Editor's Note

When writers write about grief, it’s not only an exploration of the personal but also the emotion through language. Han Kang’s White Book does it through short snippets attached to a particular colour, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief captures the failure of language itself in capturing the intensity of loss.

In the face of loss, not all of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief need to be passed through like a video game. Nor is there an ideal amount of time until you can confidently say I’m done grieving. Joan Didion spent a year hoping her husband would return if only she did certain things right. Sometimes, it is following Instagram recipes of your husband’s favourite salad fruit.

After all, isn’t it the poet Ocean Vuong who said, grief is the ‘last and final translation of love’? With or without the promise of the future. With or without a watermelon.

— Amulya B
The Bombay Literary Magazine

 [For the man who taught me how to love a love that leaks outside the confines of language.]


On Sunday, I bought a large watermelon. It was the last one in a broken cane basket, sitting off centre in the middle of three half-ripe papayas and a few cricket balls worth of pomegranate. Minus the size, it wasn’t anything special to look at. It just felt a little out of place. Like it might roll over and wither away with loneliness if I didn’t take it home today.

Deepika would have made a better face-reader than a fruit vendor because it took her less than five seconds to interrupt whatever the hell was going on in my mind. Bahut mitha hai didi, good price – take for bhaiyya. I smiled because it was drizzling. The monsoons were early this year but I already knew rain meant the end of ripe watermelon.

No fruit you love the summer for belongs in the monsoon, I could still hear Amma say like it was yesterday. Don’t fall for the lower rates! I wish there was a word for when mothers mean to impart wisdom, but they come out more like warnings. Marry a man who loves you more than you love him. That’s the only one I ended up obeying. Though I’m sure, if given the opportunity, Amma would tell a very different story.

As if on cue, the watermelon—nudged by an auntie in a rush—rolled over ever so slightly to reveal a pale, spotty behind. I swear I could almost hear it sigh. There go my dreams of feeding a family of four!

I’m not sure when I started treating objects like they had inner lives of their own. All I know is, I’ve done it for a very long time.

When I was younger, I used to turn all three cows in Amma’s brass set around so they could look out the window instead of inwards, into our living room. Forcing a finite view of the world onto anything felt a little unkind even then. For years, my poor mother couldn’t understand who kept changing their positions. For years, I let her think it was somebody else.

Anyway, I decided to buy the watermelon.


On Monday, I quartered the fruit first.

When Ayaz cut open a watermelon the June before we were married, I was already irritated anticipating the mess he was about to make. Then he came out with two fiddly halves, offering me nothing but an ice cream spoon to scoop out the red flesh, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I have no expectations of you, he seemed to be saying. I may never learn to look after myself properly or slice a fruit the right way, but I won’t make it your problem either.

He let me spit the unwanted seeds into the soil of half-dead plants that lined the window grill and in that moment, the total lack of any rules I was familiar with felt a lot like love.

I surprised both of us when I asked Ayaz to marry me. He surprised me when he said yes.

I’ve learned this particular rabbit hole of memories passes quicker when I don’t avoid them, so I clin-wrapped three-fourths of the remaining watermelon and tucked it away into the large tupperware dabba, which ended up being the only wedding gift we’d ever received. I imagine the dabba felt like it finally had a purpose.

When our families refused to attend our no-ceremony ceremony, we half-expected it. The Ayaz half at least. I think I held on to hope for about three weeks longer. Eventually, we got tired of fighting over it. It’s only going to be you and me in the end, he’d said, so we agreed not to invite anyone else. Mr. Tupperware was the only one who refused our passive rebellion. I suppose he felt some sort of responsibility having introduced us in the first place. The gift was nothing more than misplaced guilt with a blue lid.

Now there’s an awkward picture of the three of us on our wedding day, and if you look closely, you can see the transparent box peeking out from the corner of the frame. Ayaz was the one who’d noticed it months later and burst out laughing. It had felt like a good time to tell him I thought it was a pretty odd, impersonal wedding gift. I can’t remember exactly what Ayaz said at the time, but it was something abstract and unhelpful like you’ll feel differently about it someday.

Maybe there was something to it. In this moment, the dabba did feel like a good home for uncomfortable feelings. Something you can put on ice for the future, to deal with on another day.

