Wish I could storm Pragati Maidan with my fellow-citizens in Delhi for some of those Peshawari almonds and strings of dried Afghani figs. And wouldn’t I love it if Santa (as in Claus & Co Jurrabewale) sent me a luscious blood-red ‘Malta’ orange from Gujranwala. I’ve heard that they were first grown in Punjab in Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa’s famous orchard there. Maltas haven’t come my way in Delhi since my teens, which were a while ago by dental if not mental reckoning; and I only ever got to eat them again in Sicily in my ridiculous twenties. All you find in boring plenty now on the orange front are kinu (Kinnow), which of course are easy to peel and eat but seem to have chased out other interesting kinds, like how pigeons have exiled sparrows from Delhi.
Why should we care a fig about Malta oranges, you say? Imagine you’ve had a dusty, tiring journey. You come home, wash up and there on a snow-white quarter plate with a spoon placed invitingly by sits half a chilled blood-red Malta orange. Just the sight of it is so darn beautiful that you look again. And when you eat it, the glory of Creation bursts on your brain in ‘sphota’ like Sanskrit grammarian Bhartrihari’s ‘explosion of utterance’, an instantaneous flash of recognition, though he was going on about the aesthetics of language, not fruit. And ‘sauce Maltaise’, blending the zest and juice of one blood orange with two egg yolks, salt, pepper, lemon juice and melted unsalted butter is a fun upgrade for steamed broccoli or asparagus.
Plainly put, eating a Malta orange is a spiritual experience like standing under an amaltas tree in full bloom (is it kosher, btw, to say that of wolfing a kakori and taking a quick sip of malt, now that party season has uncorked across India?). Emanuel Bonavia, MD, Brigade-Surgeon in the Indian Medical Service, spelt out how matters stood back in 1888 in his fascinating study, The Cultivated Oranges and Lemons Etc of India and Ceylon with Researches into the Origin and the Derivation of their Names and Other Useful Information with an Atlas of Illustrations: “The best of all is the blood orange of Gujranwala”. So many bright, modern farmers in our land: are you goingto be left pipped or (please, please) won’t you make this amazing ancient orange happen at home?
Renuka Narayanan writes
on religion and culture