Thursday, October 16, 2008
Fruits of life.......कधी फळांची पारख , कधी माणसांची ...
I grew up in Pune, and have always considered myself a Puneite regardless of life stage and current domicile. My parental abode is in Pune, and I still go back there, a few times a year, sometimes for some family paperwork, sometimes for a social occasion and sometimes, because it draws me there, even though my parents are no more.
Right in the heart of the city, is what is called the Mandai, or the main organized vegetable market, a heritage structure, from the days of the British in India.
My earliest childhood memories are of accompanying my mother to this place , for the weekly shopping. Another of my childhood memories has to do with the very different take my mother had on food and diet, compared, to say, my friends' families. Thanks to an exposure and a degree (child development and nutrition) from Columbia University , back in the fifties, I was an avid guinea pig available to my mother, for trying out, what worked and what didn't.
Suryanamaskars on waking, skipping and then a glass of milk. Get organized for school. Bread, which was hitherto becoming popular then as a breakfast item, was tolerated occasionally only as a veggie sandwich, loaded with vegetables and chutneys. Sugary jams were frowned upon. Our breakfast was some fragrant and fresh moong dal khichdi with a spoon of homemade ghee, lemon pickle, with poha papad(made from pressed unpolished rice flakes).
Accompanied by freshly manually squeezed orange juice. ( Nobody had juicers and blenders then).
And it is for these oranges, that we made these trips with our mother to the Mandai or central market.
In those days, my parents had a Hillman car, of a colour you wouldn't be seen in today. What made the car more unusual is the fact that my mother drove it everywhere. Few folks had cars, ladies did not go around driving cars all over town, they were driven. The horn was freely used, sometimes for the people on the road, sometimes for moral support to yourself, sometimes just for comfort, but it was a working system. People used to look on in complete awe as my mother changed gears, went back and forth, parked the car, and emerged from it, adjusting a sari, along with us in tow.
There used to be people available , who you could hire , for carrying the stuff that you would buy, and in our house, we children would vie with each other to carry the stuff in the market. (Ever since then , I have an inexplicable aversion to situations where you walk ahead in the market, followed, a few respectable steps behind, by a helper lady, who carries your shopping load. This is a practice still followed by many, and is supposed to be sign of coming up in the world, prosperity, the rise in your status etc etc. Today, I insist on carrying all my stuff, even at the cost of becoming clavically disbaled, so to speak. Of course, the children help when they are around).
We used to go with our mother to the market to get oranges (actually big tangerines , which are called oranges here), from the wholesale market, and they came in a wooden crate, which is where the children came in.
Those were the days when the merchants were simple farmer folk, who knew you by name, recognized your children by sight, and talked with you about their children, your children, their joys and worries , as well as yours. A particular vendor , hailing from the outskirts of Pune , was a favourite orange supplier, and whenever we were present we always got an extra pomegranate or something, as a special thing from him. My mother was great friends with this person, and would always enquire after his children and wife, and fields. He in turn had this great admiration for the "gadiwali bai" (Lady with the car), and he often admired my mother's judgement and selection of fruit.
Years passed. During the eighties, my children often accompanied their grandmother, and by this time the old man knew our complete family history, of which child was where, doing what, how many children and so on and so forth. Both my mother and he were now old. His grandson was now managing the stall, and he would sit around for old times sake. Very particular about how you behaved with the customers, he trained his grandson very well, and was so proud of him, and would tell my mother about all the progress. My mother was , for a while, one of the trustees (the first woman trustee) of one of our famous ancient temples in Pune, , and this man was really proud of the fact that she was selected to help in what he called "God's work".
A couple of years ago, my mother was no more, my father was very sick, and I went with my daughter to the market to look for some good fruit for him, which could be juiced. I wandered in to the old familiar area, looking at the recent changes, and some new smart-alecky vendors on the scene. Memories flooded back, and I was looking around for a straw of memory to clutch, when I heard someone calling out my mother's name.
It was the old man. His vision was not what is was. But he saw a resemblance somewhere. He thought I was who he thought I was, but wanted to confirm, and so he asked his grandson to call out.
For a while , none of us could speak. My daughter wondered how her mother, to whom bargaining was second nature , was so quiet. He asked after my folks and when he heard why I was there, he took it upon himself to select the best fruit, often replacing stuff his grandson had casually selected. All the while talking about my mother, and asking about where the rest of the family was. He even knew that my siblings were in "Amerika", and recalled seeing their children with my mother, at the market, on one of their visits. When he heard that my son too was pursuing a doctorate , he thought it was in the fitness of things. He didn't really go to school himself, but had a great respect for learning and anyone who did serious studying. His grandson had finished school on his insistence, and only then come along to learn the business.
I was about to leave. I wished him well, did namaskar (an Indian way of greeting, with palms touching each other), when he stopped me.
"You know, your mother had a very good judgement of "excellence in fruit". She selected so well. It was something intrinsic to her. As a farmer and a fruit vendor it was a joy to do business with her. I think you have picked up some of it. Good to see that.....but you will get better with practice....." . Saying so, he handed a mango to my delighted daughter, and the the old , simple, formally uneducated man, closed his eyes, and proceeded to quote a verse from the compositions of one of Maharashtra(our state)'s most revered saints, Tukaram. It had something to do with the effort and ability to judge good fruit, and good fruit of good deeds, and with all the so called "education" that I have had, it wouldn't have occurred to me to associate all these things together....
I swallowed, totally humbled.
Nodded to him and left. My daughter and I came home with the fruit
My father enjoyed the juice .
I like to think, that besides, the taste, and the color and the pulp, there was a little something more in that fruit, that made my father happy that day.