There they were: all glossy and smooth, nestling in cardboard boxes. "Frauds," I felt like sneering at them. "You are just a glossy advertisement dressing up as the real thing."
They were shiny jamuns and bers. Shop-bought, obviously. Seeing them and in the recent context of this piece on me by the Alternative, it came to me with a pang that my daughter is unlikely to grow up thinking that fruit can just be picked or shaken from trees.
The first time that I saw the humble jamun and ber all dressed up in cardboard boxes, I felt a shock. These were the spices of childhood pranks and certainly never meant to be sold.
There was a venerable ber tree on the Golf Course in the Roorkee cantonment. I remember that my 10-year-old-self with my best friend and partner-in-crime has suddenly acquired a deep interest in golf. Bored of the putting green, we wanted to play "real" golf, so we were shepherded out of the way to a safe practice tee with a bunch of old balls and a caddy who was more in the nature of a minder.
The aforesaid tree stood there and a lucky accident with the club and ball materialised into a bounty of rich, tawny bers. Of course, the chipping practice was re-scripted at that very second with each ball going straight into the tree despite the remonstrations of the hapless caddy. What can I say? We were brats bent upon our ber fix. Having exhausted both, our stock of golf balls and the caddy who was haring hither and thither after them, we proceeded to greedily gather our harvest.
Since I knew carting them home would earn a reprimand at the least and confiscation at worst, we decided that, for safety's sake, they were best stored in our tummies. And yes, the tummy-ache and sore throats the next day were totally worth it.
Mulberries (shahtoot) and jamuns used to be the pickings of lazy afternoons, meandering through grounds; guavas were picked straight from the tree, with the tender leaves serving to soothe a mouth sore; mango tree branches were a source of sour green kairies and were my favourite lounge after my reading nook in the amla tree hammock which was accessed via an Enid Blyton-ish adventurous rope ladder; Strawberries were picked directly from the patch... even our summer vacations in the village translated into me having a tiny charpai slung on a long rope from the massive desi aam tree - it was there that I spent much of the afternoon, swinging in the shade, reading and languidly reaching into the bucket below for yet another mango cooled by well water...
K loves fruits. Adores them. She crams her mouth full of them. But something pinches my heart when I see her do that. With the world becoming the way it is, and our lives turning to fruitless directions, there is little chance that she will learn befriend of fruit trees, recognising their best climbing path, have conversations with them, treat them as confidantes after life's little heartbreaks as I did.
So, today, my darling daughter, I have a wish for you. May you know the joy of fruit trees, have a relationship with one, nurture it with your love as it nurtures you with its fruits. And yes, they do taste a darn sight better than the shiny cardboard boxed variety.