When I was a child, my mother used to make for breakfast what we called sugar dosa. Sugar dosa was just like regular dosa- a long, thin crepe made out of a fermented rice batter- except instead of sambar and chutney, the lucky feaster was to tear off pieces of the pancake and dip it into a bowl of sugar. Sometimes sugar was even sprinkled on top of the dosa along with honey or fruit. My mother would make a multitude of other delicious dishes as well, like Bombay toast, our own take on French toast, honey porridge, congee with mango pickle, jeera tea. Still, nothing made my mouth moisten and eyes glitter like the sight and smell of sugar dosa. It became the cornerstone of my morning, just the spirit of the dish itself. Sugar dosa didn’t make sense as a breakfast- consisting of a sugar dusted rice pancake, sugar dosa didn’t offer much nutritionally except, well, sugar. Pure energy. There was something childlike and innocent about the simplicity and laughable taste and texture of such a dish that made me feel at home and happy. My mother, her chubby hand extending out a hot steel plate of the folded fermented crepe, was the ultimate ingredient to what made it so good; somehow, I tasted her and us and our home and life in every bite of sugar dosa.
Like most people, we lived in a hut. The huts were crowded together and didn’t provide much space or privacy, but nevertheless our hut was a nice hut and held many happy times in it, like the plush of a teddy bear retains the knowledge and memory of all its hugs. Growing up, I was always optimistic and excited. My mother continued to feed this fire slowly, and always told me that if I aimed high enough, we wouldn’t have to live in a hut anymore.
“If you work for the forest, pruning the trees or something like that, you’ll make enough to live in the canopy and not in these huts,” she explained to adolescent me many times. She had the same gesture each time she explained it, waving her hand to the heavens every time she mentioned “canopy” and spoke of the trees as if they were human saints. Living in the canopy was my mother’s dream, to live amongst the branches of the trees, where the only thing surrounding you is pure unadulterated sunlight.
Years engulfed me by surprise, and spat me out every 12 months with new discoveries about myself and my body. Growing, breathing, living, developing stronger tissues that fused together into muscles, muscles that fueled me to seek pure water and pure food and pure love in a world that sold filtered water and synthetic food and artificial love. All these days, my mother continued to feed me sugar dosas, a labor of love and hope. I grew to be sweet and bubbly. When it became time for me to think about how I could contribute to the forest ecosystem, I decided I did not want to spend my life pruning trees. With my young eyes I saw many people pruning trees, and they looked tired and sad. I thought about how much joy sugar dosa gave me. Didn’t the tree pruners have mothers who fed them sugar dosas? Maybe not. I wanted them to have my mother’s touch. I wanted to give them happiness. I wanted to heal them.
“I’m going to open a restaurant,” I told my mother over a morning of sugar dosa. She looked at me in disbelief.
“You don’t want to work for the forest?” she had to say it herself to believe it.
“No,” I replied. The brown and pink left my mother’s face and was replaced with a grey-ish purple. In front of my eyes, she went through the stages of loss; anger, denial, bargaining, despair. Acceptance? We fought. We cried. I saw her hope for me, for her, for our life and everything it could be vanish, the light behind her eyes extinguished with my words.
I left home. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to make her happy. But I wanted to do it my way. I did not want to be a slave to someone else’s wants and hopes. What was the need to raise me into a whole person if I could not express my life the way I wanted to? My mother was a deer and I was a fern. Oxygen fed her and carbon dioxide fed me. You cannot feed a plant oxygen and expect her to thrive. So I had to leave. I was a different kind of hungry.
I left the hut, I moved across the lavender field, past the stream and the little desert, to the edge of the Walmart parking lot. I had nothing to my name. The ground was not like home; instead of soft earth, it was hard grainy concrete rock. But I worked, I worked for me. I worked for my mother. I worked for her through me. Even if it felt selfish or didn’t make sense. I worked on the concrete, in the hot sun, in the cold winds, on the concrete, on the concrete, the concrete, concrete. Days were long. There were no more sugar dosa breakfasts or Bombay toasts. I died and was reborn, I bled and condemned the blood, only to starve and come back, drink it and detoxify from the bones outward. Once made of sugar and bubbles I calcified and crystalized. I built my own house, my own house out of the concrete. I dug a hole deep and made the foundation with my feet and hands. Each day I fashioned bricks, my saliva the mortar that bound the stones together. My body bore the weight of my work, scraped and cut, skin to concrete, friction. My mother, concerned for me, begged me to come back home, begged me to come back over the parking lot, begged me to cross the stream, begged me to emerge from the lavender fields and touch the soft earth of home, where she could feed me mouthfuls of home-cooked sweet food. I refused. My visions did not leave me. My ambitions and yearnings did not vacate my heart.
Years passed, vacations passed, rest postponed, indulgences gone, sugar a distant dream. The scent, the vision of sugar dosa, however, kept me going, my mother’s hands massaging me in my dreams.
One day I awoke.
I looked at my house.
I looked at what I had made.
