The festivals are seasonal just like the fruits. They have a way of getting into our life and each teaches a moral in their own sweet way.
“One is good enough , if it lands well on your head!!”
Sukhua warned us with all the experience of a seven years old!
I had only one puny little head, which I believed was firmly stuck on my neck and none to spare.
“A rare piece!” A comment along with a confident knock or two on top of my skull from Bukai da was never taken with a positive spirit. Why would it be? By then, I had a vague understanding and a doubtful faith in reincarnation. Based on that, Bukai da was undoubtedly one of those not-so-rare rebirth of demon, Ilbwal, in the form of a cousin brother again.
The dark comments of life are better to be overlooked. But the words have a habit of flowing in and ears are shamelessly open, always.
So he continued with the wisdom of a wise monk, Taoist to the core. He pointed again towards my head and though mostly to himself, but loud enough for all to hear.
“An unique piece! One hard ‘nut’ to crack!”
We all looked up cautiously at the dark round nuts hanging precariously on the top. The palm trees loomed equally dark and ripe against the grey sky. It was still early afternoon but it felt like the sky had no memory of the sun for days. The ground below our naked feet was grey and muddy and only rare ‘cracked nuts’ wore flip flops in this mess.
With one of his pair lost in the gooye gravy, Bukai da knew that a solid thrashing was waiting at home when the prodigal son would return with his broken straps. My face lit up for a mysterious reason.
We had not tracked a single palm fruit yet. Sukhua was highly disappointed in the tight-fisted trees and also on his bitter companions.
“They have a smell, strong and sweet. Check with your eyes and use your nose.” Sweet! I roll my eyes!!
The velvety orange pulp, once tasted while it was churned out, made me wonder why we invest so much effort to make something dreadfully bitter only to taste bitter-sweet.
Just like our relationships!
The ‘khoya’ is added generously along with crystal white sugar. Then goes the cream of milk and one or two small green cardamoms are dropped in time as the pulp boils and bubbles on the clay oven with bitter anger and vengeance.
What goes on top of the fire doesn’t come down the same. But there are so many stories to tell in between.
“One needs a nose to smell!” I ignored the rudeness of life like a hermit crab.
The wind got stronger and was caught on the palm leaves, which like the giant duck feet, swooshed and swished around us in laughter.
High up the trees swayed and so did our hopes.
It was easy to look up while hoping than fixing the gaze on ground and yet be wishful!
So we looked up forgetting our heads. None fell.
“Why are we even scavenging in this sticky madness?” I raised the doubt which was bothering me for some time.
“We can always get them from ‘হাট’. This Saturday only. And they are so damn cheap there!” The city girl spread her hands on both the sides like a chicken about to fly.
Sukhua, my wise friend, raised along with these palm trees with their pond in the middle, hardly spoke. And I quietly admired him for that. He turned towards me. There was a twinkle that I could see even in that dim wild darkness.
He assured me without even uttering a word.
Thankfully Bukai da always knew everything and even not, he usually never realised that. He half heartedly tried to find the dark fruit and his other pair of flip which flopped for sure.
Poor ‘pisi’ (my dear aunt), I pitied her softly under my breath.
The sky changed colour and somewhere far away in the horizon, the clouds gathered to conspire. It towered on top of each other and trees suddenly stood still . With one crack of thunder, all three of us turned back like three tiny squirrels knowing when to hit holes. We ran in between the spiky trunks, the ground which gave away every now and then with our weight. We ran against the wind, against the approaching storm, forgetting completely our hope that is left behind under the trees.
Then we heard the sound!
The first one to fall on the ground. We stopped at different distances and looked at each other, hesitant and quietly asking for approval for the next move. Unanimously we head back, the same pace but in a different direction.
Ripe juicy fruits have such a sin full pull. None is spared be it apple or palm. Sukhua was the first who got hold of the dark round cannon ball. He held it up like a trophy. It was perfect. I whispered softly, touching the shiny coat. A slight crack on the skin revealed the promise of the dark orange pulp that had been carefully stored for months. I pushed my nose deep in the crevasse and the sweet aroma was intoxicating.
The rain began whipping us on the back and on the face.
We darted like bolt and from a distance one could see against the upturned angry sky, two boys and a girl in a white cotton frock, forgetting their fights, running together and one hugging the fruit of joy , which they planned to share between them and all, once they reach the cover of their home.
I knew that evening I would find ‘তালের বড়া’ (palm nuggets) sweet!! And maybe Bukai da as well!!.
What Sukhua left unuttered, vaguely made sense. It is the act of finding which makes things precious, sweet and heady. Otherwise, all are mostly bitter if available ready.
(Artwork: Piu Mahapatra)
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