The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

Keda, aamba, draaksh ane santra

This essay by Ananya Mehta won the first place in the Mother Tongue Essay Contest held in April 2023. The judge, Dipannita Mukherjee, a teacher at Inventure Academy, had this to say, “It was so hard to pick but I went with what made me smile the most (and also hungry).”

Fruits are love letters in themselves and that is an undeniable truth. But there is a gentleness with which I learnt to hold fruits, to touch fruits, to taste fruits. There is a tender sort of love that eating a fruit in your mother tongue fills you with; eating a fruit in English simply cannot do this. 

Ma is a second-hand Gujarati, like me. That means we find home in other languages and have only tasted the Gujarati that we have spoken to each other. The only other Gujarati we have heard is from Pappa’s side of the family, which is even worse because they grew up in Hyderabad and Kochi. 

Even Dadi, who speaks only Gujarati, does not speak good Gujarati. Her verbs dangle and she misgenders everyone and everything. But I guess that is why Gujarati is her mother tongue, and not mine. Because it allows her to call fruits by their names without feeling her heart inflate in delight or her stomach shrink in self-pity and doubt that stem from inadequacy. Because it allows her to break and falter but still is her home. We turn to listen to her say fruit names like she has gemstones for teeth.

Ma says fruit names with soft hesitation. Like they deserve names that are preceded by a series of titles. Like she will never feel good enough for fruit in Gujarati, but, on better days, she can sit in her corner of the bed, against her sweaty, maroon, shapeless bolster, and eat her fruit off a thin plastic plate or steel bowl in English. 


Aamba aava mandya chhe. Ras peevu chhe ke batka khaava chhe?

Mangoes are not for Ma. They make her break out; they make me break out too. Still, I eat aamba. Ma says she wishes she were me as if she cannot put more than one small piece of mango in her mouth while checking if they’re sweet enough when she cuts them for the rest of the family; she inevitably breaks out within an hour or two, just as she would if she’d eaten everything she cut for us. It’s not about how much she eats; it’s about whether she eats it or not. All that suffering for one tiny bite of mango, never for the whole aambo. 

I am the first person she alerts when she brings home aamba. And she always brings Raspuri first. Because she knows the others will wait for Haaphus (Alphonso) and I will devour all the Raspuri whole. She will cut the others neat, bite-sized pieces of mango but will let the aamba stain my clothes. Not ras. Not batka. Still, she asks me just in case, because you must never eat aamba wrong. 

Aam aane lage hai. Ras peena hai ya tukde khaane hai?
Mangoes have started coming. Do you want to drink ras or eat pieces?

Ma stays away from mango like she stays away from all other things that she relished as a child. Ma stays away from mangoes like they are music. Like they are mystery novels. Like they are swings that will creek too loud under her weight. Ma does not feel good enough for mangoes. Because she knows that aamba eaten daintily is aamba wasted. Ma disappears when the oranges turn into mangoes, but she is the only one who remembers to soak them in water overnight to make sure I break out less. 


Chaalta vakte kyaare pan haath ma ek santro revo joye.

I have never seen Ma go on a walk with an orange. Not even once. But she has said this at least ten times, usually when it’s very sunny, and she sees someone else walking by with a santro in hand. 

Chalte samay kabhi bhi haath me ek santra hona chahiye.
Whenever you go on a walk, you should have an orange in hand.

She is right, though. That santro makes your whole walk smell different. The perfect orange is very orange, round and big. The walk santro, however, is greenish, bruised and usually the last in the pile. 

The santro is not the orange you write poems about; it is the orange you accidentally find lying at the bottom of your bag when all you want to do is lie flat on your face and cry after a very tiring day of school. 

Illustration by Angel Kolady


Rad nai dikra, draaksh khaile.

Eating draaksh demands a kind of attention that makes you forget you were crying; you are still tired, but Ma kept the grapes in the fridge an hour before you got home. Suddenly, all the world’s woes and worries are not yours to carry anymore, and your only concern is saving the sweeter, yellower draaksh for the end. 

Roo mat beta, angoor khale.
Don’t cry beta, eat grapes.

When I was inconsolable, Ma would invite me to try to identify and locate, but not capture, the exact sensation that fills you in that moment when your teeth penetrate the grape skin and reach the pulp. There is a short – almost non-existent – moment of resistance, of tension. It is a very brief sensation, but it numbs you to everything else around you. I have found many names for this sensation, but they don’t describe it well enough. It is a sensation that memory cannot preserve. You have no idea what it feels like the moment your teeth have finished piercing through the skin. But when you say draaksh – say it once, only once – you can access a soft echo of that sensation. Ma says it is like watching tired women untie their hair. She is right.


Ek-be keda khailes ne, toh baddhu theek thai jase.

It is okay if you don’t romanticise bananas. It is okay if you peel them hastily and gobble them up. It is okay if you take them for granted. It is okay to sometimes forget banana is a fruit. But when you do remember that the banana is a fruit, remember that it is the mother of all fruits. 

Ek-do kele kha longe na, toh sab theek ho jaaega.
If you eat one or two bananas, everything will be okay.

I have tried writing on bananas, but they have such a silly name that I simply cannot. There is so much to say about their softness, their sweetness, their simplicity and how they are an integral but unnoticed part of every fruit basket, bowl and shelf. Writing on bananas is like writing on mother. So I write on keda instead; I write on Ma instead.

I have written many poems on fruits, on Ma. Poems that are good, that are often exercises in vulnerability. But that is as far as I can go; poems are as far as I can go. I have learnt how to love only by watching Ma call fruits by their Gujarati names.


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Ananya Mehta

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