Suddenly, even a small bowl of watermelon felt like too much to stomach. Elaborate breakfasts of spicy fried eggs, buttered poi, and even pol sambol when energy permitted, were more of an Ayaz thing. It all seemed like too much effort now.

Luckily, Tripod, the three-legged dog who had started making himself at home in our garden these past few months, showed up. Eight squares, painstakingly de-seeded, weren’t enough for him. So I bent down and offered him a few licks of my mouth before washing the juice off myself.


On Tuesday, we had a long power cut. Hardly a shock to the system in this sleepy, seaside village. But four hours was a long time even by our standards. When the electricity finally returned, I’d missed most of my deadlines so I scrolled aimlessly through my feed for a few minutes while thinking about what to do with the rest of my evening. Naturally, I stumbled into a series of weird watermelon recipes, which was neither a coincidence nor a surprise. Ayaz was always muttering about privacy-invading algorithms and the evils of big tech when we lived together in this little, rose house.

Unlike him, I didn’t have as much to worry about in ways of either governments or agendas. It seemed more likely that anybody gathering data on me would move on quickly, citing a total lack of stimulation.

Phone-Spy: Subject sometimes talks to herself. She has no company besides a three-legged dog who seems to be taking advantage of her.

Big Tech: Abort mission. Delete all data on @rochelle24.

The first recipe asked for the rind. I carefully dug out the watermelon waste I’d discarded the previous day, washing and setting it aside to dry. Thankfully, there was nobody around to notice. An hour later, after grinding it up into a batter with soaked white rice and fresh coconut, Kalingana Polo was born. Some kind of Mangalorean dosa courtesy a column in The Kodaikanal Chronicle that promised it would be ‘impossibly crisp with the faintest whiff of sweet.’ It was. In fact, I was so impressed with the accuracy of the promise I wondered what my cousin Kavi would make of it.

Before all the circumstantial weirdness wedged its way in between us, she’d taken me under her wing–making it her business to teach me many of the things adults never put a premium on. Like how to break a promise quickly and effectively by using my index finger to mark an ‘X’ on my throat. I immediately used this newfound knowledge on my sister, who had been using a ‘God Promise’ extracted with tickles and mind games to enslave me into doing her bidding for nearly six months by then. She was livid to lose her power over me.

In a moment of pure gratitude, I remember asking Kavi what I could do for her in return. Stop making promises. Nobody keeps them, she’d smiled. And then there was the afterthought. Maybe you can design my wedding dress one day.

That day had come and gone, I’d heard. One of the many beads of family news I’d strung together thanks to Lali Auntie, who still called once a year to check if I was alive and report back to whoever cared. It could be that she was just a Gossip. It’s another thing that these days, even gossip feels a lot like connection.

When I sat down to try and work again, I couldn’t concentrate. Different versions of Kavi’s face through our childhood rearranged themselves in my mind like a fever dream, as though there were clues in there somewhere about how she might look today. Was her face still full, like she was hiding half an apple in each of her cheeks? Did she still walk on her toes like a ballet dancer? Did she still suck down half-cigarettes in secret to convince herself that she wasn’t a smoker? It gave me some comfort to realise that people’s smiles rarely change, and Kavi’s was a particularly memorable one. It was one of those wide-eyed specialties that took over the entire face, showing full rows of teeth and creased heavily around the eyes; her lips turning downwards on both ends. Just like that, I decided to draw her a wedding dress anyway.

It came out unconventional. Pale, cream chikankari fabric instead of white lace, a plunging neckline, one thigh high slit. The cartoonish bride, my version of adult Kavi with a smile that leaked out of her face, held hands with an anonymous man in a tuxedo who had a watermelon for a head. Amma would think it’s silly, I thought, and that was enough to make me smile.

When the sketch was complete, I folded it up and put it in a used envelope before scribbling a quick note on the back.

“To the person who taught me how to break a promise, I remembered an old one I wanted to keep today. I hope your wedding turned out to be everything you wanted it to be, and that I can put a face to your watermelon man one day.


Auntie Maria, our friendly neighbourhood inquirer, seemed surprised to see me emerge earlier than usual the next morning to drop the letter into the red post box outside our lane. On my way back home, I raised my hand up to her in a half-hearted wave. She looked pretty shocked by the gesture but she smiled and waved back all the same.
It was the first full smile I’d seen since all this mask business began.


