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.


  1. Beautiful and moving story. You have a great talent in writing.

    I believe love just like anger can go into food. This is why homemade food is so much nicer.

    Have a nice day.

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  3. I loved ur story. It was beautiful. Sometimes we get educated from the most unexpected places...... It also made me homesick. I was born and brought up in pune too and miss it a lot. Even the air seems different there. Thankfully my parents are still there so I get to go there sometimes.

  4. Very toching story. I feel you excel in writing something so autobiographical. And we like it because we have too lived such experiences, though players in our life may be different. Through your posts we relive those, I would suggest write more of these please.

  5. Suranga, This is absolutely beautiful. Your writing is always so interesting and this is so moving. It brought a tear to my eyes because I could just picture the man and his fruit stall, the grandson, your mother, and you.
    It is such a heartwarming story. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. Hélène H merci beaucoup ! ce que vous dites est vrai......
    meilleurs voeux ...

    ranu Thank you. And I agree. Even the air in Pune is different, as well as the freshness of the vegetables also....:-)

    Vivek Patwardhan Thank you for the kind words. Maybe its a sign of approaching old age, but one enjoys remembering ones childhood days, and blogging about it....

    Sukku Thank you.

    Judy Isnt it amazing that customs the world over, and manifestations of progress may be different, but basic goodness of human nature is the same all over ? Thank you for the kind words....

  7. I love reading the stories of your life and you do write so beautifully. It is wonderful for me to see further proof of what I've always believed and that is that basically we are all so much alike as human beings who need, love, want, enjoy so many of the same things. A lovely post! Thank you!

  8. You paint a beautiful picture with your memories. I felt as though for a moment, I stepped into that memory with you.

    There is beauty in the foundation of friendship and the knowledge of a family's history. He honored your family...

    The ending brought tears to my eyes. Education is not only found in books and college courses, but in the experiences.

  9. Thank you for such a moving memory and you're so correct in making the connection between approaching old age and memories of your childhood. That's one of the reasons why I like to visit here, it is 'catching' you know.

    Your remembrance of something in your life triggers a memory in mine and with most people and so it goes on and on. Hence the popularity of blogging. It is a wonderful gift to be able to move people to spill tears of sadness and also joy...

    Cheers Kate x.

  10. Dear Madam,

    We often go searching for goodness in everyday life without realising that it is present in everyone of us from the most poorest to the richest. Somewhere along the line apart from what education has taught us, lessons from everyday life are more important.

    Nice and touching story.

  11. You really are a wonderful writer and paint a picture full of colour. My two best friends in Australia come from India and my grandfather used to train polo horses that went to India.

    By the way do you love cricket? Many years ago I used to follow the Indian cricket team.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my Dad's post. he cnanot see to read the screen but i read all the comments out and he was very excited. He is also working on his next posts. As we all know blogging is very addictive.

    Love your clock chimes!

  12. Ganesh, Lilly Thank you. the fruitseller and his grandson would have been absolutely tickled to know that so many folks across the world are reading about him ......

  13. Thank you for your lovely poem left on my Sky Watch this evening! It was perfect! I'm so glad we found each other! How lovely it is to have friends all over the world to help give us a perspective we could never have otherwise!

  14. beautiful memories, I believe ki--jaisa bhojan waisa ma,---food always affects thoughts and we laways say--cook with love and dont cook when angry:)

  15. Madam,

    what you had last commented on my blog, must be true. I have also posted lots of pics from Mandai, Tulshi Baug on my post

  16. Sylvia the pleasuer was all mine. It was fun ...

    RenuWhat you say is so true .Thank you.

    Harekrishnaji :-)

  17. You write so beautifully. I am so happy you commented to me so that I am getting to know you.
    Have a wonderful day.