A steady trickle turned into a strong flow, people flowed in patterns
And I fed them mother’s food.
I introduced them to my mother through her food, and I watched as strangers had conversations with her
Through Bombay toasts
Congee with mango pickle,
And of course,
I smiled. Thankful. It was time. You cannot feel yourself growing, you can only look back and see how far you’ve come. I looked back at the lavender field and imagined the hut I lived in, on the other side. I called my mother and told her to meet me in the fields.
My eyelids widened so much, it hurt. I kept trying to open them more, like curtains to windows. I could already see the image in front of me, but the image itself was too overwhelming and pleasurable to bear. The version of reality that my rods and cones were firing to my brain was so incredibly sweet, I only wanted more and more and more and more. I wanted more to the image! I wanted more to what I was seeing in front of me! Am I really seeing all of it? It can’t be. Gasping for air, desperate, as if my opening my eyes wider there would somehow be more to see, as if the physical limitation of sight were preventing me from experiencing all of it, I peeled open my eyelids as much as I could. A futile but sincere attempt to see more.
My mother stood in the lavender fields with open arms. Her smile seemed drawn on with a sparkly crayon by a happy, giggly child. That’s just it. She looked as if a child drew her, but not by the primitive inept hands of a child. Rather, the laughter, the playful smiling soul, the fatty salty bouncy membranes of a new soul drew her, manifested her right in front of me. I began to think. What is this life? What am I experiencing right now? Life is just a merry-go-round, a series of scenes that I throw my whole heart into, fabric that I bleed my emotions into until it is soaking wet. I don’t know for why or for what but all I know is that it is real because I said so.
I ran into her open arms and embraced her. The scent of her living body inundated my nostrils and escaped through my hair. I let go of her soft embrace.
“I did it mom! I did it!” I kept repeating to her, I somehow felt she couldn’t hear me.
“I have my own restaurant. And I make everything you used to make for me.” I said proudly.
“So you have!” she exclaimed out of excited nervousness. I wanted her to touch and feel the proof of my success. Hurry! I grabbed her hand and pulled her through the lavender fields, I tried to carry her on my back as we crossed the stream but I am too small, I am sorry mother I would carry you if I could I promise you I want nothing more but to give back everything you gave me and more but we crossed the stream, and we walked through the little desert and the Walmart parking lot until we got to the concrete steps of my restaurant, tinged dark brown with my blood. I looked back at her. Is she okay? Yes. Just a little tired. A little old. A little soft. But still there. I took a deep breath. I opened the door.
Yellow people, business buzz and breath greeted us. I looked at her. Time slowed like slime. The energy hit her like a cloud, emotion left her face, she was processing, calculating, analyzing. My heart raced. I made this. I wanted her to keep it, not throw it away.
“Smells good, looks good.” She said.
“Sit,” I said. She sat. I gave her chai. She sipped and sat. I went into the kitchen. I came out with a silver dish in one hand, a small bowl in the other.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Sugar dosa,” I said. “Eat.”
Reluctantly, she tore off a piece of the thick fermented rice crepe and dipped it generously into the bowl of snow white sparkling sugar.
“Mmmm!” she hummed, her eyes aflame.
“Do you like it?” I asked her. The little child in me was jumping up and down, grabbing for the sun, the clouds, the sky above, selfishly wanting nothing but adoration.
Puzzled and with a small smile, my mother looked at me.
“I like the dosa. I can see all these other people like the dosa too. But you and me and we still live in a small hut. I don’t understand why you would give up canopies for dosas,” she lamented disappointed. My biggest fears confirmed. Despair kissed me without my permission. My mother was here, with me, eating what she had made herself, for she made me and I made this for her. But, I began to realize it did not mean to her what it meant to me. My mother spoke the language of canopies and space and I spoke the language of healing and dosas. I cared more about spreading her love and touch than escaping huts. Her tired eyes told a different story. She was exhausted. Her love would not last forever. Yes, she deserved a canopy. She wanted a canopy. I wish I could give that to her. I could have given that to her. If only I had put my own dreams aside. Funny, how she inspired the very dreams that brought her such sorrow.
The child in me, who always wanted to be loved, adored, looking for affection constantly, was not fed the sugar she starved for. Her cries echoed in my body, muffled by the noise of the entropy I created with my restaurant. I looked around at all I created and realized the only person who had pride in the work I had done was me. The whole restaurant, all colored mustard yellow, roared and laughed in unison and I stood in the center of it, blue and green and deep red and orange and purple and white all floating around me like a lava lamp.
I put the child to bed. I stayed with my mother while she finished her meal. I walked her home, to our hut, and said goodnight. I walked back through the lavender fields, the little desert, the stream, the Walmart parking lot, back to my concrete restaurant where I oversaw the rest of dinner service. Then, after my last customer left and the doors were locked, I laid down on the cold bare stone ground. I feel asleep on the concrete floor of my restaurant, to the distant echoes of my cries, the customers’ laughter, and everything in between, weary after a hard day’s work.