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The Jackfruit Story

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By Savitri Narayanan
“What a pleasure to dry the clothes on a clothesline!” Sumera giggled as the thought crossed her mind. In the backyard, the mango tree’s branches were laden with ripe mangoes waiting to be devoured. Tied between its branch and the peach tree at the other end, the clothesline ran across the yard. The sun grew warm as the clothes danced in the wind.

“So different from Panvel,” Sumera thought as her mind went back to Mumbai where Jitesh was posted earlier. In their two room kitchen flat in Panvel, the clothes were dried in the balcony. Apart from the clothesline, the tiny balcony also housed a high metal stool, a long stick to dry the clothes, a dustpan, mop and brooms, three old suitcases and a metal drum containing random things. Space was at a premium, especially with their relatives from both sides visiting frequently, often unexpectedly.

On the other hand, here in Garhwal they were allotted a bungalow. It had spacious rooms and verandahs both in the front and back. With large glass windows and doors opening to the lawns, somehow the outdoors sneaked into the bungalow! Nature seemed to flow indoors.

“Lovely to be here!” thought Sumera as she came out with a cup of tea and the newspaper. “Wish I had a friend to chat with!”

During the past fortnight, they had met quite a few people. Some neighbours walked in to make their acquaintance, once in a while, those who walked past stopped to chat but none of them was a friend – not yet! ‘Wish I had someone to go shopping with, to have a chat, to go for a walk!’ thought Sumera.

“As if they would come knocking at the door,” Jitesh usually told her off. “What stops you from going out and looking for one? It’s up to you, isn’t it?”

So, on that bright morning, Sumera locked the front door and set off to explore the neighbourhood. To the right was Singeri and further down was the road towards the railway station. To the far left was a grocery store where the road bifurcated.

“Let me explore the neighbourhood,” she thought and turned left.

The lane was quiet, with hardly any traffic. Except for an auto rickshaw or a car passing by, it was almost deserted. Three gates away across the road was a lovely house. Lovingly painted in tasteful colours it had a low boundary wall and a well-maintained garden. Sumera crossed the road to look at the bluebells near the gate.

“Namaste, madam; please come in!” a woman in a bright yellow sari pulled over her head, came forward to open the gate.

“You must be busy setting up the house, didn’t want to disturb you; please step in madam!” she smiled in welcome.

There was something warm and endearing in the plump woman’s tone that Sumera stepped in with easy familiarity. There were quite a few seated in the front verandah. “Maji, our neighbour,” Sumera was introduced. “They’ve just moved in from Mumbai; remember that evening a truck came with their things?”

From her high-backed chair the old woman nodded with her toothless smile. “Jeeti raho beti! Come, taste our jackfruit!”

It was then that Sumera noticed the jackfruit. There it was on the floor, the family squatted around it! There was an air of merriment as they chatted away, their fingers busy pulling out the pods from the piece of jackfruit.

Sumera knew how much effort it took to get the pods on a plate. In Naniji’s house in Sholapur, where they spent their summer vacation, there was a jackfruit tree in the backyard. It took a lot of effort to get the sweet pods on to a plate. The fruit itself was large and heavy like a stone. To cut it into two asked for skilled incision with an axe-knife. To cut it into small pieces was a harder task as the sticky secretion from the core stuck to every surface it came into contact with including the blade of the axe-knife! The jackfruit’s spiky outer skin hurt the palm – not that one could get a grip anyway! Mala bua was good at it. She would have a small bowl of cooking oil handy to guard against the sticky liquid that oozed from its central core at the touch of the knife! She would oil her palms and the knife’s blade before making the incision. The thick, spiky outer skin hurt the fingers. The task asked for patience and precision combined with meticulous attention to detail.

Once it was cut into pieces, the children would find a spot with their own piece of jackfruit. The process was rather slow as they were expected not only to eat the pods but also sort out the waste. The seeds were sun-dried and were a seasonal ingredient for cooking. The membranes covering the seed along with the spiky outer cover went into the stable along with other food waste. There was an overwhelming joy in the air as they ate up the jackfruit and headed to swim in the nearby river!

“How could that joy in the Sholapur backyard find its way here to this verandah in Garhwal?” thought Sumera nostalgically.

The children finished eating and cleaning up. “Let’s go to the Panchayat ground,” said one boy as he got up, “There’s a cricket match today; Deepu bhaiyya is batting and Amit bhaiyya is at the wickets!”

“Children you have an invitation,” said Sumera. All eyes were on her – puzzled, surprised and happy at the same time! She pointed at her gate and continued, “We are from Mumbai; just moved into that house. In the backyard there’s a big mango tree full of ripe mangoes. Today was the jackfruit party, tomorrow is the mango party, ok?”

“Thank you aunty, that’ll be fun!” they said in chorus as they ran away to play. “See you tomorrow!”
There was a bounce in Sumera’s steps too as she opened her front gate.