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The jamun tree and childhood memories

punjab Updated: Jul 23, 2012 11:29 IST

My great grandmother, who was reverently addressed as Boodhi Maa, would always point towards the huge 'jamun' tree in our village when asked about her age. Boodhi Maa died a nonagenarian, but the jamun tree still stands, though denuded and all used up.

There was a time when its delicacy ripened, got rain-kissed and dropped aplenty. Children could be seen eating them to their heart's content and bringing some home as well. There used to be a woman vendor, who collected the fall in her basket, carried it on her head and went round the village to return home within minutes, for the fruit was sold like hot cakes!

Come the month of Sawan and Teej-celebrating women thronged the jamun tree, singing folk songs. Young men and boys vied with one another and gladly took upon themselves to fix the swings to the jamun tree and make the women folk sit on them turn by turn. The competition involved how high a swing could go so as to have the riders touch and pluck the leaves on the highest branches. Due care was taken to fix the swings on strong branches since mango and jamun trees have fragile branch joints.

The jamun tree was a landmark and could be seen from a distance of 3 'kos'. It stood against the village skyline as a silhouette. I remember an instance as a child when I went to taste jamuns with a band of my cronies. Being the only son of my parents, besides my five sisters, I was never allowed by my mother to go for a swim in the nearby canal or climb a tree. She always feared for my safety.

While many others climbed the jamun tree along with one Karna, the barber's son, I had to stay content with whatever they dropped from above. Naturally, they devoured the best fruit themselves and spared me half-ripe or even beginning-to-ripe jamuns. On my beseeching, they would, once in a while, drop a good one, and really a parrot-bitten (considered to be more delicious) jamun for me. This was perhaps their revenge on me as I came from a feudal family, while they were from humble backgrounds.

It so happened that Karna ate too many jamuns and did not realise their choking trick played on the palate as also on the gut. He was then at the tallest branch when his throat and chest started feeling a choking sensation and he made gestures to others to help him climb down. He was brought down halfway. He couldn't take it anymore and jumped down. After landing, he instantaneously headed towards the nearby puddle to drink the muddy water from it to get some relief. After a few minutes, he was able to breathe properly. Obviously, I was the one to have the last laugh.

I recall all this after nearly 40 years when I told my domestic help to put a container having 10 black 'rasgulla'-like balls of jamuns in the refrigerator. But he brought back nine, not knowing that I had unwittingly (being uncharitable to him!) counted the delicacy. He would not even know that even one jamun leaves stains on the tongue. I made him grin and told him that I knew it, but he refuted me. Once again, I had the last laugh. Jamuns, you are too much!