Thursday, May 24, 2018

Our Jackfruit Tree

Many houses in olden times had ample space around them for trees and shrubs. In the Devaparthiva Road house my grandfather had purchased in 1950, there was a big jackfruit tree, among other fruit bearing trees.  This jackfruit tree with its huge girth, large canopy of leaves and tallness gave an imposing sight. It must have been planted by the first owner who built that house around 1905 or it may have been there even before.  I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in such green environs and yard space to run around, even managing to play my solo cricket on the northern side. The jackfruit tree was the start of my bowling run-up. I would bowl at a single stump and wanted to see it fly, on hitting with the cork ball. 

 Colour pictures [click on them to enlarge] in this were taken as memories during 2007-8 when we had to leave the house to move to another ancestral house in Lakshmipuram.

Cricket in the backyard [posing]. The 'umpire' was the Jackfruit tree!

That was the space for cricket. The rose apple tree is seen. The extra room in the background was built later.

Here, my cousin has climbed to pluck fruits. The branches needed periodical pruning to prevent trouble to the neighbouring house and spreading too much.  

We kept an eye on the eyes of its spiky outer rind to check their widening and yellowing, a sign of maturity.  Its fruity aroma would start wafting in the air, a hint for removal.  But sometimes, crows and monkeys would find it earlier than us, with the opened rind making the aroma stronger.  A hollow sound on slapping the rind with the palm was also a guide for removal. When the fruit was low on the trunk, just slitting the thick stalk was enough. 'Thud'!  For those that were high, a rope was tied and lowered to prevent breakage.  It was kept there for a few minutes for the latex oozed out from the cut portion.  A huge one was a pleasing sight and the first of the season 
was tastiest.

Two cousins on the tree.  See the girth of the trunk up there! I could climb only up to a certain point. 

The sweetest things come at a cost.  This one, by way of sticky latex! Smearing castor oil or coconut oil to the knife and fingers prevented the goo from sticking. In no time, a passing cow stood at the gate having picked up the sweet scent from the jackfruit filling the air.

On the left, uncle is waiting anxiously to lay his hands while cousin cuts and mother already has hers on the sweet bulbs, also called fruit pods!  When I was younger, once I had gobbled up about 40 'bulbs'!  But this figure of 40 is an utter shame.  We had a relative in Shimoga, one Suryanarayana, a renown glutton. He was known to gobble up all the fruit pods in a medium size fruit, from his own trees!  There is a separate post dedicated to his eating exploits, here: [Click]

2009 picture.  Roadside neem tree in the foreground.  The big canopy of Jackfruit is behind.

The tree also attracted jackfruit thieves at night.  They would jump over the tallish conservancy wall [above picture] and got in, but would step on the dry leaves producing a rustle.  The alert neighbour, Acharya's shout on hearing that from his adjacent kitchen made the thief fled. In the dark, we dared to go out there to chase.  The dry leaves were used for the hearth in the bath. Sometimes the dark green, roundish leaves would be plucked and served 'kosambri' during festival -- they were no-plastic days!  The pruned branches of the tree after drying provided plenty of firewood, which mother or I would chop into suitable lengths and store.  The soft wood of the tree is suited for making musical instruments like 'mridangam' and 'veena'. The thick soft seeds are nutritious, finding use in cooking with 'sambar' or roasted on charcoal, both have good taste. There are numerous dishes that can be made out of this nutritious jackfruit.

This picture of the tree was taken from the road a few years after we left and before the new owner started building his big bungalow.  In the open space [foreground, where Acharya's house existed] also a hotel building has come up. The jackfruit tree seems to have survived but suffering due to damaged roots judging by the sparsely leaved end branches that could be seen from the road behind new structures. 

Till we were in that house we got our annual supply of jackfruit and there was no jackfruit tree in our ancestral Lakshmipuram house where we had moved.  But sometimes, one or two per season were sent by our kind neighbour Lady Shenoy, from their tree.  Irresistible temptation shoots when we see good fruits with the push cart vendor [below].  The parcel is taken home, washed and savoured, at times with honey. Seasonal fruits must be eaten!