  18. You ARE your mother's daughter Suranga.
    I see the old man and in your approach as well. I often feel that you do associate the simple with the profound, and your readers take away the messages.
    The pictures are so evocative ... faces and fruit.
    June in Oz

  19. Your photographs and post brought back some lovely memories.i lived in Pune for a few years, a long time ago. I still think of those years very fondly. I remember going to the mandai with my flatmates every Sunday. We used to wait eagerly for this weekly excursion....after a long week at work, it was a diversion we greatly enjoyed. I always found the people of Pune to be very charming and gracious, and the city itself to be very comforting. I would love to go back there some time, though i hear modern day Pune is not the same.

  20. One Woman's Journey Thank you.

    June Saville Thank you. And it is very interesting to realize that it is possible for folks across the world, to guess your attitude towards life,and your general mental makeup, simply by being a follower of your blog.....

    globalindyan Always delighted to meet a person who feels about Pune the way I do. I have always thought Pune has character, lots of it. Mumbai just has square feet.

    (Waiting for a agitated response from mumbaicentric folks..... :-)

  21. hey:)I am also an admirer of Pune:) I always wanted my H to get a job in Pune, so that I cud settle there, but no such luck:(. Pune gives u the benefit of both-small town and big city. Its so comfortable to live.I stayed there some time as my daughter worked there, loved Chaturshringi,duugusheth aetc

  22. Renu,

    maybe we need to start a expatriates club or something. then we can all have bloggers meets in Pune every year and enjoy traditional marathi cuisine, the weather, marathi theatre, and all the folks who make Pune such a wonderful place .....

    (Would you believe it, I have even guessed that some bloggers come from Pune, simply by reading their blogs :-)

  23. U can because u have a very intelligent mind,but yes I wud love the meet:) and love to have misal pao and there was this restaurant which had very good thali:)
    I am very interested to know ,how do u guess?

  24. Thank you for your words of encouragment this early morning.
    You will never know what they meant to me. Blessings to you this day. Again Thank you from my heart.

  25. A simple yet profound story. Meaning and value lies very much around us, and it is in the picking of these that we live and tell a tale ! Very much like good fruit !

    Going to the market with my father was alwaays a task that i would not like in the days of my childhood. But gradually grew into looking forward to it. And your post brought back so many memories !

    Indeed a coincidence that i wrote about markets a few minutes ago too !!

    Brilliant post !

  26. renu :-)

    One woman's journey You are welcome .

    KaviThank you. Today's children miss out on all these wonderful trips because they are so stuck with their televised cricket, facebooks,cellphones,mall visits et al. They may be formally brilliantly educated, but sometimes I feel they haven't "learned" much .....

  27. Graduate of columbia university in the 50s.. Hats off to your mom.

  28. Vinita,

    She was a 1948 graduate of Columbia University Teachers College. I was born after my parents soon returned to India. As a result, in the 50's when I went to school, was a great time for her to try out her nutritional stuff.....but no one is complaining ....

    Incidentally, are you reading this from Fiji ? Just wondering how you reached here .....

  29. No dear.. I read this from USA. I was on anil P's windy skies (and I had gone there thru "chai ki dukaan") where I saw either a link to your blog or a commnet. And that's how I landed on your blog.

    Just last month I had visited columbia and we were just discussing about how difficult it is to get in ..not just columbia but any ivy league school.

    So when I read that your mom was a graduate of columbia , drove a car when cars were not that common either and yet was so down to earth and modest to do all her chores.. a rare combination which you won't find today.

    Are you a student of Ivy League too?


  30. Vinita,

    I am a 1972 alumni of the University of Calif. at Irvine (grad school,Physics). It so happens that my dad did his Masters at Brooklyn the same time my mother went to Columbia. All of us children(3) also did our masters in the US, and the tradition continues.....I wonder if you are a student, or someone settling into a new life stage in the US. ,,, ....

  31. wow!!! everyone brainy and had the opportunity to go to a great school. NO wonder your blog is so much fun to read.

    No I am not a student. I was just on a trip to the east coast and went specifically to visit these schools.