Some thoughts on bananas
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Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash
We had bananas with pancakes for breakfast today. I went to the kitchen and sliced a banana with my fork into fat wedges. My father put two chunks of butter in the pan and the butter frolicked about the pan having an amazing time even though the end was nearing, which is the sort of attitude we should all take to heart. The bananas went into the pan, first on the half that had no butter at all because I was scared the butter would leap up and burn me. My father nearly grabbed my plate to do it himself. Nothing activates a father like the faintest whiff of incompetence. Anyway I did it and the banana wedges spent a while sitting in the frothy excitable butter like hippos in a hot spring. My father sprinkled sugar on one side and flipped over the wedges with the pointy end of a knife, treating the other side just the same. Then the wedges came sliding onto my plate with a lovely wet sound and my breakfast transformed into a symphony.
Pancakes are cool and deserve a separate blog post, don’t misunderstand me. As a Malayali who could eat dosa for every meal of the day the concept of a pancake has the ring of ancient truth. Some of my most loving memories are associated with pancakes, such as waiting in the kitchen while my best friend made me pancakes on her birthday. But this morning we had bananas with pancakes, not the other way around. Caramelised banana is a discovery no matter how many times you’ve had it. It remains slimy, especially when you’ve diced it as thick as I did, but grows a crispy browned patina that peels away if prodded, delicate as sunburn. If you’ve been impatient, you get the buttery crunch of sugar granules that escaped their melting. All of this works because of the fundamental nature of the banana: it isn’t too sweet to begin with.
No fruit is quite like banana, except maybe plantains, which are so similar to bananas they are scarcely plantains. Nearly all other fruits have imitators. If you want citrus but you don’t have an orange around, there are about a thousand alternatives. But who can offer what the banana has to offer? I was raised on mashed banana paste for my toothless gums. I learned to preserve Cadbury bars by folding the purple cover back on the chocolate, a trick I’d learned first by eating bananas. When I was at my lowest in college I was always able to find comfort in buying a lone banana for two rupees. When I die I hope someone sticks a banana sapling in my ashes. Bananas have preceded me and they will outlast me and they are good. Bananas are good. That’s really all I’m trying to say.
Sometimes I am so calmed by the presence of bananas that I forget to eat them. A twelve-bunch will sit on the corner of our dining table like a mystical lodestone until my father who brought them home threatens bloody violence and my mother hurriedly puts some into the muffin batter. I shouldn't forget to eat bananas. There is nothing more tragic than a banana going overripe because no one ate it. It evokes the tragedy of seeing a pop star you admire turn to drugs at a young age. I once picked up a bunch of six bananas to wipe the table underneath, each banana bright yellow and heavy. I did not realise how heavy, until every single banana turned, gently as if in sleep, and detached from their stem. The household rallied and we managed to eat them all within the next two days, but the incident has made me careful. The fullness of the banana demands evenly spaced pleasure. It is no good cramming bananas, unless you are eating the tiny bananas, in which case please go ahead.
I watched a bit of Maniyarayile Ashokan the other day, a film about a short man who is insecure about his height and can’t convince anyone to marry him (though I personally found him wonderfully sweet and would not have needed much convincing). For some extra spice, his jathagam predicts that the first person he marries will die. There is no solution but to wed a banana tree. And with this premise, we are blessed with scenes of Ashokan tending to his banana tree, sitting next to it in a collapsible chair and reading the newspaper aloud, running to its defense in the middle of the night when he hears banana robbers. Then he goes away, and someone chops down his beloved. He returns to find two small saplings growing around the white stem, at the point of severance. His children, of course. I don’t have any point to this narration, other than to say that one day I would like the honour of tending to a banana plant and spiritually fathering its banana saplings.
I hope you are safe and supported on this Saturday, wherever you are. I hope you’re having a banana.