The Tamarind Pips
I don’t know whether young girls indeed crave for sour things while approaching puberty or it’s age old adage. Does it help them contain their urges they have little control over or does it fire those is also beyond my knowledge and do they ever have such urges is what I wonder after having had a close association with them within the permissible limits of the tongue wagging society and after having cohabited this planet with a female partner for four decades, which has left me all the more wondering and wandering at times in search of the answers I coudn’t get. I do not know if sour things act as aphrodisiacs or antidotes in the growing up girls but I can’t imagine growing up boys eating imli to satisfy their biological urges. Wish the answers to the uncontrollable urges in the boys could be that easy to get and solutions to their unresolved queries when they become men and get married, could be found.
But the growing up boys are curious to know all what the girls do. From whatever source they can get the knowledge, reliable or unreliable, they try to get it so that later they can brag with their colleagues and win respect and attract envy. When I was growing up, things the girls relished were Khatee- Mitthi goli (sweet n sour candy), Ampapad ( Thin flat slices made from mango pulp) , Imli ( Tamarind), Chaat ( ??), Ambiaan (Unripe baby mango fruit), Anwalaa (Indian Goose berry- Emblic Myrobalan), Nimboo (Lemon) etc. etc.
Ambian, anwla, nimboo are used for pickles. In those days, food industry wasn’t existent and I think nothing besides milk powder( even that was imported) was sold in the market nor were there many buyers. Pickles, jams and chutneys were made at home when the particular fruits were in season. Now we see endless rows of jams and pickles vying for attention and competing in features and price, propped to attention by the lingering strains of lilting jingles supposedly sung by charming girls oozing oomph and praising their mother-in-laws, how unbelievable!, or hugging their husbands, still more unbelievable!. But nothing tastes like those mother’s recipes because one very important ingredient “mother’s love” is missing in them all. The notes of the jingles and the thoughts of those prancing females have the ability to charge men to action and make them reach for those bottles, reliving those acted up scenes in slow motion, frame by frame to the perfect okeyed take by the fussy director.
In old days all these things were made at home. Even today in many homes they are made each year ritualistically. I remember each year in our home raw mangoes were brought in huge quantities, washed, cut and set out for drying up in the sun and so was it done in almost every home. That was when these girls would pilfer some and eat behind perforated screens of secrecy. Perforated because there were hardly any places they could hide from the vigilant eyes of their younger siblings. So they were always caught committing the serious crime as there were strict codes the children in those days were ordained to. No deviations were allowed and no concessions were given. A light slap on the cheek by the father was considered an expression of love. Most of the acts of the children were disapproved by the strict parents and it can be said with a fair amount of accuracy that nothing besides what was cooked at home was allowed except for polishing off left over namkeen and mithai after a guest’s visit and once a while chaat or chhole bathure was included in a monthly outing list of dos. But an outing with parents and eating what they approve of is itself a damper. This in itself is enough to sup the taste and the flavor out of even the tasty things.I really do not know why the girls get attracted to sour things like ants to honey and why do the parents see red in their attraction.
It’s not that the younger prowling siblings were too upright and lived by the edits laid down by the parents or savoured eating portions of those sour things given in bribes but they instead sought other favours in highly irrational bargains such that they were less bars and more gains . But well options for the erring sisters caught committing serious crimes were few and far between. So they would always agree or should I say succumb to the blackmail. But this word is of recent origin. It’s not that in those days blackmailing was not existent but it wasn’t not soot black, it was a darker shade of grey at worst.
Excerpts from the Notes found in a Child’s Exercise Book
Nimboo was more difficult to get but unlike ambi it’s rind is bitter and when discarded it almost announces its self. It’s juice stains and it’s too sour to be licked without salt and the involuntary smack that usually follows the licking is quite audible. Even when they are brought in large quantities, say for making pickles when they are cheap they are not bought in such a large quantity that the disappearance of a few can pass unnoticed. Now a days you can never get them cheap enough to think of pickling them but the olden golden times in season they were within one’s reach.
Anwla though considered good for health makes a rare show at home. It’s brought mainly for pickling and it being a small fruit with big stone inside, is not a connoisseur’s delight. Moreover it leaves a sweet after taste in the mouth and that is a spoiler of sorts.
Ampapad- It doesn’t come home officially. Parents are not even aware that it does and yet it comes home frequently and it has to be purchased from one’s own resources which are frugal and market trips without escorting younger brothers are at least they were impossible when I was a kid, so when and how it gets purchased is a mystery.
Imli- Out of all the forbidden things imli is the most sought after fruit and it’s possession potentially the most serious offense. But it’s sour taste is unmatchable in smack and quality and it’s cheap.
Now the story-
My elder sister is two years elder to me. The younger one is three years younger and my younger brother is five years younger to me. I think in those days parents planned the family. After getting a daughter my parents must have thought of giving her a company and then stopped for a breather and used the equipment again to produce another group. So I paired with my elder sister and my brother with my younger sister.
One day the prohibited imli found it’s way in my sister’s school bag. I don’t know who put it there but when I searched it like a sincere FBI sleuth it was there. She was kind of caught red handed or rather brown handed because imli leaves a brownish stain.
