Mysore Masala with Extra Cheese: A Food Essay by Supriya Rakesh

Illustrated by Nidhi Joshi @thatnoviceartist




(Winner of Bound’s Food Essay Contest)


The year was 1999.


As the world was faced with anxieties over the Y2K transition, I was navigating a big transition of my own. From a sheltered life of school and home, into the big bad world of junior college. From lining up for the school bus to jostling into a local train. From uniforms to fashion choices. From home-packed lunches to eating out.


The possibilities were endless, frightening and delicious.


Thank god my best friend Tess would be there with me! Both our parents were highly relieved that after running through a roulette of choices, we had landed together on the same college- Podar College of Commerce and Economics.


On the day of admissions, we caught the 11:45 slow from Ghatkopar to Matunga, all by ourselves, for the very first time.


I wore a pink t-shirt with boot cut jeans, and my new platform shoes. A pair of contacts replaced the thick glasses of my teenage past.


We walked the ten-minute distance from Matunga station to our college, taking in every little detail, every sight, sound and smell that would be home for the next five years. Feeling the pangs of excited hunger, our feet came to a halt at a tiny udupi restaurant, Sharada Bhavan.


We took a seat by the window, next to the kitchen, at a table meant for four. The waiter anna came over to take our order, smiling indulgently, rattling out names and varieties of dishes at breathless speed.


Paper dosa was our final consensus.


We knew we had tasted freedom, and we were hungry for more.”


At Rs. 18, it was within our modest budget, yet large enough to be shared by two.

We watched the cook as he made the dosa on a wide, round tawa.



First, he churned the white batter with a large ladle, then laid it out in dollops, spreading them into ever-widening concentric circles. He dressed it with oil and we watched the dosa sizzle and dance, turn and flip, grease and glide, until it was a finished golden brown. Then, it arrived at our table, folded into a roll on a plate too small to contain its grandeur, flanked on either side by white chutney and sambar in tiny unassuming bowls.



We bit into the delightful papery crunch, fighting over the crispy edges. We knew we had tasted freedom, and we were hungry for more.



It’s strange to think now that Tess and I hadn’t always been friends.



Despite living in the same neighborhood and studying in the same school, we had sort of existed around each other for years. We were members of groups that couldn’t see eye to eye, divided by differing definitions of what is nerdy and what is cool.



But towards the middle of class 9, the invisible barriers had dissolved. A common math tutor and conflicts with existing friends forged a bond that sustained itself through a mutual fascination for film, fashion, mystery novels, and food.



Matunga, in the heart of Mumbai city, was just the place to explore all of that!



Together, we devoured every day of our college life, every moment and experience gobbled swiftly in large chunky bites. We made new friends, and by the end of the year, our friendship group had culminated into a feisty ‘girl-gang’.



Every noon, we would skip classes to assemble on the katta, the low concrete compound wall of the gymkhana grounds opposite our college building. Our first bite of the day was a roadside Bombay sandwich from Subhash sandwichwalla, who was more of an institution than a person sitting next to his makeshift stall.


“Yes, in those days, we would do anything to never have to return home.”



Scarcity of space in central Mumbai meant that campus was more of an idea, a construct. Without physical boundaries, it extended as far and wide as our imaginations would allow. Streets and lanes, cafes and restaurants, parks and cinemas, parked cars and bikes; everything in the vicinity and periphery of our college building.


In rainy July, when we arrived drenched and dripping, warmth awaited us in the form of a veg toast sandwich. Steamed potato and amul butter, over hot coals in a rustic, hand-held toaster. In the sultry October, it was rose lime at the juicewalla next to the neighboring Ruia college. And when the weather was just right, like in January, a longer walk towards Five Gardens or the by-lanes of Dadar Hindu colony, in search of vada pav.


When we wanted to feel cool and trendy, we went for burgers at Snow Point, although they always gave me heartburn. Or for chinese bhel at DPs, with root beer served out of tap in real beer glasses! The indulgent ice-cream cake here was reserved for birthday treats and special occasions.