Wednesday was the first sunny day all week. I cut up another block of the watermelon, careful not to discard anything this time around. I was determined to make Ayaz’s favourite salad for lunch. It had nothing to do with my non-existent diet these past few months and everything to do with the fact that I was beginning to accept I’d have to live here alone. This salad was going to be my first attempt since this realisation.

It assembled itself fairly quickly. Good muscle memory, perhaps? I’ve been told it runs in the family though I’m not sure it’s ok to reference heredity when every other link has been severed. Within seconds, I’d berated myself for the thought. Another famous Thomas family trait– cross-examine your own ideas until you’re too paralysed to do anything about them. My father would have found that observation funny.

Remembering the recipe was a good distraction. Once the rind looked ready for carving, I cut it up into cubes and tossed it into the pressure cooker with haldi, salt, laal mirchi powder and water in preparation for dinner. Think of it as a nice sauna after all that time in the fridge, I told it. Then I closed the lid and felt a little bit sad. The recipe had said the texture would make the rind a substitute for great white pumpkin and I wondered why we put so much effort into transforming things into something else entirely. Fruit to vegetable. Man to monk. Wife to some kind of widow.

I could hear the version of Ayaz that always lives in my head tell me not to be so damn dramatic and I smiled. It was the version that always brought calm to my chaos. Like the three months I’d spent unable to get out of bed because my sister refused to return any of my calls. Or the six months we spent looking for a home that would allow him, with his last name from hell, to be on the lease. Spoiler alert–we never did. I realise now, I never did ask him how he felt about that. At the time, I just assumed we were both equally relieved to have a roof over our heads but with everything that’s happened in the last few months, I know what it feels like to be insecure about the future.

I don’t know if it was the unresolved questions in my mind, or the adrenaline from all the cooking, but I decided this new recipe would be better shared.

In an hour, everything was planned. Adil, one of the only pre-Ayaz friends I’d kept in touch with, felt like a safe choice. He and his new, vegan girlfriend would come over around seven for dinner. New and vegan are the only ways I have to categorise Anushka, even though it’s been two years since they first got together. I think it’s because it still feels like we’re meeting for the very first time, every single time we meet. Also because she still has the zeal of a recent convert.

The rest of the afternoon was spent spring cleaning in preparation for the first company I’d had in months. At some point, I put the few pictures of Ayaz and me that lay around the house away. It felt like a good way to avoid conversations I wasn’t ready to have. As it stood, I hadn’t even fully admitted to myself how lost I was without him.

After enough small talk assisted by Feni and sprite, I watched eagerly as Anushka spooned her first bite of my Fake White Pumpkin Sambar a la Instagram algorithm and Begun Bhaja a la Amma into her mouth. Her face lit up. For a moment, I felt surprisingly tender towards both Ayaz and my mother. Both dishes had connections to them from some other life, from some other time. It was nice to see them working together for a change. For the record, I’d always believed that they could, had either of them given the other a chance.

Something seemed to shift when I told Anushka the white pumpkin was actually watermelon rind and conversation flowed more easily after. We discussed the strangeness of the last few months and I thought of how Amma used to say the right spice mix can unwind even the oldest wounds. It had been a long time since I had recalled her fondly so I scrawled the recipe out on the back of some old taxes I was yet to file and handed it to Anushka as they were leaving. She took my number so she could share some recipes of her own, probably assuming I was vulnerable enough to consider veganism.

Adil seemed to read my mind and gave me a conspiratorial smile. I think we could both hear Ayaz’s over-reaction towards even the suggestion of this turning into a vegan household. In many ways, Ayaz and my relationship with food seemed to be the only thing we had had in common growing up. Something, I had naively imagined, our families could bond over one day. Ayaz must have been less optimistic about our fate, because he busied himself with learning every Thomas family recipe he could when we first started dating.

I wasn’t fully prepared for human contact in the form of goodbye hugs that came next. Hopefully, they didn’t feel me flinch.

Later, Adil messaged to thank me for making an effort to get to know his girlfriend. Apparently, I was the first of his friends to successfully break the ice. He also apologised for not asking how I was doing without Ayaz around, but that he wasn’t sure I’d want to talk about it in front of Anushka.

This open acknowledgement of multiple things we had never acknowledged before made me feel a bit awkward so I sent him a Homer Simpson meme in response.


