can send them home with leftover breyani in a throwaway container, instead of an expensive Tupperware, which you would probably never get back (That said, I have heard at least two people ask for their ice cream tubs back).

The habit of reusing these containers is so common in the Indian community that there are even memes about it. One of the most popular is about the joy one has as a child in an Indian home when you open the freezer and spot an ice cream tub and then the crushing disappointment that follows when you open it and find it filled with gadra beans.

Something has always bugged me about this all too real gadra beans experience: If every time you open a tub of ice cream in the freezer and you find everything but ice cream in it, where is the actual ice cream inside them going? It certainly isn’t being eaten by the household’s children. The maths doesn’t add up here. My best guess is that Indian aunties are buying the tubs empty directly from the manufacturers. I honestly wouldn’t put that sick shit past them.

Also, Indian aunties are presumably aware of the despondency their children feel when they open the ice cream tub and find gadra beans instead of strawberry and vanilla ice cream. Why not clearly label the tubs to prevent this searing pain?

My theory is that the aunties have deliberately chosen to not label the ice cream tubs as a power play – i.e. the number one reason why Indian parents do anything. The child, cowered and scarred by years of freezer disappointment, becomes a mere hollow shell of a human and thus more obedient. But there is also a profoundly pessimistic philosophy or outlook on the world the Indian auntie is trying to impart here. It is this: There is no ice cream.

Pravasan Pillay is a South African writer. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi (2009) and 30 Poems (2015), as well as a collection of co-written comedic short stories, Shaggy (2013). Pillay’s debut short story collection, Chatsworth (2018), is available for purchase from Dye Hard Press.

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