Dosai AuntyDosai Aunty

Tania Nathan is a writer, poet and journalist who lives and works in the capital region of Finland. In her free time, she likes to smash the patriarchy and upset the status quo. She also likes Olympic weightlifting, foraging for wild foods and camping whenever time and weather permits. She also works as an educator and youth worker, produces poetry events and artists all over the greater Helsinki region, and one day when Corona is over, the world.

Cook a feast
Make it sumptuous and full
Sit down to eat it with your sleeves rolled back
Your tongue prickled with drool
A beast at best that’s what we are
Riddled with longing
Crumpled up with desires
We meet in the middle
With unsatisfactory compromises
That fools nobody
And we call that
a life
And go
to the grave
Like a bride buried in red
Scissors in her grasp
Hungry for revenge
Hungry for a taste
Of a life1
Never would she know
Neither would you.

I set the table without fork or knife
Strangers and friends old and new
My heart is strangely empty
But now made full

We eat dosais and chutneys,
laugh at stories as the children run wild
And it feels in a flash
Like home
Is calling me

Does home
call for you,
too?

Sleep is a funny thing. Like a little death that comes over you, a cloud that eclipses the sun blurring the edges of a day for a moment. Features relax, and mouths slacken. I feel your hand flex in mine, dreams curling around the edges of you as you slip under. I lie awake, because sleep is not a familiar friend, and count the things of the day.

One two three four five friends. Three deaths. Four onions and one pot of rice. Breathe in and out, willing somnolence getting memories in return. Uncle Ram, with his irises rimmed in blue, sitting at his grand desk, writing me letters and stamping it with the same stamp he affixed on all his books. A Ramanath, Jalan Batai, Bangsar. A house on a hill, where he wrote to me all his letters, to which I responded to. A practice in penmanship that slowly grew and grew until the girl who could not read turned into a journalist, and finally into an author of a book.

‘Self-published authors are not real authors,’ the Latino woman who sat across from me in the bookmaking workshop sniffed, as she snipped delicately at her paper sheaves. My tongue retreated into my mouth, and my thoughts slowed to swirls in my head, like snow in a snowglobe. ‘Only their mamas and papas buy their books and they think that yeah, that makes them a real writer. It doesn’t!’

She was a real author who had published real books and I was a fake author that only wrote books my mama and papa would buy. I beg to differ. My papa ravaged by dementia had lost his ability to read and my mama whose sole purpose in life now revolved around caring for him, or talking about caring for him, had lost the desire. I was writing history in a time of loss.

They had not bought my book, and they probably would never read it. Ever. Ha. Yet, she had slapped me twice in quick succession and was none the wiser at this triumph. I sat there stunned, as she admired the filigree she had created, fat and fresh in her position in the world as a Real Author.

I forced the lump in my throat back down, snipping the corners of the pages of the mini book I was crafting, watching the confetti fall down and imagining them turning into tiny drops of anger that would set the whole table on fire.

Uncle Ram was now gone, he had passed at the age of 92, never knowing the new life that I had gone on to live as a writer, only knowing the failed one before it. A marriage that ended, citizenship to my home country revoked because of it, a bitter battle to regain footing in a land that I now had to call home. I forced the lump in my throat back down, snipping the corners of the pages of the mini book I was crafting, watching the confetti fall down and imagining them turning into tiny drops of anger that would set the whole table on fire. Maybe the whole world, while we’re at it.

‘I suppose,’ I said in a sing-song, snipping viciously, ‘it must be,’ *SNIP SNIP* ‘a very scary time’ *SNIP SNIP SNIP* ‘for all’ *SNIP SNIP SNIP SNIP* REAL authors, no?’

The others at the table paused momentarily, appreciating perhaps my punctuation or perhaps alarmed by it, before rushing to the defence of Fake Self Published Authors.

‘How do you feel, Tania?’ Ali says softly, seated to my right, ‘Should we stop this whole conversation, seeing that we have safer spaces policies here?’ I shook my head. Why extinguish a fire that is about to consume the person who set it. My tongue felt huge in my mouth. An eel hiding in its riverbank cave. Almost motionless in the cool murk. I imagined instead the face of Uncle Ram, diamond winking in his wedding band. He had given me a moonstone once, my birthstone, which I set in the shape of a sun. Twin diamonds flanking it. I never liked moonstones, its milky somnolence rather boring, but now as the years carried on, I wore it close to my heart, and it grew on me. The moon in all its stages is whole, but as we see it waxing and waning we imagine a life lesser for it. But there it is, full and resplendent, not caring about our little thoughts about it, living its life hidden from our view.

The Real Author’s ideas on self-published authors now have been pounced on and pummelled thoroughly, a sound thrashing and a good walloping would be how Uncle Ram would have described it. And so she sits, pinkish and deflated. Her mouth opens and closes, wanting to say something but having had the air taken out of her she is unable to. She looks like a koi fish that once escaped my mother’s pond, greedy for freedom or maybe adventure and finding only death on the hot patio tiles. It leapt out of its watery prison imagining greatness. What a letdown. Mouth opening and closing, eyes wide and gills heaving but finding nothing to breathe. My kingdom my kingdom for a horse. O tempora o mores.

Writing stories is only a way to find my way home again, wherever that may be. Stuck in this snowglobe country with a global pandemic raging, my stories float around me keeping me company while making me feel lonely all at the same time.

Writing stories is only a way to find my way home again, wherever that may be. Stuck in this snowglobe country with a global pandemic raging, my stories float around me keeping me company while making me feel lonely all at the same time. Writing about the putumayam man selling hot string hoppers from the back of his motorcycle, honking his horn, in the evening time when the air was hot with the smells of frying and monsoon rain about to come. The soft swish of the saree wearer walking back to the kitchen to fetch you a cup of tea, Johnson and Johnson baby powder in the loose folds of their back skin, velvety smooth. The smell of our ancient air conditioning that had been turned on to chill the room, now sweetly cool in the damp air of Time to Sleep. The almost marble floors were cold on the soles of your feet when you escaped to the bathroom for an emergency midnight pee. The mosquitoes singing in the dark corners there, singing the songs of their kind.

Uncle Ram had once told me, ‘You better have your additions sooner rather than later,’ meaning I best not put off children lest I stray past my use-by date. I was only 25 when he told me this, and at first, I did not even understand what he meant. Once I did though, it seemed sorrowful. Never would there be additions for me, no triplicate identity children will I leave in my wake. I would leave only stories, only memories consigned to paper, of dreaming time in Borneo, and of a childhood that taught me the value of keeping my thoughts to myself. Girls should be seen and not heard, that Uncle once said to me aged 10, and then he himself moved himself to liberal progressive Sweden. Are these stories for him? Maybe not. He died long before I was ready to tell my stories. The smells and sounds of a life that was so richly mine took time to ripen. Once ready the stories climbed out of my skin, escaped and became a book. Ta-dah. Magic.

So I lie here, and listen to the sleep sounds you make and admire the sweetness of your breath on the back of my neck, and think about all these things I must write down before I too lose my way to age and time. Before my thoughts slow, like a stew thick with things stuck in a time of the past.

When the moon waxes  
and reaches its peak,  
Do you not forget  
that when it is at its least,  
it still contains all its  
fullness;  
only waiting for us to recognise  
that time will come  
for all of us  
when we too will wane  
but never return.
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