The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently


Sadar Bazar is located in the heart of old Gurgaon. It was five minutes from my house but it took longer to reach the shop that Amma wanted to go to. I felt amazed at how skillfully Amma would drive the scooty. To me, she was the best driver and everybody sucked. For some reason we called the scooty, bike. The main road to the shop was so narrow and even through that she would haul the bike. Potholes the size of a small frog pond were scattered around it. She would ask me to hold on as she would push the bike to create momentum to get out of those craters. When I was young I would hold onto her snugly but as I became older I held the back handle of the bike. After a point, I refused to come because I thought it was “uncool” to go shopping with your mom. She would say that she needed help with bags but I know she didn’t like me staying home alone. 

Gift from her friend

The shop that Amma wanted to go to was inside a claustrophobic gully surrounded by houses. The tall buildings looked like matchboxes stacked on top of each other. The shop was not quite a basement. Half the store shyly emerged through the ground while the other half was waiting for someone to peep into. In front of this shop was a cloth shop. It didn’t sell clothes, just the material that made clothes. Amma would get colorful cloth material for her to stitch chudidaar and tag me along to let me pick my own design. “Iska ek meter” to the man with scissors and then to me, “Idi baagundi kada?”(This is nice, no?).  I was extremely picky. My mother and I had differing tastes in what was cute. I would pick the one pattern that would make her face go “Abba! idi yeme choose chesnavu?” (Abba! what have you picked?). My mother loves to stitch, and years later now I try to replicate her. 

Gurgaon was in India but for Amma, it might as well have been out of the country. Maybe because she couldn’t get the specific saaman that she wanted. She couldn’t get boiled rice for idli, Guntur chilly for her pulusu podi or crispy banana chips for her charu annam. In Gurgaon, they only had tasteless robusta bananas. So, when we first came to Bangalore, the sweetness of yelakki would seduce us to eat the whole dozen in half a day.

Through word of mouth, she got to know about this shop, which we called the south store because we never bothered to learn its name. The smell of chilies and dals was easily striking in front of the store. It tickled your nose enough to keep the threat of you sneezing always there. To enter the store, you had to go through a set of uneven stairs. The first thing you see is a basket full of sambhar onions and yelakki bananas. The whole floor was covered in the dried skin of onions and it would crunch under our chappals. Karchup, mrichup, machup.

An old Malayali couple owned the shop. The lady had curly white hair and the husband had thick salt-pepper hair and a french beard. He was not that tall and usually wore shorts that would reach his knees. They both talked in Hindi which was jagged yet softer on the edges. The stores had shelves filled with pulses and spices on all three walls. Aachi, Sakthi and MTR ruled this part of the flavor town. There was only a narrow space you could walk in. On one side there were shelves and on the other was a countertop from where they would quickly pick the items before you would finish listing. The latest Anand Vikatan and Kumadam littered the countertop. It also had Gokulam which was the only reason I would go to that store. Amma liked it too because this gave her a reason to use me as a coolie. Every second week of the month, a stack of Gokulam would drop at the store and I would beg Amma to buy it for me. 

There were three cats that would come and go. They would snuggle on the rice bags with their tails tucked in or walk across the counter like they owned the place. They would survey everything and walk out gracefully to the backroom. One time one kitten wrapped itself around the leg of the scooter. I was scared for it and scared of it. I stared at the kitty and just prayed that it would survive. In an embarrassing situation for my future onset of feminism, a man had to save me and the kitty from my problem. 

 A TV was on top of a wall and it was usually blaring. I can remember only two channels Mazhavil Manorama and Asia net. The uncle would calculate the total of items while his attention was still on the TV. It was as if we were interrupting his important task with our grocery questions. A Malayalam TV serial would play from it. I couldn’t understand the words but I would still watch it. 

The shop was usually empty but, on some days, it would be filled to the brim.  The week around Pongal was the busiest for the couple as people would be lining up at the store. We couldn’t even enter the shop at that time. It would amaze me so much that a shop in such an obscure place could gather such a crowd. Whenever we talked about people from south, we would call them ‘mannavallu’ (our people) even if we didn’t know them.

Amma and I would get three bags filled to the brim with goods. It had everything from chintapandu (tamarind) to jaggery to jaw-breaking nipatalu. Hauling it up over the steep stairs was a task in itself. Amma would try to fit one bag in the dickey and one under her seat. I would have to hold one bag and struggled not to fall off while going back home.

My mother first met her friends when she enrolled me in a music class that I didn’t want to go to. They would coordinate their daily plans according to each other. Go to the corners of Delhi and plan lunches with cakes. I was forced to be friend with their daughters but you make sacrifices for your mother sometimes. Now in Bangalore, they call every other day but it is not the same. They all still have the same problems but the immediate respite of hanging out and talking about it is gone. 

When I asked Amma why she liked Gurgaon more even when she was so far away from everyone. “That’s one main reason.” She laughs and continues “Because of that, I had more freedom to go out when I wanted to. I have to tell and ask permission every time I step out.” Last week, we went out to eat, just me, my sister and her. I see my mother being more daring when she is out, having fun in the fresh air. When the conversation comes to a slow lull, she brings up Gurgaon because there is still so much to talk about. 

Bangalore is not an unexplored territory for her, everybody already has discovered everything. A place to live, a dentist already recommended and a place for her daughter to study in, all decided by people living here before. Her sewing machine had broken when we moved from Gurgaon to Bangalore.  This machine has been her constant for more than 20 years. My father keeps saying how stubborn my mother was to buy that 5000 rupees machine. Now she stitches her own blouses with half working sewing machine and wonders when she will buy her new one.

Just like my mother, I am a city girl through and through. I keep thinking that I want a life different from hers but I confuse it with being different from her. In Bangalore, it felt like an achievement when I was still outside my home alone at 9 o’clock. Finding new bus routes and walking fast in majestic made me feel like an adult. It is easy to romanticize when things are novel. Can we feel lonely in a city as big as Bangalore?

My mother’s hands are still bigger than mine

Back at the South Store, I always wondered what the flower-type murukku on the top shelf tasted like. Once my friends from Bangalore were discussing with my other mallu friend what they call it (rose cookie, acchappam), and I got to know that it had a name. I keep learning where I am from even when I am not there.

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Keerthana Anugunda

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