Tag Archives: lemons

Lemons for Life … or Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education.

Context: In Maharashtra, where MN is from, it is customary for a meal to be accompanied by a slice of lemon to be used as a condiment. The lemons in India are almost circular (spherical) so the nub is hard to find unless one is paying attention.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

MN: In Indian food, you keep salt and a piece of lemon so that you can put it in anything like a curry or even rice, make it flavorful. And, so whenever you want to cut the lemon you always … you know there’s a nub (gestures to emphasize point) … on the side … you always cut it perpendicular to that. You always keep it flat and cut it like that because when someone dies in the funeral process, that’s when you cut the lemon parallel to the nub. Ummm … that’s because when you prepare a plate for the person who has died the lemon should be cut in that direction. And … like … my mother used to scold me because I didn’t pay attention, but it’s like a bad omen to cut it like this because it’s like you are invoking the dead. There’s just a fun (pause) little (even longer pause) fact that I learned that … always cutting … so like … now, I’m like … I am very like …. Always cutting like this (gestures cutting motion with hands). So on the plates for the dead, that’s when you cut the lemon with the nub.”

Me: “Can I interrupt you for a second? I just want to know, I just want to know, Do you know where your mom learned it? And do you think that’s like …only … to … um where … you’re from?”

MN: This is some item … it’s not like some book, I think. It’s like some, like knowledge that everyone knows this … it’s like. She learned it from … It’s just something that she was taught … and I was taught.

Analysis: MN is very enthusiastic about sharing their culture. I find it quite fascinating that this specific funeral right is extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates how much thought and effort loved ones dedicate when preparing for their departed loved ones. It is also interesting because this specific ritual is not written down but rather a tradition that is passed down in MN’s culture. The specific focus on the way lemons are cut reflects on MN’s character as well because they are considerate and detail-oriented. Although cutting lemons is commonplace, the symbolism for the Maharashtrian people is extraordinary. Lemons can bring some dishes to life by providing additional flavor and the juxtaposition between zest and the loss of life is also telling of MN’s culture.

fresh lemon juice as eye drops

Another Colombian beauty folk belief is that if you have been out late partying the night before and have bloodshot eyes the next day, then squeezing fresh cut lemon juice into the eyes will take out the red and make them seem well rested. My mom confirms that this folk belief is absolutely false after seeing her cousin, Monica, try this home remedy  at home. My mom thought Monica was kidding about using actual lemon juice in her eyes and became horrified when Monica did it. Not only did Monica run out into the hallway screaming and she also smashed into a wall, almost breaking her nose, blood flying everywhere resulting in further trauma, causing her to get two black eyes. The next day everyone was calling Monica “Mapachecito” which mean “little raccoon” My mom stills cries laughing when telling this story, calling them “lemon tears”.

Analysis: It appears that among Colombians there is no folk belief that will not be tested or tried if it relates to beauty. Even if they had heard stories that it did not work, people will still try it, blaming the user for “not doing it right”. Considering the vast amounts of money Colombians spend on plastic surgery and placenta creams (another folk belief) it is not surprising that these folk beliefs are the most enduring ones in the culture even when presented with empirical evidence to the contrary.