But all of these were just flings. Eventually, we would return to our first love, dosa and Udupi cafes. Inexpensive and unpretentious, earthy and nutritious, they came closest to the home food we were avoiding and resisting with such fervor.


Yes, in those days, we would do anything to never have to return home.




“Under the surface, they were about how different we were from each other.”


In 2017, when I moved back to Mumbai, I landed up at a heritage food walk of Matunga, curious and nostalgic to discover it anew. I walked down memory lane- starting from King Circle at the crossroads between Madras and Mysore cafés, passing early-bird Ram Ashray, then Rama Nayak with their generous thaali, ending at good old Sharada Bhavan.


This was my life once. So many outlets, so many options!


The unassuming plain dosa. The carb-rich masala. The greasy kick of a translucent rava. The thick fluffy onion uthapam. Don’t get me wrong, we did appreciate the occasional idli, or a vada, on a particularly off day. But they could hardly compare to the slightly oily, roasted fullness of a well-cooked crisp dosa.


By the second year, we had our favorites. Tess’s was mysore masala, mine was cheese.


We often argued over the relative merits of each. These were of course mock arguments, a prelude to ordering both. But our common friends pointed out that they reflected something deeper. Under the surface, they were about how different we were from each other.


It was true. And we both knew it.


Tess was bold, confident, outspoken. I was docile, shy, introverted. She wore her hair up and her jeans too long. I wore my hair in layers, and my skirts a little short. She was athletic, played both hockey and basketball. I played dumb charades and snuck Nancy Drew into sports class.


She grooved to fast English beats by her stereo, I swooned to old Hindi melodies on the radio. She had a boyfriend and real-life romance, I had secret crushes who I admired from a distance.


We were like chalk and cheese. Or like mysore masala and cheese. She, a rush of spice, fiery and blunt. I, comforting and vanilla… with a soft, mushy, cheesy center.


Together, we were formidable. Mysore masala with cheese. A rare, eccentric combination. She kept me on my toes, a ready kick in the pants, giving me courage and forward momentum. And I kept her feet on the ground, giving her a cushion, a heart, a listening ear. Together, we raised eyebrows, broke hearts, analyzed our friends, and passed gossip in a secret code language. I listened patiently to her boyfriend drama. She laughed off my weight-gain laments.


Somehow, we still graduated to senior college with honors and accolades. Then, like herds of others around us, we embarked on the long and treacherous path towards a CA degree.




“The façade of a life I had shaped myself into, of fun and friendship, was slowly crumbling.”


My mom rarely approved of my choices, particularly in friendships.


With Tess, she was majorly conflicted and wavered tremendously on the good influence/ bad influence scale, before relaxing into warm acceptance.


Yes, she wore shorts. Shopped only in Bandra. Drank wine. But these were somewhat permissible as Tess was a Catholic. Mom believed in different standards for different girls, and Maharashtrian girls, particularly me, were held to the highest ones.


Also, and more importantly, Tess was good at studies. Scored high marks. Wanted to be a Chartered Accountant. Of course, my parents knew that she was the reason I could be persuaded away from my fantasies of literature, onto a stable, sensible career path.


Thus began a mad frenzy of underpaid internship, exams and coaching classes.


Every day at 10:30 am, after devoting our early mornings to the katta, Tess and I made our way to Nariman point for our jobs as CA ‘articled clerks’. Studently restrictions dissolved and our worlds expanded further; in geography and choices, colleagues and budgets.


Lunches at Status and Stadium. Tawa pav bhaji next to Maker Bhavan. Kesar Falooda at Shiv Sagar. Mexican enchiladas at Relish. Tandoor paneer at Pizzeria. Berry pulao at Britannia. After a long day, a stop at Khau gully next to VT station was mandatory, before boarding the fast train to three hours of class-room claustrophobia.


Within a year and half, we had passed our Intermediate exams. Tess wanted to move from our mid-sized firm to the Big Four, and I followed suit. Our work took us to different corners of the city, sometimes together, sometimes alone.


We learnt that both people and dosa came in different varieties and temperaments.


