Bananas that Impregnate and Other Food Myths


Bananas that Impregnate and Other Food Myths

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

Last week, a friend delivered a healthy baby girl, who as it turns out, was born with a head full of hair. While the mother insisted (quite naturally) that the baby was the cutest she had ever seen, the rest of us didn’t quite agree. Let’s face it, some babies get smacked with the ugly stick on their way out. This bundle of joy had merely scraped through.

Anyway, while pictures were taken and Facebook statuses about feeling blessed were updated, as if it were Christ’s Second Coming in a non-patriarchal God-is-a-guy way, in walked the mother-in-law, calling dibs on holding the infant. She let out a deep gasp on observing the curly wisps of black hair on the infant’s noggin. The rest of us we’re ushered out and we could hear the words “sour”, “pickle” and “processed”. Turns out, saasu maa was chiding my friend for her love of all things sour, which included pickles, sausage, and salami, while having a bun in the oven. Her cravings it seems were “responsible for the baby being born with hair”. The other thing responsible for that head full of hair was apparently the heartburn the mother experienced during her pregnancy, as if her gastric juices were natural hair-growth elixirs.

The mythology of India is a rich and storied one, with tales about gods, goddesses, and sages, but the mythology of food is even more celebrated. These are part old wives’ tale, part food fallacy with a generous tadka of hearsay, and the best ones revolve around pregnancy.

My favourite is the one that my mum and grandmum claim most emphatically: That twins are the result of eating twin bananas – the small, yellow elaichi bananas that are sometimes conjoined, courtesy a fused peel. These bananas are simply banned in the house. Because these little mutant bananas are believed to be a bad omen and consuming them means the coming of twins. OR *Cue dramatic music* Siamese twins!

I might go bankrupt paying alimony because eating out of a pan could mean divorce, according to Goan nanas.

Anything that comes in twos is sign of Satan at work, they believe. Eating double-yolked eggs apparently invites the wrath of god himself. There have been times when I’ve tried eating elaichi bananas only to have my mum dramatically swat them out of my hand, as if the fruit would single-handedly grow a uterus inside me and place two oddly fused zygotes. She once grabbed the bananas and ate them in front of me with a dangerous look in her eyes that said, “Look what I’ve done for you son. I love you so much.” Somehow the bananas didn’t seem to give her twins. But still, my mother and her tribe never look upon logic as a stumbling block to their firm beliefs.

As kids, we often visited a friend, whose mum, Mrs Roy, would cook her famous bhappa mackerel for us. We’d gorge on it like urchins in Oliver Twist, often making complete asses of ourselves. We’d swipe the fish off another’s plate when they weren’t looking. One day, immediately after the meal, I remember reaching for some ice-cold Rooh Afza and milk, only to be stopped by an agitated Mrs Roy, who gave me a death stare, for even thinking of consuming milk and fish together.

Once Mrs Roy calmed down, she told the gathering about the adverse effect a combination of lactose and fish protein could have on the human epidermis. I wondered what had made Mrs Roy sacrifice her promising career in dermatology.

But anyway, my dry and patchy skin has been saved, thanks to the healing power of Vaseline. I can quaff a quart of milk and eat a whole snapper right out of the pan without looking like Scarface. But there is a downside to this. I might go bankrupt paying alimony because eating out of a pan could mean divorce, according to Goan nanas. Apparently, every time you walk to the fridge in the middle of the night and dig into some leftovers, ignoring all decency, civility, and cutlery, your current or future spouse could leave you for another. Forget unfaithfulness, forget domestic violence, forget arranged marriages, the real reason for India’s climbing rate of divorce is eating out of cooking utensils.

Thankfully, old wives’ tales are just as real as Arjun Rampal’s acting talent, or else I’d be one of many men who would have given birth to hairy twins, who’d probably inherit my patchy, pale skin. And my wife would then leave me, not because I am a man producing babies but because I ate some fried rice straight out of a wok.

Go figure!