Grape-like bunch, my friend's tree.  Neighbour's tree.  Another tree in a campus.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Our Mango Tree

My grandfather had purchased an old house in 1950 at Devaparthiva Road, renting the ancestral Lakshmipuram house and moved after repairs. The 6 tall coconut trees and the big jackfruit tree here were likely to be planted by the first owner, may be around 1910 after constructing the house.  There were also guava, rose apple and mango in my time. 

One day, may be 1951-2, children had eaten mangoes. Among them was my grandfather's young nephew Sathya.  He had discarded a seed of his mango in a particular spot in the backyard.  It sprouted and grew.  Till Sathya lived [up to 81], he had clear memory of this.  He would take a peek at the well-grown tree each time he visited decades later. Lucky are those that grow up in a house with some fruit trees around it.  

All the pictures in this were taken in 2007-8 just before our 'ownership' of this beautiful old plot ceased.  Click on them for enlarged view.

The mango tree had grown and established itself without any extra care at all. This is where it stood, providing plenty of fruit to us. Rose-ringed parakeets, bats and monkeys had their good share too!! Monkeys feared my slingshot.  Chasing them away was fun as they were capable of rampage!   

Bunches of dangling mangoes was quite a pleasing sight! So it was when the whole tree bloomed.  We were unable to find out which variety of mango this was.  Because of its juiciness, someone suggested it to be Raspuri, but its correct identity remained a mystery. Not Raspuri, Badami or Alphonso but something probably very special.  It deserves some eulogizing.  The ripened fruit was green with a light washing of red to look at, lovely non-stringy pulp, flavourful, sweetly juicy and highly delicious to savour.  Actually it defies a proper description.  When green, it had just the right amount of sourness for pickling.

Ceramic pickle jars which were filled with diced green mangoes and stored with their necks tied with cotton cloth. Plenty of people in the family and hence, big jars!  Grandmother and mother would dice them. 

Mischievous boys would throw stones at the green mangoes dangling from the overhanging branches from the conservancy. Stones that missed their target would fall on the asbestos roof of the out house or zinc roof of the latrines and the sound would alert us.  Before we opened the backdoor and peeked into the conservancy, their swift legs would have made them 'disappear'! Now my friends boldly recall how they tried to steal our mangoes! 

View from the terrace. 

 I would pluck them by hand or with the mango plucker pole with net, either from the latrine roof or by climbing half the tree on to an easy-for-me branch if some green mangoes were needed for small-scale pickling or to prepare something like 'gojju', 'tokku', 'chitra-anna' or to give a few to some guest.  

When good-enough-for-ripening mangoes were seen in large numbers mango 'pluckers' who came by asking.  Mother would do tariff bargaining ['per hundred mangoes' plucked].  We kept track and an eye when they counted the harvested mangoes in the end.  Then we would shift them to the warmth and coziness of the store room where a bed of dry straw supplied by our kind milkman was readied to keep the fruits for ripening.

It was virtually a mango-feast.  At times during good yield, 500, 600!  But we would keep only as much as we could and all the rest went for distribution among the streetfolk, who waited eagerly. Yield of mangoes dipped every alternate year.

The penultimate year before we got to see the tree, a pair of pluckers had been called in. This is how they did.  One would drop the plucked mangoes one by one.  The other person used a gunny bag to 'catch' and absorb the force to softly drop-slide them down to the ground to prevent the slightest damage to the fruit. See combo pictures above. 

Murali [click for], a poor young boy, who also climbed the tall coconut trees, came to pluck.  He slipped and fell once, luckily on the latrine roof with very minor injuries and we were reluctant to hire him thereafter as he was epileptic.

[Jackfruit tree in the background. Photo by cousin Santosh]

Imagine me sitting on those steps that faced the mango tree savouring whole juicy mangoes.  A careful bite at the beak opened for stripping the skin further.  I sometimes ate the skin if it was good. Then, I buried the front teeth into the pulp to pick up piece by piece till the kernel was completely scraped making it white!  The excited bites were to such an extent that little fibres would get caught between the teeth and trying to remove them later was tricky!   It was also not unusual for the juice to trickle down to my elbow to stain my pyjamas and a few drops would escape the mouth unnoticed and stain the shirt!  So juicy were these mangoes, ripened the traditional way!  Have eaten tens of them each season often sitting there, swishing away fruit flies that hovered around the eyes as they were also in proliferation in summer. 