Some were Ragi, humble and wholesome. Or snow-white Neer, sophisticated and sweetened, with oodles of jaggery-coconut charm. Some were like a Schezwan, full of international airs and aspirations. Or like the shrewd Ulundu, a vada masquerading in dosa form.


Life was lived by the clock, with extra masala and extra cheese.


On the outside, we were this dynamic duo, conquering the world in tandem, one step at a time. But within me, something was shifting. The façade of a life I had shaped myself into, of fun and friendship, was slowly crumbling.


I felt like an imposter at work, and pangs of loneliness would grip me in the evenings, on the way home. Once or twice a month, a strange and painful exhaustion took over, making it difficult to get out of bed. At the young age of 21, I was already burning out.


Looking back, I can see that no delectable dish could fulfill the void within, the soul’s hunger, from being so far away, so disconnected from the path of my heart.




“We learnt that both people and dosa came in different varieties and temperaments.”


As we moved towards graduation, divisions and cracks had already started to appear in our friendship. Individual selves that had once been free and liquid, were now solidifying, taking shape, crispy edges on a finished golden brown.


Small things became enormously exasperating.


Tess scoffed at my fondness for Barista cafes and willingness to spend 50 Rs. on a cup of cappuccino. She couldn’t understand why I preferred a quiet dinner or watching a play on my birthday. I, in turn, held contempt for her ‘superficial’ ideas of fun – clubs, dancing and alcohol. She was frustrated by my passivity, my never-ending wait for true love, urging me to grab the moment. I reeled against her reckless approach to relationships, cautioning her to slow down and think twice.


The differences had always been there, but the disconnect and discontent was growing. We gravitated towards more like-minded friends, started concealing parts of our lives.


After graduation, Tess wanted to move abroad, scale career heights, find greater degrees of freedom. I wanted to stay home, discover my true self and switch careers. The modest udupi corner could no longer contain our growing aspirations and emerging identities, as we dove headlong into adulthood.


I will not say it happened suddenly. But it did happen eventually.


“No, we did not stay best friends through the years, yet remained connected through the slightest of threads.”


We both finished our CA, Tess first and I, six months later.


She flew across continents, worked a finance career and partied hard, before eventually settling down in UK. I fell in love (finally!), drank a lot of expensive coffee, and switched careers, several times.


No, we did not stay best friends through the years, yet remained connected through the slightest of threads. Birthday messages, cheeky comments on pictures and posts, the rare meeting when we happened to be in Mumbai at the same time. Despite an adolescent commitment to be mutual bridesmaids, we missed each other’s weddings.


Until last year, when we found ourselves sitting in my new apartment, not far from our childhood homes, basking in the warmth of an old familiarity. The air outside was heavy with the smog of a never-ending pandemic, and the grief of recently, and unexpectedly, losing both our mothers.


After receiving her messages about being in town and why, an urgent meeting felt imperative.


Starbucks? I suggested a convenient catch-up nearby.


Isn’t there a dosa place? She replied, with a green, nauseous emoji.


So, I invited her home and requested dosas from our family cook. They came, ten packed tightly in foil-wrap, with aloo subzi on the side. They were homemade, healthful, low on masala, cooked in just a spoonful of oil.


By the time she arrived, after a tough and tiresome day, the dosas had grown cold, a little soft and chewy. I served them with fresh filter coffee, in an Udupi-style tumbler. Tess said they were delicious. I agreed.




Supriya RakeshSupriya Rakesh is an author, social researcher and creative facilitator with a PhD from IIM, Bangalore. Her writing, both academic and creative, explores themes of identity, transition and belonging in contemporary urban India. Her short fiction is published in Kitaab, Setu Bilingual, Borderless journal, Muse India, and forthcoming in a South-Asian anthology on gendered violence. As Visiting Faculty at TISS, Mumbai, Supriya teaches a course on Art and Organizational Development. In her courses and workshops, she draws upon story, theatre and art to facilitate self-exploration and dialogue. You can read her published work on her website She loves the Mumbai rains, strong cups of cappuccino and stories of unrequited love.








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