4:40: Vasanthi’s stomach growls like a dishwasher, reminder that she skipped lunch today. She's done with her quota of ten tickets for the week, debugging the last vexing one during lunch. Fifteen more minutes and she can officially clock out, minutes that, to borrow Baumgardner’s oft-repeated analogy, move like molasses in January. She hears loud hoots from her team manager Jack’s office. She stands up on her cube and looks around. The guys in her team are crowded in Jack’s office, watching a video of a girl farting in the car when the boyfriend gets out, waves of expectant laughter cascading as it plays in a loop. Fresh hot memory of her performance review with Jack’s comment “try to be a better teammate, Vasanthi” rises with the bile. Vasanthi shakes her head, gets down, picks up her purse and walks out.
5:05: As she drives, she mentally searches her fridge for a quick meal. Leftovers from last night’s dinner—pumpkin sambar, but no vegetable, they finished it all. A couple of slices of pizza which doesn’t sound appealing. She wants something comforting. Pineapple and cottage cheese. Healthy. Not what her Indian stomach wants right now.
She remembers the dosai batter she had made the day before to feed the crowd that is camping at her house—Ramesh’s parents, brother, and sister who are visiting from India on their annual holiday trip. Yes! Hot, golden, crispy dosais with a drizzle of oil and ghee, smeared with chutney. She figures she can eat in the next thirty minutes.
Vasanthi almost doesn’t stop at the red light and brakes hard, prompting a loud blare from behind. She turns, smiles apologetically, mouthing “fuck you too.”
5:17: She pulls into her garage, one thing on her mind. Dosai dosai dosai. Should she change into a salwar kameez first? She has noticed mother-in-law’s raised brows and mutterings under her breath when she gets ready in her work skirts and blouses. Screw that, she decides. Her sister-in-law wears jeans and t-shirts but Sheila is Goddess Lakshmi herself and can do no wrong, in mother-in-law’s eyes.
5:25 Vasanthi washes her hands, takes out the dosai batter. Briefly considers warming up the potato masala to go with it but settles on the chutney—extra hot with lots of green chilies that she “accidentally” put in there, knowing Ramesh’s family doesn’t tolerate heat.
5:35: She places the cast iron pan on the stove, all the while eyeing the family room. The house is quiet. Her in-laws must be napping. Quick, she prays, let no one come here until I’ve eaten. She dips a ladle in the batter, giving it a quick aerating mix, takes a ladle-full of batter and pours it on the hot tawa, the batter hissing on the hot pan and cooking on contact, spreading in a messy blob. Too hot. The first dosai is a throw-away.
5:45: She hears it. A door creaking. Shuffling footsteps.
“Vasanthi ah? Just came ah?” Her mother-in-law shuffles in, clutching her knee. “I was just going to make some coffee. Appa needs his evening coffee, even if the world is ending. Did you come from work early?”
“Yes, mami. I was done early.” And then, every cell in her body screaming in protest: “Would mama want some dosai? I was going to make (for me).”
Vasanthi refuses to call them amma and appa, choosing instead uncle and aunt, to her mother-in-law’s disappointment—a lost opportunity to brag. But Vasanthi choked on the words every time she tried. Ramesh didn’t care what she called them, and she eventually gave up.
“Let me ask. Can you start the hot water for coffee?” They did not like the coffeemaker, insisting on using the filter they carried around to make coffee “decawtion” and their own blend of Plantation A and Peaberry from India.
5:50: Sheila comes down in a pair of shorts and t-shirt. Vasanthi looks at her mother-in-law pointedly. No reaction.
“Ooh is that dosai I smell? Can I have some, manni? So hungry.”
Vasanthi stacks the two she’s made on a plate and hands it to Sheila.
“Do you want some chutney or podi?”
“I’ll take some sugar and ghee. Your chutney was so karamu, manni.”
Vasanthi pours the batter for the third dosai, spreading it into ever-growing circles, a spiral galaxy.
She hands the sugar and the ghee to Sheila. Her stomach growls loudly, angrily. She flips the dosai.
5:57: Her mother-in-law comes back and starts the coffee-making process. Taking the full fat milk from the fridge, she pours it into the Pyrex pitcher, crowding Vasanthi in the small kitchen.
“Sheilu, get the water from the microwave, kanna. My hand is shaky.”
6:09: Vasanthi stacks more dosais on the plate. Her brother-in-law, Shyam walks in.
“Hi manni, can I have some dosai? Amma can never make crispy ones like you do.” Vasanthi hides a smug smile.
Soon, everyone’s in the kitchen. Vasanthi forgets the count of the golden crispy discs. They disappear faster than she can make them.
Shyam has a healthy appetite. She thinks he had at least six.
Finally, everyone has eaten, even her mother-in-law, grudgingly admiring the thin crispy ones that she can never pull off.
6:21: As she scrapes the bottom of the pot for the last dosai, dumping it on the pan in a blob, not caring to spread it, because this was her dosai, and SHE WILL MAKE IT HOWEVER SHE WANTS TO, she notices the empty chutney jar. Even though they complain it’s too spicy, they all eat it, all of them except Sheila. A sob escapes her throat, making her mother-in-law look up and hand her a glass of water for her “hiccups.”
6:28: Vasanthi turns off the stove and sits down with her plate of one blobby dosai, podi and her glass of water.
6:30: Her mother-in-law opens the fridge. “What shall we make for dinner? Poor Ramesh will come home hungry, and we finished all the batter.”