…..this post is in continuation of the post titles “Walking To The School”
Nettles- Stinging Plant
I remember one tree on this path somewhere further up from the point where the stairs leading to the police lines joined it. It was a Kainth tree. I am sure, even today the advanced Google search engines can’t tell you anything about this tree family and the fruit it bears. It is a ball-like fruit not bigger than the marbles we played with and it tastes somewhat like a hard pear except that it is more grainy. Yes, now I remember, I had the cultivated version of it in China. That fruit was the size of a cricket ball, but so grainy that one would wonder if he had mistakenly put a fistful of sand in the mouth before biting it and it was watery but tasteless. With all that effort of genetic improvement, the Chinese don’t seem to have got much success with Kainth, although they take pomology very seriously. One has to really be in China or at least visit it to enjoy their peaches and persimmons, but Sir, Kainth is in a different league. There are so many fruits in this world that have had the advantage of some smart marketing. Bitter orange, Kiwi fruit, Dragon fruit, Grapefruit are some that have come to my mind instantly, but poor Kainth had no promoters although the dour British with their penchant for moldy cheese and stale bread chose this city to be their summer capital. Wonder what their kids used to do in the evenings.
Loretto Convent- Tara Hall, Shimla
And because I left Shimla early in life, this rare fruit has remained unknown to the world to date. It’s neither a tree nor a bush. It’s something in between. The poor shrub couldn’t even have the fortune of being blessed by the God incarnate or a sage who sat in its shade long enough for its fruit to fall at his feet for him to bless it to become eternal prasad. Kainth tree doesn’t shed its fruit that easily. One has to climb its scrawny branches to pluck them. We were fortunate to have Pali with us otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the joy of writing about it for vicarious pleasures while simultaneously enjoying the schadenfreude of those who wasted their time in impressing the TH girls who they knew had no preference for the St. Edward boys even after they had improved their English to a decent level by taking regular coaching in elocution from nuns in LCTH.
It was, is, and ever will remain unknown to most of the people of the world like those obscure writers and their bitter-sweet creations, but for us, it was an ultimate in fruits as it used to bring us as rich delights as eating Alfonso mangoes or the Chinese persimmons does to the connoisseurs. A child’s delight is not related to the material cost or rarity of things. It resides in the very act of exploration of their little world, seeing it unfold its mysteries to them. Their happiness lies in discovering its treasures and pleasures.
It reminds me of plucking “Bichchubooti ka Kheera”. Do you know that nettles bear fruit too or should that be called a vegetable? We can leave it to the botanists to decide whether the bumps that form on some branches of the nettles fall in the category of fruits or vegetables but I bet all those who have tasted them would agree with me that they taste better than the best cucumbers. But like all good things in life, they are hard to get. One needs to be really courageous for attempting to pluck them because it is akin to plucking courage, literally.
For all boys life is not as easy it is for bc BCS boys, I said to my buddy. Nor it is like attending a Bar Mitzvah party of a friend or dancing with the pretty LCTH girls at someone’s quinceañera. It was much harder for us like it is for the boys in Sateré-Mawé tribes of the Amazon, but there was a difference. There the boys have to get the bullet ants and wear the glove with them in it while they dance, we had to lie down under the sprawling nettles for reaching for those “kheeras”.
Bullet Ant Ritual
Getting stung by the nettles during the operation is certain. Goga had that finesse. He could go to any length to get them by which I mean lying supine or prone with arms stretched to as far as they could go. For a ten years old child it is about a meter and reaching a meter under the stinging nettles is like reaching out to pluck stars when grown-up, for a girl from Phagwara wearing Yves Saint Laurent Opium and Levis instead of Garara, Sharara, or Lehariya Salwar, Prandha and jutte from Anardana Chowk in Patiala.
I have weighed my words before putting them down and using the expression ‘when grown up’ for plucking stars for the girls seems right to me because the homo sapiens males continue to do stupid things throughout their lives, except that they do them at the behest of the females they presume will reward them for what they assume they will get from them in the period of the life when only that plays on their minds- and that period starts around puberty till they are halfway in their graves. But this expression doesn’t suit the mindset of those who won’t end up in graves. What about the people who are not going to be put down six feet below the surface of the earth but will be burnt down to ashes instead? For such people who have no idea of what is meant by the expression ‘ halfway in the grave’ let me say that if you can’t get it straight what should be more than straight to you, you are there or thereabout.
And what a stretching that used be, Oh Boy! I would stand at his feet, waiting for his commands that he would issue out like rapid fire from LMG. He would lie like a log and ask me to push him in or pull him out inch by inch. Unlike the bullet ants, that one has to get home for the ritual dance, one has to go to the nettles and the dance follows involuntarily once one is stung. And it is hard because you can’t perform any rhythmic movements as with any other dance, while you are under the nettles.
Nettles don’t sting through the clothes, but what all Goga got to wear in those days were hand-me-downs of Pali, handed down to him by his mother after Pali would outgrow them, and Pali used to get them from Sarbjeet. In the process of being worn by two outdoor-loving, adventurous, Sikh brats, they used to be literally worn out by the time Goga would get to wear them. With no buttons on the cuffs and a half-broken one at the collar slit, much of his torso used to be exposed to danger. And with his Pajamas, loosely held by a slack nada for the lack of anything much to hold on to at the waist, it required deft handling by a friend because any wrong pull would bring his Pajamas below his butts, exposing his private parts to the nettles. His frame maneuverable only from his feet need skillful handling and besides that, I had to save myself from the unexpected sting from the leaves on the overhanging branches. He used to pluck all those he could reach for once he would get under the plant and put them in the pocket. We used to feast on them after I would pull him safely out, but they were never enough, or should I say we could never have enough of them.
Note:- All pictures are from the internet and have been posted here for non-commercial purposes. I don’t possess any rights for them.
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