When many ripened at the same time, 'Seekarnay' would be prepared [mashed pulp, milk and some sugar].  Mango leaves for auspicious occasions were readily available, esp. for flagging the doorframe. 

During strong storms tens of mangoes fell away, but not wasted.  When a hailstorm came about, that would mean fruits would rot during ripening.  

Old house being torn down by new owner.  Mango tree seen at the back. 2012.

New owner's bungalow under construction, 2016

The only occasions when we ate 'purchased mangoes' during our tenure there were during seasons of low yield.  Mr. Salar Masood [a paint merchant and old client of my grandfather] would supply a basket of mangoes upon request by my grandfather.  We never knew how much he used to pay for them. 

An unusual thing happened after we left this house [Devaparthiva Road]. People observed that there was no flowering and no mangoes the following season!  Tests have proved that trees and plants can bond and feel the human care-takers' emotions.  Was our beloved mango tree also feeling the absence and its chemistry temporarily altered and showed its suffering in that manner? Not once had this happened before. When the new owner dug for foundation very close to the tree for his new bungalow a few years later, it is likely that its roots were severely damaged. 

Henceforth, no longer could the neighbourhood get the taste of those mangoes and they felt as sad seeing the tree slowly dying as us looking in that direction as we passed by. People said they tried to save it, but it was futile. The loss is theirs. 

What remain with us are sweetest memories of our beloved mango tree and the most delightful fragrance of the sap filling the air when the dangling fruit was pulled from the stalk.
I consider myself lucky to have grown up in that house with such useful trees and shrubs in the yard.


There was a mango tree in the ancestral Lakshmipuram house [half razed in the picture] also where we moved. The tree's reputation was so so, but it did bloom profusely only once and gave some fruit, as if to welcome us.  Thereafter, hardly 4-5 or none!  It was an ordinary variety. The new owner of that divided portion now has chopped all trees to make way for his new structure. 

Now, our own mango plucker pole was idle laying in the open shed.  Our Red Whiskered Bulbuls found it a suitable place for nesting!  It has used the same nest 6-7 times, renovating it each time, making babies. Many little ones fledged while many eggs were feasted by the Mynas.

"King of fruits"

We have to content ourselves to buying mangoes.  Artificial ripening using calcium carbide [health hazard] has become so rampant in recent years so much so that one must exercise caution in choosing the outlets selling naturally ripened fruits. 

It is no surprise that my fondness for eating mangoes is as great as it was drawing a mango and colouring it during childhood, like this, with a prominent 'beak'!


Friday, May 11, 2018

An old Radio Friend, Parikh

A chain of events prior to 1984 had led me to the hobby of shortwave listening.  We had our vintage Bush Radio.  It was not long before I had found myself sending reports to Radio Korea [in Seoul] which was broadcasting in English, an hour every night. Its signal in the 31-metre band was inconsistent, yet I listened fairly regularly. Another thrill was to hear my name on the radio when my letter was mentioned in their 'Listeners Corner'!  Also, I sent in entries for their monthly quiz or essay competitions and won some prize or other. Little did I know this would lead to a great surprise.  A letter from them saying that I was chosen as their 'official monitor' had me very elated.

[Don't forget to click on photos to magnify]

The hobbies of 'shortwave radio listening' and penfriendship usually go hand in hand and are considered in many ways educative and healthy. Radio stations needed feedback from their audience across the world.  'Shortwave listeners' provide help in that while enjoying the hobby.  These people write and inform the stations about the radio signal, program content, suggestions, etc. To keep audience attracted, they sent stickers, pennants, calendars or little gift.  I too put my feet in this as I found it fully worthwhile. With my limited time for indoor hobbies, I was mostly content with Radio Korea and some penfriendship with a handful of people both in India and abroad [which eventually waned away]. Almost automatically, a network among the hobbyists forms as they have similar interests.

In 1985, Radio Korea had sent a list of monitors in India upon my request. In it was a certain Mr. Vasudev M. Parikh's name, in Bombay [now Mumbai]. The same year I was to go to Pune for a cricket coaching camp [10 days] after which I had planned to visit Bombay to meet a couple of relatives.  An opportunity of meeting him had opened itself.  I did not know anything else about him. So I wrote to him about my schedule and my keenness to meet.

