My parents became two opposite people every time we traveled to Bangalore, both trying to cram everything they missed about India into one month. They seemed to revert back into their adolescent selves, each staying with a set of grandparents three blocks away from each other, my father eating six meals a day to keep both his father and his mother-in-law happy.
He would pick me up from my maternal grandparents’ house and take me in an auto-rickshaw to Gandhi Bazaar, a chaotic market filled with all varieties of snacks, spices, and trinkets. I loved these trips. My father seemed a rogue, eating the seductive forbidden street snacks and smoking cigarettes while I drank my grandmother’s specially prepared boiled, filtered water from a bottle.
It was in the middle of Gandhi Bazaar, I saw him do something baffling for the first time. From a street vendor, he picked up a luscious, fragrant tomato and bit into it, like an apple. “DAD!!! That’s a TOMATO! You can’t eat it like that!” He shook his head sadly at my ignorance. “In India you can. You don’t get tomatoes like this in Minnesota, not even from the farmer’s market. They are fruits, you know.”
When he dropped me off at my mother’s house (I preferred staying there due to far better mosquito control and food), she exclaimed at my dirty feet, making me scrub them on the stone floor before making my favorite dish of cucumber-tomato Raita, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and home-made yoghurt. My mother’s true love of tomatoes only manifested itself in the dead of our Minnesota winters. Under fluorescent lights in the grocery aisles, she would look at the pale, dry tomatoes, and almost come to tears. “They look like vampires got to them first and sucked out all of their life! Do you remember how delicious the Raita was at your Ajji’s house, Malli?” “Yes, Mom,” I would say, embarrassed at her vivid show of emotion in the produce section.
My parents, possessing strong ideals about the way I should live my life, showed little support for any of my life decisions: college major, husband, job, home. It is amazing—the first and only time I have ever glimpsed true pride in my abilities from my parents was last fall, upon tasting my home-grown organic Brandywines and Green Zebras. “They taste even better than the tomatoes in INDIA!” my mother exclaimed. My father, never one to verbally express his affection, picked one up and bit into it like an apple.
Mallika "Nightshade" Nocco is an agroecologist, a founder of Plant Love Stories, and a 2017 Smith Fellow. This story (previously published here) once won her free tickets to TomatoFest.