Monday, May 12, 2008

Season of Fruits - NATURE V/S CULTURE

Years ago, every summer, the major part of Malnad used to replicate fleshy smells of fruits and berries. Your nostrils would dilate and your tongue feel to relish the sweet and sour delicacy disseminated through its odour in the ambience.

No part of the year was as revealing to our senses as this one was. In England and for Eliot, yes ‘April is the cruelest month breeding lilacs’. As a contrast, seasonal as also civilizational, April and a couple of months following had been the most cherishable, the sweltering heat not withstanding.

For Keats, the autumn was ‘the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. As a transferred epithet, it would be in this part of the world ‘a season of fruits and mellowmistfulness’ as the mist of winter would have dwindled into its mellowing best, grayish blue shades of it still witnessed in early morning till the ball of fire swallowed it up!

Shakespeare’s Lear might say after all his egregious tantrums, ‘Ripeness is all’ realizing his folly in the end and perishing in avuncular pride. But ripeness in Malnad could be a pseudonym for summer which had ripeness writ large till many years ago and has since ceased to be so!

These days, thanks mainly to a jackfruit tree in my back yard still majestically held from inside the terracotta layer of earth, I wake up each morning to a very pleasant jackfruit smell which erases my cultural memories for the sake of the natural. It promises a great day, I would think. The very next moment I am nostalgic.

Living away from the hustle and bustle of the town, I was a privileged soul. As a school boy, I was wont to wander aimlessly like a cloud listening to uncadenced voices of birds and lilting Koels inside forests. Laced with Nature’s symphony the scent of honey combs would strike my nostrils. The swarming bees regaling their summer would put a sting into this intruder who was out to usurp their territory. I wouldn’t mind even the sudden appearance of a cobra raising its hood. I would dart off striding down the undulating terrains.

In such a jaunt, I would be Blakes school boy enjoying every moment outside school gates. To say I was on cloud nine was too obvious. I was on bees knees!

Do not speak of goose berries as they had already joined the most cultivated band of fruits in a city culture space. More precious to my eyes was the sight of black berries known as ‘Kavale Hannu’ grown on spinous shrubs in bunches. They would taste better than grapes and would seem a camouflage of black grapes equally determinant in size and hue.

White barriers were a distinct lot not by their diminutive size but by their collective assemblage on the stalks as if in a queue, a discipline which smacks of school girls. May not be as elegant, but inarguably the best recipe for vacuous bellies on a summer noon!

Then there were champaka berries masquerading as tiny crimson balls of fire, more sour than sweet. The tongue would twitch tasting them and the teeth would trip biting. Yet in the end the fruits would leave a tinge to be savoured for hours.

Butter fruits were a rare variety, innocuous to the tongue as also to the glands. Chip them off at the top, take the seeds out, put a little sugar if you would so desire and empty the fleshy green inner layers with a spoon or gulp enmass, ah! It would taste gorgeous.

Very tiny black and purple berries grown on equally tiny nondescript plants christened ‘Kaki Hannu’ in the native tongue would always be a source of delight to the on looking hawk eyes of children. Just pluck them by feather touch and munch - your mouth ulcers wouldn’t need a better cure!

The list is endless. Two months into the cruel heat of the season with intermittent showers invigorating a deadened earth, there appeared on trees a kind of black berries, jet black sometimes visible to the naked eye from a distance as chandelier type bunches dangling from amidst light green leaved stalks, knitted almost grape like, they were difficult to access unless you climbed the tree and plucked them. But alas! You shot an arrow or threw a stone aiming at them from below; you would be belittling those berries and your efforts. Instead you would climb onto the tree gently and pluck. Put them in, roll with your tongue separating the dark skinny layer from the seed which you would omit, the fleshy mash would turn your mouth purple. You would look like a demon personified along side your taste buds enjoying each bit of it.

And finally, the Jackfruit whose smell stirs me each morning. Indeed the jackfruit is the king, a capacious repository of all fruits! As now it didn’t have many takers those days. Its elliptical but voluminous size would be forbidding in itself. It is one fruit you would not eat as you would a mango! Knives and sickles and a dab and deft hand using them to perfection would do the trick. An entire morning newspaper to erase the gums and very skilled and supple hands to slice, the flakes would seem in pristine yellow. Nothing could be more tempting. Take a flake, chip it at the top, get the seed out, put a drop or two of coconut oil and devour the whole flake. You would feel having eaten nothing like this before! Not just one, a plenty to follow and fill to the brim. You wouldn’t need a meal for days! Pity the king is dethroned!

In hindsight, I look at them as if in a reverie. Those fruits and my favourite haunt of forests are history now. Nature has succumbed and fruits of culture have begun to throng the market place. Gumless jackfruit is only one of many cultural variants. Fruits have made themselves a global route. The native varieties are gleefully discarded. Only the designer fruits best suited for the modern man’s palate, remain. As the timbered voices have obfuscated uncadenced notes, fruits of culture have bedeviled those of nature!

Gone are those days. So also the forests. You would find no shrubs swathed in their berries. No ambience awash with little tunes. Birds have had their last migration, perhaps and little bees are being cultivated in man made gardens.

We are impoverished. So are our tastes.

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