At Pune, my relative was in the same campus as our camp.  So I had given his address to respond to.  I was in joy when my relative handed over Parikh's reply.  I was curious to know how young he was and had inquired a few basic information about him. This is what he wrote:

I had guessed him to be a young person but he was 65 year old seasoned veteran, esp. in the hobby!

He sent this photo taken during a radio club members meet in 1986, at his Nadiad home.

After an enjoyable camp, I traveled on my favourite 'Deccan Queen' train for Bombay and reached my relative's Andheri residence.  The following day, Mr. Parikh's clear directions helped me easily reach 'Jupiter' and climbed 13 floors [in the elevator!], in Colaba. On the way, I had visited my favourite Victoria Terminus [now renamed after Shivaji], the GPO and the streets around them.  I was excited to see the digital radio he used and talk about several things related to the hobby.  It was an engrossing one hour, learning about several new things. It was a friendship that was to continue till 2003.  We used to exchange letters frequently, some contents of which were about information on different radio stations' broadcasts.  His letters were neatly typewritten and full of information. We used a lot of post cards also. 

In 1986 also there was an opportunity to meet him again. But this time, in Hardwar, a sacred place for Hindus in North India! I was to go to Roorkee for cricket. Hardwar was very close and his annual stay coincided. He would go there with his wife for 10-15 days of relaxing.  Read his invite on the left.

My team mates, 2-3 of them, were surprised about my hobby outside cricket!  My third meeting with my wife happened to be the last, in 1989. 

Thereafter, only letters. He had also some access to e-mail when it was introduced, but there were only a couple of exchanges through this.

His e-mail.

He was using small address sticker labels in his correspondence. I wanted to have them too. So he had kindly helped me get a box of these. They were not available here at that time.

He was born on 12th May, 1920. His handwriting had slowly become very shaky, yet he managed to write a few  despite his physical weakness and weak eyes.  Probably he could no longer use the typewriter. But, promptly, he would wish me, my wife for our birthdays and usually on time.  He also never failed to inquire about our young children.

He would sometimes start the letter with 'dear radio friend'. And in another letter he wanted me to write him 'Dear Uncle'.  It is truly amazing how he was able to find time and energy in promptly writing to all his contacts with such long letters when he was younger!

The last mail I got from him was in 2003 in which he had expressed a rather low enthusiasm for life at 83.

[Magnified, read and feel]

He writes unhappily that "SWL is a dying hobby..."

Subsequently, I wrote a letter or two inquiring about his health, but never heard back.

His was a very renown name in the hobby, one as old as him is rare to find. I had planned to write an article about him in the late 90s for which he had sent some information. But my plan did not take off. Here are two sheets he had sent for this. Astounding achievements ever since he started listening in 1938 using a Crystaltone receiver as an 18-year old! The first radio station in the country was here in Mysore, 1936, but in Bombay, radio broadcasting had started a few years before that.

One of the persons who kept my zest in tact in the hobby was him.

 He would have been exactly 98 as I write this today, 12th May. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Binaca Toothpaste Freebies - 2

I made the initial post on this in 2009.  Much of the 'story' is there.  Click here: [Click]

That post also attracted quite a number of people [as the comments and views suggests] that knew about this wonderful Binaca Dolls. 

Since I improved upon the old version of display, I thought an update, as a 'No.2' would help. The open old version in which I kept the dolls used to collect plenty of dust thus necessitating too much maintenance. I made a display box to solve this issue. 

Displaying in the showcase and also protecting from dust to avoid cleaning remained a challenge for a long time. But I found a way by way of 'v shape' clear plastic name display boards a former neighbour had given. Cutting the plastic to pieces of measured dimensions was a tricky affair.  Glad it came off well. 
Click on images to 'enlargify'.

This would form the base.

The left shelf.

The right shelf. The sea horse had to be mounted on a piece of stiff plastic.

Full collection before keeping inside the box.

The 'Binaca Zoo' now inside the box, joints sealed by cellophane tape.

Side view of the box.

Ready for the showcase. Any dust.... just wipe the box! 

* * * * 

I remembered yet another little freebie that used to come in the Binaca toothpaste box just before these attractive dolls.  It used to be a small gold-like plastic pendant with different letters of the Alphabet. My aunt had collected many but none survived. They were the size of a shirt button, something like this:

My illustration to show how it was.

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