Sitaphal, Ramphal, bull’s heart, poor man’s apple or custard apple whatever you call it, the once-humble Shreefa (as we called it in Bhopal) is not everybody’s bowl of dessert. Everyone in the family stays three feet away from it and constantly scowls and expresses incredulity, How can you like that, its so full of seeds? What’s there to eat in this? Try once, I thrust it before them. Nooo.. they turn their faces like I was introducing dope. Is it addictive, I wonder? I never stopped to consider it too full of seeds, too little for the effort and suchlike they fault it with.
It started when I was little. Hundreds of bushes laden with shareefa grew wild on the hill beyond the campus. The raw, hard fruit was not good enough to be eaten straightaway nor worth taking home to be carefully wrapped in newspapers and buried within the wheat in the drums to ripen.
When the teacher asked to draw 3 fruits, I hurried through the apple-shaped apple, the mango-shaped mango and then leisurely, passionately drew out each hump, each bulge of the custard apple tarnishing meticulously its green skin with black, its sweet-sour taste bursting in my mouth.
Before you know it life takes over from teacher. It draws a curtain over our simple pleasures. We hanker after career, love, achievement, house, children. When the time comes for us to look back much of what we left behind is gone or altered beyond recognition.
Looking back, I see Papa rushing to New Market on my arrival from Delhi, and returning with a bag of custard apples. Only parents remember.
Now when I can find time on weekends, I visit the HAL vegetable market to buy my north-Indian vegetables - tinda, parwal, bathua, sarson, raw jackfruit and red carrots not heard of in Bangalore five years ago. Subzi done, I walk into the narrow lane leading to the exit of the mandi. Fruit sellers smelling of the ripeness of fruit call out to me, I hopscotch over the squashed fruit on the ground, I have to go to the end, exactly three stalls from the exit, to the smiling lady. She weights papaya, banana, apple and pear. Then she waits. I wait. The two baskets in front of me are precariously laden with sitaphal. I ask her to pick. I don’t want to run the risk. She picks three. Just three. My longing stretched out like a rubber band neither too much nor too little.