“What’s this?”, fishing out the crumpled piece of paper to which it stuck like…well you know how it look like don’t you? I was shocked as if I had found some RDX. What is this, I asked?
She denied all knowledge of it. Girls lie, I know and I was sure, she was lying too but tears lurking at the corners of her eyes mushed my tender heart.
“Should I tell Mummy?” This in fact was a threat and not a permission that I was asking for, as it may sound.
She shook her head vigorously and the tears lurking at her eyelids fell off.
“ I will give you some to taste too,” she said.
Bribing in those days was prevalent as you can see and I was a venal sleuth and the offer was irresistible.
We were living in a two room apartment so every inch of space was common to us all, but because we were supposed to study till late at night, I and my sister slept in one room while everyone else slept in the other. So at night my sister gave me the promised bribe as she savoured some herself suppressing the smacks which enhanced the taste manifold. There is one serious problem with imli. Its stone or pip can’t be discarded nor can it be digested. So sooner or later it is bound to be found. We realized the danger after we had had quite a few of those pips with us and they were threatening to expose our misdemeanor. While to my sister they looked like severe retributions to me they looked like Abacus beads for counting slaps.
As I had mentioned previously, the building was some old haveli and the apartments were made out of it by closing some doors. One such door separated our room from our neighbour’s adjacent room, such that our next door neighbours were literally so. The door had glass panes in the times long lost in history when they were never shut. Now all those glasses were broken or had been replaced by sections of plywood nailed over the frames by an incompetent carpenter or by the owner himself for saving the cost of labour or perhaps the plywood had crinkled with age or they were pieces of cardboard instead, I don’t remember, but I remember that they the didn’t sit properly over the ornamental frame work or because Fevicol or some sticking glue had either not been invented or was not in the knowledge of the unprofessional who had done the job, there were gaps between the frame work and the pieces of plywood in the spaces between the points where nails were driven. As I lay on my bed thinking about the possible ways of disposing the pips off, a brilliant thought struck my fertile brain. I asked my sister to give all her fist full off pips too and one by one I slipped all the pips through the gaps. I had good hearing in those days and I swear I didn’t hear the pips fall on the wooden planks of which the floor was made of. I was happy to have unloaded the weight off my mind when the lights in the adjoining room suddenly came on. The neighbours had come back from wherever they had gone and what we didn’t know was that the pips had fallen on another bed adjoining the door where Mr. Mehra’s (our neighbor) mother who had come to visit them used to sleep. I would sometime go to their apartment as children often have access to all nooks and corners reachable and unreachable and here I visualize the scene from the sounds I heard.
As she came to her bed, she saw to her horror something that reminded her of her own childhood. She picked one stone up and immediately suspected the new bride of having secretly eaten the forbidden fruit. Now frankly speaking the relationship between the mother in law and the daughter in law in any Indian set up is profoundly of suspicion and of one-up-womanship.
“Santosh ai imli tu khadi ai”? ( Santosh, have you eaten this tamarind?) She asked her daughter in law inquisitively, in a voice high pitched, conveying a heightened degree of anger and a resolute authority.
Santosh came running and looked at the pips with horror and surprise. She suspected the mother in law of having implanted those there like land mines implanted by the terrorists. She refuted the allegation.
“ Nahin Mataji” ( No, mother)
But Mataji wasn’t convinced. There was no other female in the family and she looked at the calendar of Maa Vaishno Devi sitting atop a lion, smiling and blessing with one of her several hands. The calendar was there right above her bed. She looked at the picture closely. For an instant the dots representing the money dropping from the hands of Mata Vaishno Devi seemed to be the tamarind pips. She immediately threw the sacrilegious thought out of her mind and chided herself for letting it come to her. She couldn’t dare to suspect her of having eaten imli and discarding the stones on her bed.
Infuriated, the mother in law spewed a few juicy, Punjabi feminine abuses, one or two of which now the whole nation is familiar with because they have been used in some Hindi songs. Marjaani, Khasmanukhani….she said again, mere naal jhooth bolani ain ( Lying to me??). The obedient son, whose voice thus far was not heard came running to mediate. We couldn’t see but we could only imagine and we were quite adept at it because in those days on Sundays Soundtracks of films were broadcast of radio and one had to create the scenes in mind. The television had not been invented and there were no smartphones to watch videos. Every day at 9 P.M. after the news in a programme called Hawa Mahal a Radio Drama was broadcast. It was just like another radio play being dramatized in an audio theatre next door.
“Ai mere naal jhooth boldi ai” ( She lies to me), the mother said complaining.
And then we heard exchange of a few slaps and a lot of rona, dhona, in stunned silence. We could not only hear the exchange of those blows and punches, we could feel them as if they were actually being given to us. We were sure that unlike the Radio Plays, this was a real drama unfolding just across the partitioned door with glass panes replaced by plywood sheets. We understood, what eating tamarind could lead to. I think I must have pledged then that, I will never ever eat tamarind and I have fairly been successful in holding it till now. I have never eaten that infernal fruit and spitted the seeds out. Though once in a while I have added a dash of its chutney on chhole masala (chick peas) my wife makes at home. I have never seen how and where she discards those seeds but whenever I add that chutney I feel sorry for all those ‘Santoshs’ out there who are being beaten in to pulps and made in to chutneys for no fault of theirs.
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