Big Tech:See? She never gives any worthwhile data! Like we needed another Homer Simpson meme.

Phone-Spy: Ok, ok. I really thought that the ‘you can heal your own trauma’ advertisement would work on her.

Big Tech: Would you stop with that stupid ad–it never works!

Phone-Spy: Deleting all data on @rochelle24. I repeat, deleting all data.


That night, I dreamed we were growing a giant white pumpkin in our garden that looked like it was about to explode. A family of mice lived inside of it and Ayaz kept telling me that everything was going to be fine. He tried to take me back inside to meet his Ammi, but I couldn’t go with him. I couldn’t move at all.


By Thursday, the mere sight of the watermelon was nauseating. It was far too much for one person and I shouldn’t have ever bought it. I walked out onto the porch expecting to find Tripod, thinking I could give him all of what remained and hoping it wouldn’t upset his stomach. Naturally, he wasn’t there because he had a knack for showing up only when you weren’t looking. Auntie Maria seemed to be struggling to clean her terracotta-tiled roof next door so I offered to help her instead. She was thrilled. I was glad to have any distraction from my watermelon worries.

When it was done, she offered to make me some nimboo pani. By then, I had noticed the crepe band-aid around her ankle so I went back home and brought her some watermelon juice instead. This way, she wouldn’t have to hobble around. We sat together, enjoying our drinks on her almost identical front lawn when Tripod finally showed up. He seemed pleased to receive double the affection for half the effort.

Come for dinner sometime sweetheart, Maria smiled at me when I started to make my way back home. We could also use some company.

Had she always been this warm, or did Ayaz’s absence have something to do with it? I’ll admit that felt cynical–even for me.


On Friday, the last portions of the over friendly fruit in my fridge didn’t feel like enough. Adil had mentioned our dinner to another friend, Varun, and Goa’s grapevine had done the rest. In the last twenty four hours, I’d heard from three people I hadn’t kept in touch with for over a year. This morning, an old friend had invited herself over for an afternoon chat. She claimed it was to check in on me but there was a hint of a crack in her voice, which sounded an awful lot like Auntie Maria’s. I didn’t want the company but I couldn’t bring myself to turn her down either. I made another batch of just-in-case juice, since it had allowed for some comfortable silence yesterday. It gave me some satisfaction to see some space in the fridge free up.

She spoke a lot and struggled to listen, though she sometimes interspersed stories from her own life with random advice strewn in my general direction. At some point, she diagnosed me with PTSD and I didn’t know how to feel about that. Especially because we hadn’t had anything to eat in hours. But when the evening was over, she said she was glad we had met, and that made me feel a little better too. Then, with no warning whatsoever, she said something like these past few months have been hard on all of us, Rochelle. And just like that, she was gone.

I kept sitting on the porch long after she’d left, thinking about all the things I wish I’d said in the moment. But in the end I came back to Amma, Acha and the whole world of people I’d left behind for Ayaz, who wasn’t even here anymore. It seems I always do come back.

That night I dreamed of the giant white pumpkin again, only there were no mice, no Ayaz and no garden. It was just me and the pumpkin that still looked like it was about to explode. I woke up at 4.32 am feeling a little bit sick. I put on all the lights and ate some watermelon in my room, not really bothering about the juice dripping on the sheets.

Ayaz hated it when I ate on the bed.


Saturday morning was tough. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I couldn’t decide if it was acidity from the late night fruit binge or my friend’s visit that had left me feeling so depleted. Why did people feel the need to bring up the past all the time? And who the hell was she to diagnose me with anything at all?

So I lay there for a few hours, feeling angrier than I had in a while, allowing the lizard who sometimes patrols my room to get dangerously close to the bed. For some reason, I never allowed Ayaz to catch or kill it. I think some part of me felt guilty about hurting the only other living thing that had witnessed so much.

All the hours I spent crying. To Ayaz at first, when he was still able to comfort me; and when too much time had passed, by myself. How could he understand, anyway. He, who never had had any familial relationships worth fighting for in the first place. All the conversations I had with my imaginary family whenever I had the house to myself. Even five years later, I catch myself asking Amma questions when I least expect it. How does the person who’s always the first to dance at a party, become the first to refuse her own daughter’s wedding? Was she just protecting my father’s fragile convictions, or had I always misunderstood their dynamic? How does a woman who was always nurturing of strangers, lack the room in her heart for the only man I ever loved? I’m not sure having any answers would help. It’s always been easier to keep any happier memories locked up to protect Ayaz and my sanctuary by the seaside. Those final police threats had made this seem like the only sustainable choice.

