Excerpt from Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Burnt Sugar

by Avni Doshi

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi X
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 15, 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Daniela Schofield
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Excerpt
Burnt Sugar

Seven sticks of incense burn by the door. I cough and my mother pops her head out of the kitchen. I can smell that she is frying peanuts with cumin seeds in oil. I slip my feet out of my sneakers, which have stretched at the mouth because they're never unlaced. The floor is cold and smells like lemongrass milk. Light pours in through the east-facing window in the kitchen, and Ma is a silhouette. She dumps a bowl of bloated tapioca balls into the pot and covers it to steam.

'Have you had breakfast?' she asks, and I say I haven't even though I have.

I set the table like we used to, with glasses for water and buttermilk, and no spoon for Ma because she likes to eat with her hands. She brings out chillies, red and powdered, green and chopped. The pot is placed directly on the table, and when she lifts the lid, the cloud that conceals the meal inside evaporates.

I help myself to a large spoonful. The tapioca balls bounce on my plate, leaving a glistening trail behind them.

My mouth fills with a first bite. 'Something is missing.'

'What?'

'Salt. Potato. Lemon.'

She takes a bite and sits back in her chair, chewing slowly. I wait for her anger, but she gets up and goes into the kitchen. I hear the suction of the refrigerator door separating and meeting, the clanging of utensils. She comes out with a small tray and places it on the table. There is lemon juice and a shaker of salt.

'What about the potato?'

'Sabudana khichdi doesn't have potato.'

'You always make it with potato.'

She pauses. 'No potato this time.'

I push the food on my plate around and look at her.

'Don't keep looking at me like that.'

'You're not taking this seriously.'

She throws her head back and laughs, and I can see creamy tapioca clinging to the dark fillings at the back of her mouth. 'Taking what seriously?'

'Why did you tell Dilip I'm a liar?'

'I never said that.'

It seems to me now that this forgetting is convenient, that she doesn't want to remember the things she has said and done. It feels unfair that she can put away the past from her mind while I'm brimming with it all the time. I fill papers, drawers, entire rooms with records, notes, thoughts, while she grows foggier with each passing day.

She takes another bite. 'They say when the memory starts to go, other faculties become more powerful.'

'What kind of faculties?'

'There are women who can see past lives, who can talk to angels. Some women become clairvoyant.'

'You're mad.' Reaching into my satchel, I pull out my sketchbook. I turn to the last page and add today's date to a list that contains some forty entries. Next to the date, I write the word 'potato'.

Ma squints at the book and shakes her head. 'How does your husband tolerate you?'

'You're not even married, how would you know?'

Her mouth is open as I speak, and for a moment I think she is mouthing my words as I say them. Have we said these exact sentences to each other before? I wait for a reply but the moments pulse by. My armpits are damp and I feel something inside of me rearing up.

She smiles. Her teeth look sharp in the sunlight, and I wonder if she enjoys these moments, has grown to expect them. My heart is beating faster and my breath is shallow. I welcome this too.

She taps my hand and points to the notebook. 'You should worry about your own madness instead of mine.'

I look down at the list, at the careful lines that form each column, before shutting the book soundlessly. On my plate, the tapioca begins to harden. The temperature between us cools. Within minutes, we forget that harsh words have been exchanged.

We mix a few drops of lemon juice in cups of hot water and go out on to the balcony. Ma has hung a dozen hand-washed bras along a clothing line. Some have been patched and mended.

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Excerpt from the new book Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi published by The Overlook Press © 2021

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