In Between

O for Onion


In English, I always pause before pronouncing it (Anion or Onion?) I once bought a wooden chopping board because it’s how onions were chopped on cooking shows. Needless to say, the board broke in half & was last seen sitting mutely above the fridge. Ajji sliced the Kannada eerulli sitting on an ಈಳಿಗೆಮಣೆ (elige mane) as gleaming slices of onions fell wordlessly into the wet steel plate under it. Amma chopped the Konkani’s Piyav on a ಲಟ್ಟಣಿಗೆ (Chapati rolling pin) standing by the kitchen slab, the rim of her nightie always touching the floor. 

It’s perhaps among the first few things we learn to cut. Growing up, if you were given onions to cut, it meant that you were inaugurated into a semi-adulthood of sorts. In Jain college, where I studied in 2005, this meant nothing. It was believed that items made of potato(even lays), garlic, & onion weren’t sold in the canteen. Even the man making samosa burgers outside the college sold what were called jain burgers (if they can sell air in chips packets, they can also eat samosas without alu it seems) 

Couple-friends practiced a kind ‘no-onion no-garlic’ pact at lunch if the evening had been brimming with a possibility of kiss. Years ago, an old love had been angry with me for eating onions with my naan & mutton at lunch which caused the evening to no longer brim with anything & I grew wary of eating them outside home.

The Savarna idea that what you eat shouldn’t cause discomfort to others was punctured beautifully at a writing workshop organised by the Dalit Women Fight in Delhi. The buffet had the regular rice, roti, chicken, dal, salad. And I noticed that the only thing that kept getting over & that the waiters had to keep bringing in were onions. It’s the only time I’ve seen anyone eat onions freely in public, and not even as a side to the main but as if it were the only main. I felt immediately at home where Appa suspects anything that isn’t full of onions, and Amma can only eat Maggi with a side of raw onions.

There is as much joy in eating it raw as there is in listening to the sprinkled crunch of its cutting. I imagine it to be the sound of the sandpapery touch of salt. A student once broke into mad laughter even before he’d finished narrating the story of his Kannada speaking friend who was desperate for some onions in his chaat & had hurriedly said ‘bhaiya, thoda pyar dena’ instead of pyaz. 

In Between

O – Onion

Today I feel like the onion that Sandra Cisneros writes so poignantly about in ‘Eleven’. I feel superbly peeled today. But the peeling didn’t happen today, it’s been happening for as long as I can remember. I would just like to commemorate it today. All these layers of age on me are wearing me down. And not because these layers are tarnished by regret and guilt but because too many of these layers were allowed to be occupied by too many people, all of whom are strangers to me today. How I wish all these ages that I am today: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 are all mine and mine alone. But I share it with too many people or one person who appears to be like too many people.

I recognize my 16 year old self today with shame and hostility. Does that mean that I can peel off my 16th year and flung it away? If I was 16 and 25 today I would have not done many things. But maybe why I am 25 today is because I did those things. 5 years down the line, I may look back at this post and wonder if there was any difference between my 16 year old self and my 25 year old self. That’s what is so crazy about the age and the onion thing. That it makes invisible, the borders between layers and it becomes hard to separate the two.

That’s all there is, I feel as pointless as this post. I seem destined to make the same mistakes but just at different ages.