Peer Review by efflorescence (United States)

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Cutting the Roots

By: Pooja M.


The Tamil-girl part of me sees the spellcraft woven into each little ball of sweetness… the clobbering, the stirring, the crushing, the rushing, the rouging, the rising, the loving.  Bananas, flour, jaggery, salt, walnuts, ghee, and perfection.  That's it.  The burning of the paniyarams in the little valleyed plate, the stabbing and removing to see how perfect they are.  The never having to check if, just how.  They look a little burned, a little darker than normal, but it’s the inside that counts, right?  That's what I've been told.  I've been told it's okay, that they’re perfect.
 
Amma wakes up at the crack of dawn to cook.  My Amma is without rest; she does not stop.  She injures her foot, but she never stops running with the hours to catch up with her husband and two daughters and all their future daughters.  She complains about her aching back but does not stop bearing the weight of our success upon it.  She strains her neck but does not stop craning down to cast her spells into my sister’s and my ears.  She is exhausted, but she does not stop waking up to watch a fresh batch of paniyarams rise in all their charred sienna glory with the sun, the shut-eye she does not stop wanting but can not stop to catch.
 
My Amma might not sleep, but she has dreams.  She dreams that one day my sister and I will go to college; she dreams that we will work.  We will be more than beautiful lonely housewives.  She dreams we will never stop.  She dreams that our bodies will never outgrow our laughs, that our hips will never outgrow our chudis, that our faces will never outgrow our bindis, that our hearts will never outgrow our roots, and that our mouths will never outgrow her paniyarams.  That our daughters will love them the same, the same as she loves us.  I remember the day I outgrew that kind of love.  It was at lunch; I was in the first grade.
 
I opened my lunchbox to gleefully greet those flattened magic ellipsoids, spellcast into being by a mother's infinite love, filled with fluttering butterfly kisses from Amma’s paper fingertips and tears.  When she cuts her finger in the kitchen, she does not cry.  The blood she washes off her fingers, the pride that she is not reheating a frozen supermarket-package of artificial sustenance, that is her pièce de résistance.  That is why she bleeds.
 
My paniyarams were not frozen this day.  But my heart still felt a little ways from thawed as I opened my Tupperware lunch container, catching his confident stride out of the corner of my eye.
 
He hacked at their beingness with a laugh.  “What are those?” he threatened, chiseled chin pointing, narrow nose higher, malice towering over brown skin drowning in my own cascading ebony locks, the aroma of hatchet-shaped chicken nuggets and plastic tray wafting from his hands like a noose.  “They look disgusting.”

Of course, I laughed to humor him, piercing the shield of their magic in half with a fork.  “My mom’s creation.  Try one?” 

I wanted to spit the foreign object out from behind my treacherous lips.  Who was mom?  It was Amma.  Always Amma.  But I couldn't get rid of the noxious flavor fogging up my senses.  Because as much as I wanted to rip my own tongue out of my throat, I was the foreign object.  There, at least.  So I bit it instead, feeling the warm blood trickle down the roof of my mouth, and I offered him a morsel of identity, to touch, to gawk at, if not to actually taste.  He accepted the hopeful, blood-hiding smile; smeared the sticky, sweet banana over his fingers; then reached over with his maggot hands to tilt the expectant line of my lips to the floor - “no.  I’m good.”  He laughed away, that day, and I insisted on to his back, slamming fists against the solid air.
 
You NEED to try it.  I need you to try it.  
But he doesn’t hear the voices I do.
 
I bit my tongue, and the sweetness of palm sugar was gone; there were only palms colored crimson, wrapping themselves around my neck like a cobra shawl.
 
The next day, I went home and asked my mother for lunch money.  She asked why.  It was the first time I had ever wanted to buy lunch.  Said she could make paniyarams for me; I always loved them.  I always loved her.  Her wrinkled bark smoothed into a buttered smile, but I refused; I wasn't looking.  She handed me a few bills, reminding me to check whether there was meat.  The money almost slipped out of my fingers then and there, the secrets from my paniyaram-stained lips, but I could not let them go.
 
I wanted hatchet-shaped chicken nuggets, too.

I handed the lunch lady my money and planted myself firmly at the table across from him before I dared to open my eyes and peek at the breaded blobs on my plate, soon to be on my palate.  Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.  All I could see was strangled roots.

Today, I see them everywhere.  I'm slicing through them one by one.  I’m no longer vegetarian.  I'm letting "mom" out without second thoughts.  I'm devoid of bindi ​altogether.  I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  I'm fitting in, at last.  I’m smiling at my new friend, America.  He’s smiling back, wearing hatchet-shaped chicken nuggets on his teeth.


Peer Review

To me, the second to last line was my favorite. I think eating something "foreign" for lunch is something to which many people can relate, and you do a good job of expressing your longing to eat chicken nuggets, the symbol you use to represent being American.


You subtly weave in the idea of assimilating into America, but at the cost of your culture. In the beginning, you put a lot of focus on your Amma and the pain and pride she puts into each and every paniyaram, yet the allure of fitting in overpowers your old identity.


I think I'd like the scene where you buy the nuggets to be expanded. It's a very important scene because you are symbolically choosing American over hindi, so I think you could draw it out to make it more dramatic (and it's a good opportunity to fit in some more descriptions).


Yes. I really love the imagery in the first paragraph.


I think some parts could be cleaned up a little bit, but I think it's a very meaningful and beautiful piece overall.


Reviewer Comments

:)