Vishu was always the hardest though. Ayaz and I had kept all religious ceremonies out of our home for obvious reasons, but every part of my body yearned on that one day of the year to be leaning into my favourite aunt Laxmi Ammai’s shoulder, after she’d fed all us cousins her famous Sadhya. Those meals were only made more satisfying because we’d all be woken at dawn by my mother, eyes held tightly shut till we sat before a platter of fruit in front of a mirror and some gold lanterns. A simple ushering in of a New Year.

When we were younger, Amma would placate my irritation at an incomplete sleep cycle by placing the bananas horizontally in front of the elaborate set-up. It’s God’s smile on earth, she’d say, eyes twinkling. Year after year, Vishu after Vishu. I had always liked that idea.

Even years after we had forsaken our Gods.

Something about it reminded me of the last sliver of watermelon that remained, cut exactly like a smile. So I got out of bed and took it out on the porch to savour it, just in time for sunset.

I wasn’t expecting Tripod so of course he was there, waiting eagerly for his share of my spoils. We sat on the porch and ate quietly, side by side, sinking our teeth into the red flesh in sync.

Until our own lips took the shape of a smile.


On Sunday morning, the fruit drawer in the fridge was finally empty. I wasn’t hungry anyway so I picked up the newspaper and sat on the wobbling chair Ayaz had restored last summer. I think he felt the need to contribute to every corner of the house with his own hands to feel the ownership we didn’t have the energy to fight for on paper.

Aviation Minister Says Domestic Flights To Resume In A ‘Calibrated’ Manner by December.

Everything spun for a second. When I’d collected myself, I carried a few of the watermelon seeds I’d been saving in a small glass bowl for other unforeseen recipes and scattered them in a small patch of free garden next to Auntie Maria’s house. On my lips, a prayer. Something Amma used to chant when she was looking for things that were lost. Ratan Bhagat Taree Kha, Ratan Bhagat Taree Kha.

I looked for discount codes, screenshot a suitable ticket, and stuck the remaining seeds in the pattern of a flower on December 15th. Then I attached the flight details in an email and sent it to ayazishere@gmail.com.

Subject: Watermelon for Two?


Image credits: by Varun Nair. Acrylic on canvas.

We don’t often get works specifically drawn to complement a contribution. We are grateful to Varun for giving this gorgeous artwork on very short notice. For us, it has the qualities of an abstract still life, a quality also reflected in this story of a woman coming to terms with a beloved’s passing. The philosopher Zeno talked about the paradox of the flight of an arrow– at each moment, he argued, the arrow is still, so how can we say it has moved at all. This is one of those moments of the flight of grief’s arrow.


Varun Nair is a multi-disciplinary artist living and working in Goa, India. At the centre of his practice is the dialogue of story telling through his paintings and music. The use of vibrant colours  and metaphorical language is a crucial element in his work. His medium of choice varies  from acrylics and inks on canvas and found objects to fabric and clay.

Varun says he is deeply influenced by his natural surroundings in the tropics and draws influences from the regions’ folklore, colour, sounds, smells and tastes.

For more of his work, check out his Insta hangout @squidworks.


Mandovi is a creative director, writer and media entrepreneur who is best known for shaping independent publications at the forefront of culture-building and social impact in India. Whether helming platforms like Apalam Chapalam, The Dirty Magazine, and Homegrown or crafting strategy, design and campaigns for brands via her new studio, Egodeath, a mixed media approach to meaningful storytelling underpins everything she does.

Previous honours include a place on Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 list, Asia Society’s 21 Young Leaders Fellowship, Vogue Global Network’s 50 Young Trailblazers Around The World, and Lured Magazine’s 15 Creatives Defining The New India. Mandovi also prefers writing poetry to bios, collects instant noodles that confound google translate, and hides a folder full of original fiction with instructions to publish posthumously. Watermelon for One is her first published short story and she’s currently recovering from the shock that some people may read her work while she’s still alive!

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