Dosa has been a constant in my life ever since I got the first explosion of Andhra gunpowder in my mouth. It is steadfast, satisfying, and never leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Today, I need to order something big. Like a 4-foot-long dosa, with a bucketful of sambar, a mound of mashed potato, and four types of chutney. To celebrate my release from the clutches of a salad-munching witch, who snorted gingerly every time she rode on my pillion to this hallowed hall.
I look at the menu of 101 Dosas, even though I know it like the back of my hand by now. Believe it or not, I have even written an essay on each one of them. Well… not exactly each one of them, but around 50 of them. I was halfway through my thesis when I accidentally caught my therapist chucking haft-eaten dosa in the trash bin. I had no option but to toss him out of my life like a batch of over-fermented batter. There was no way I would allow such a person to guide me through my relationships.
I drag my index finger through the laminated 4-page menu, unmindful of catching any germs, which may have triggered my sister. She asks with a smirk.
“Who eats a salad dosa with cucumber topping?”
Oh! you have no idea. My ex-girlfriend. She nibbled at dosas with cucumber, carrot, tomato, and cabbage toppings, during the month that we were dating. Dumped me even as she was eating one, saying that we should accept there were more holes in the bond of our relationship than on any self-respecting dosa! And she couldn’t spread herself thinner than she already did. Well, good riddance! Her breath was terrible anyway after she ate each one of those dosas.
A tiny vein starts bulging at my forehead. I try to ignore the question. I must handle this impromptu visit graciously. It would be in my best interest to do so.
“Choose something that you would like to eat, sis” I counter and continue to slide my index finger through Mysore masala dosa, onion masala dosa.
“And what is this paneer cheese dosa? Paneer too is a kind of cheese, right?” she giggles.
Now, she is aggravating. I am just trying to be a good big brother. I didn’t ask her to come visit me this weekend. Surely, mother has sent her after me. One of her 101 Dosas spies must have reported to her my very public breakup.
“Yes, obviously people like to order it. That’s why it’s on the menu.” My impatience is beginning to be at par with the patrons of this little establishment who are at present waiting at the entrance to get a table.
She senses the warning bells. And changes her tone.
“Well, I’m torn between this baby corn cheese dosa and schezwan chicken dosa. What do you suggest?”
Tch…tch, so you are torn between Continental and Chinese. I would have given you a synopsis of how they sneaked their way into becoming toppings on one of the most indigenous foods on the planet, but tonight or rather evening I am not in a mood. This was supposed to be a newly single man’s binge night out and now I’m having to humour you. But I know better than to rub you the wrong way; Then, an even bigger calamity would befall me. Mother would barge in and turn my Sunday into a why-don’t-you-keep-your-apartment-clean-when-will-you-get-your-act-together-am-I-going-to-die-without-grandchildren interrogation day.
“Well, one is a little bland and the other one a bit spicy. Your call.”
“Mmmm, maybe I will go for an egg dosa.”
Oh, sis! You so disappoint me, again. Always taking the middle path, the safe path. So typical. So middle class. No wonder you are our parents’ pet.
“Okay, anything else?”
“Yup, filter coffee.”
“Okay, save the seat for me. I will get the order.”
I walk to the register through a fair bit of the Saturday evening crowd. Place my order, take the coupons, and head to the service counter-the celestial pathway to food heaven. The hot pans sizzling when sprinkled with water and then smeared with oil, the crackling of the batter when spread over them, and the crisp rolls that are placed on the plantain leaves covered steel plates, tell me what I want to hear. All is well in the world.
I return with a plate of egg dosa and another plate of masala dosa (well, I changed my mind about 4-foot-long dosa. I can’t very well binge peacefully in front of my freckle-nosed sister. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow).
Much to my chagrin, she has left the table and someone else has occupied it.
I look for her. She is standing at one of the high tables with no seats. She waves at me. I hide my irritation as I balance two plates- one on each hand and wade like a circus clown through the crowd.
“That old couple was waiting for some time.” She says to placate me.
Yes, sis. You are the compassionate one. The ever-accommodating one. I can already see your future. As soon as you get that college degree in home science, you are going to put the garland around the neck of a groom chosen by our parents, produce a few children down the years, and wait at the entrance of a 101 Dosas outlet with your silver-haired spouse hoping to get a table. I feel sorry for you at times. But I don’t think I can help, I’m too busy with my life.
“Okay, let’s hurry before the dosa gets soggy. And also, looks like it’s going to rain. You better hurry back home. Mother will be worried.”
She helps me place the plates. Wordless. Good for me. For, next comes the most sacred ritual. Tearing up the dosa from a corner, forming a cone out of it, scooping the mashed potatoes with it, dipping it in chutney, putting it in the mouth, and dousing it with a spoonful of sambar before chewing ….
“For a self-proclaimed rebel, you are pretty predictable.”
Sis, please act your age. Don’t mouth big words. Not when my mouth is filled with dosa.
“What did you say?” I grate halfway through grinding the first bite.
“You always order masala dosa for yourself when I come around.”
Do I? Maybe I don’t want you to peep through my pharynx to see the secrets stored in my stomach when I suck the marrow out of a chicken or lamb gravy. And report it back home to the guardians of the two-star galaxy; I don’t know about you but I am tired of being a star that has to keep shining. Potato fillings in masala dosas are soft and pliant. Can even be swallowed without baring a single tooth. So, maybe my subconscious mind chose it, sis.
“And anyone who doesn’t share your obsession with dosas doesn’t stay long in your life!”
How dare this hardly out of acne-land, chit of a girl hit me below the belt? Of course, she knows about all the chinks in my armour. Like all pesky younger siblings do. And there’s more than a dollop of truth in what she just said. What kind of person doesn’t like a good dosa?
“How is your egg dosa? Docile?”
“No, in fact, it’s bursting with flavours. I’m sorry, I was being mean. Actually, I came here to share some news with you.”
Sure, you topped your class again, hooray. Hurry up! Let me eat my dosa in peace.
“Mmmm…. you know, my friend and I have been planning to set up a cloud kitchen; once the course is over. Can you please be there when I break this news at home?”
“What!” I gulp.
This meek mouse of my sister is planning to run a business when I, the rebel star of my home am flailing my arms at the corporate cesspool and struggling to find girlfriends of dosa religion! Surely, all is not well in the world.
“Of course, we will think of marriage only after the business takes off…”
Woah! Can you go a bit slow, sis?
“Marriage? With whom?”
“The friend I told you about. His name is Prashant, if you must know.”
I am caught between reacting to this news and ingesting the dosa before it loses its crunchiness.
I do the unthinkable.
“Okay, can you please tell me from the beginning? Let me get the coffee.”