COVID-19 Diaries: Reminiscences

Jackfruit.

The item remained on our shared grocery list for weeks. Each grocery trip, my finger would hover over it, tempted to strike it off knowing how rare it is to find it locally. Yet, it would stay, a reminder of how random cravings for things from my past can take hold and not let go.

A couple of days ago, I walked in from my stroll around the neighborhood and saw the groceries arrayed on the kitchen island waiting for me to put it away. Tucked away in the midst of Okra and Moringa, lay this oblong slice of Jackfruit wrapped in cling film. I stopped and stared. The color at the edges was not flattering yet, the flesh itself was a golden yellow, firm to touch.

I put away everything on the island, washed my hands, poured out sesame oil in a small cup and got down to work. The smell from the fruit wafted me away a few decades into the past. A headlong dive into my tweens and teens when summers meant isolated villages where electricity was fickle and backyards teemed with bugs and snakes. The houses had mud walls, tiled roofs and vast thinnais. There was a courtyard covered on top with a loose netting to let the elements in but keep birds out.

Some days I would sit on the teak ease chair, a copy of the days newspaper in hand snacking on fresh fried bakshanam. Sometimes, I would sit in the thaavaram, the rectangular courtyard and look up at the sky for hours on end. Most days, I would sit on the thinnai, away from the searing heat that looked like waves emanating from the dust roads, reading vintage copies of Reader’s Digest.

One thing that marked all of my odd summers was the fruit. Ripe mangoes, pineapple, tender coconuts and, fragrant jackfruit from the backyard. Paati would sit on the kitchen floor, a cup of oil and a basin by her side. She would dip her hands in the oil, pull away the golden yellow flesh from the sticky innards, patiently remove the thick fiber that wrapped the fruit, split it open, pop the pit and toss the fruit in the basin. I would eat right off the basin until my tummy hurt. My hands would smell of jackfruit and sesame oil for hours later.

Mostly, the jackfruit is one of the few distinct memories I have of my mom’s mom. She was a diminutive lady, with a razor thin patience for nonsense. She showed her love through food, through the care packages that would arrive with visiting relatives. She would read the newspaper religiously each morning, cover to cover, her big toe going up and down to keep pace with whatever was churning in her head.

She would braid my hair, a little too tight for my liking, not a strand out of place when she was done. Her hands would be firm, her grip vice-like. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me, for the person I have evolved into.

The jackfruit fills the small cereal bowl when I am done with the plucking, pruning and pitting. I eat a few and put away the rest for later. Today, right after lunch, I pull a few out from the fridge, squeeze some honey over it, pause for a moment, thinking of paati and savor it.

Laksh

Author. Parent.

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