The dried mango giving me a raging toothache at your house was the first sign. As I bit down on the pruned slice, there was a pain born in my upper right gum and a panic lit in my eyes. You offered me a floss-pick and water, both of which I took. Feeling nothing but my teeth with my tongue, I still jammed the floss-pick between molars, finding nothing again. Drinking helped with the pain.
What eased the panic was you smirking and saying that this would be the perfect inspiration for some mango diaspora poetry, that sub-genre ridiculed for its reliance on the mango as a symbol of heritage, because I was already thinking the same thing. Ah, an American-Born Confused Desi, my mind must have conspired that morning. How to confuse her today? An aam-induced toothache, perfect. Turning it into heritage lit would be so easy, and you laughed, and I laughed.
The narrative wrote itself. We came home from our PWIs, both newly singleish, ready to embrace that inherently radical female friendship I heard so much about — and insisted on reading queerly — in English class. Building back our friendship hasn’t been rough but definitely painfully slow. Coming home to a brown bestie thinking all would be right, expecting to be so seen, just to be hit with the small body betrayal of a mango toothache was hilarious, a juicy irony.
I wanted to believe the pain was a corporal protest of the draining and commodifying of our fruit by a private American corporation or some karmic response for accepting the dried mango, and in a desi household too. For the next few weeks, my offended teeth were sensitive to sweets. So, I thought, mystery solved: I really should just floss more. But, on the other hand, maybe this was my body continuing to rebel. Don’t forget your roots, it warns. Just because Trader Joe’s sources its dried mango from somewhere east of India doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
Aam belongs in the homeland, the body says. I wasn’t severely dehydrated in late-June India because of the heat. The body needs water to release glucose, and if it can’t have water, it’ll demand sugar. The dehydration was meant to point me in a certain direction. I went about it all wrong. I looked for chocolate.
When I came back from the hospital a few days later (food poisoning on top of the dehydration), the chusne-wala aam was perfect. My tongue laughed, like, see, if you’d looked for aam instead of a Mars bar of all things, you would’ve been fine.
Remember when I said you could just say Dadi instead of grandmother because we, like, get it? The first time you said Nana to my mom, I felt your hesitation. It was like using a new word in a language class instead of a name you’ve known your whole life.
In elementary school I was best friends with the two other Indian girls in my grade — yeah, those ones — who couldn’t come up with a reason I, despite my Indianness, didn’t like mango. It was the texture. But I loved a good Frooti, eventually a good mango lassi. I acclimated myself to the fruit as I moved to a different middle school from my friends and started to disdain the attention being a mango-repulsed Indian got me. Trevor and Nicole’s fascination with my dispreference felt different from Arpita and Mahek’s.
You told me that despite your stone fruit allergy and its correlating threat of anaphylaxis, your mother microdosed you on mangoes as a child — for the culture. Tell massi I respect that, and to save me a slice.