A sandwich and a book

Sometimes a memory comes at you like a mosquito, uncalled and unwanted. You shake your head and wave your hands, thinking it will go away. Mmmhhhh, you say. But it sits there, pricking, drawing blood, and you contemplate the angry red mark that is left behind.

Sometimes, a memory is delicious.

The sandwich

It happened all those years ago, and I remember what I was wearing, feeling like a girl which was unusual. A babypink shirt with sleeves that came just past the elbows, and a long skirt that was white at the waist and the colour changed every few centimetres, lightest pink, light pink, pink, darker pink, and a darkest pink at the ankles – ombré, I know to call it now, but back then it was the Shades of Pink Skirt. In that year of awkwardness, wanting to be a girl, but not very comfortable being one, I was taken in by the cool kids. A group of girls who left me in awe, with their perfect singing voices and school uniform skirts that they stitched in a stylish way I wanted to copy, with athletic bodies and artistic minds. That day, a bunch of us washed up at one of their homes, unannounced, filling the living room with laughter and chatter, and pointing at a younger brother on the verge of puberty, who had large feet but hadn’t yet shot up.

Are you hungry, Aunty asked us, as she walked into the kitchen and looked in her refrigerator.

Anusha is vegetarian, someone said, and there was silence for a moment.

Who is this new vegetarian friend you have brought home, Aunty wanted to know. You don’t even eat fish?

No but eggs are alright, if we make them in a pan that my mother likes to call The Egg Pan, and we leave the exhaust fan running so her kitchen doesn’t smell. No but my father isn’t a vegetarian sometimes, when he ate that whole fish or that grilled chicken and came home and tried to tell my mother his mouth doesn’t smell all that bad.

Aunty made me a special sandwich, because I was vegetarian and I couldn’t eat what the others were eating.

You will need a sandwich maker – an electric one or one you held in your hand and flipped over a gas stove.

  1. Bread-butter-jam sandwich

Take two slices of bread. On one, spread butter thickly. On another, spread jam. Place them together so the butter and jam can say hello to each other.

When the sandwich is done, the butter would have melted, making the bread golden brown, soft and crackling at the same time.

This could be what Memory tastes like. On some days, when Memory hums and buzzes and leaves behind angry red skin, I find myself making this sandwich to have with my cup of tea. I didn’t drink tea back then, I was too young for it my mother said.

The book

Another of the girls, with hair like the spring inside a ball-point pen and a heart-shaped face, lived with her two sisters in a home that felt like a story. They had many many books, posters of handsome men on their walls, a piano in the corner, bunk beds for the girls and music tapes. They spoke English to one another and discussed Literature and Movies at the dining table. She gave me my first grown-up books, books I couldn’t take from my Age Section at the British Council Library. She introduced me to the trilogy by Tolkien which I read all day for seven days and another book called The God of Small Things, which left me feeling sad for too long.

Two days ago, I remembered this book, because Memory attacked me. And I recalled a large dingy house, bats and jackfruits, pickles, a beautiful black man, twins who did something bad, and an old lady who did something worse. I bought the book, thirteen years after I first laid hands on it, and read it in a day. I understood things differently now. I also saw the language differently, the audacity that created words and whole universes within them.

Back then, when I thought my world was divided into 1. Vegetarians and Non-vegetarians, 2. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, 3. Those with Egg Pans and those without, I didn’t realize the world tricks us into thinking it is a kind place. I didn’t know why the maid at our house in India didn’t use the same toilet we did, even though she cleaned it for us. I didn’t know what everyone meant when they said, if only he were born into a different family, he could be anything he wanted. Or when someone was told he or she didn’t know their place, for they had desirable qualities like being smart and resourceful, but these qualities weren’t desirable in them because it made them forget their place. I didn’t know what we did to those who dream and desire, for freedom and forbidden things.

I understood anew the social structures that History passes down and the Present upholds, too scared to accept changes, punishing those who transgress. I felt the sadness returning to me, as memory collided with lived experiences, a force so strong I had to stop reading for a while.

A Memory that tastes like a bread-butter-jam sandwich is what I need now.

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2 thoughts on “A sandwich and a book

  1. Such an evocative piece that started off light and ended on an incredibly meaningful note.
    God of Small Things was brilliant but extremely disturbing when I first read it a few years ago; I wonder if I have the courage to revisit it…

    “I felt the sadness returning to me, as memory collided with lived experiences, a force so strong…” –> An astonishingly powerful and poignant phrase. I say this because there is an issue that has been gnawing at me regarding a friend of mine. That ‘collision’ that you allude to is exactly the reason why I was feeling disturbed. This phrase gives me a framework to distill my thoughts, a lens through which I can view the issue (that has been disturbing me) afresh.

    I’d rank this as one of your best pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

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