Of Safi, mangoes and monkeys!


Working Title/Artist: The Three Trees Department: Drawings & Prints Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1643 mma digital photo #DP108235


Groggy eyed my flatmate and I both entered the kitchen. She had entered to make a smoothie for her breakfast, whereas I took out my Safi, which is supposedly the best blood purifier, as my early morning snack. My flatmate peered at the covering of the bottle and asked, ‘What is it?’ I then rattled off all the herbs and its benefits mentioned in the bottle.

I have been told I talk a lot, luckily my flatmate talks as much as I do 😛 so our bumping into the kitchen in the morning meant a nice long drawn conversation. It didn’t help that when she saw me gulp down the Safi like a poison, it made her laugh, and then I told her that one of the ingredients, the dreaded bitter Neem leaf, is also a part of this miraculous blood purifier! I told her how my father loves frying them and eating it with rice. Often after our morning walks, my father and I have gone in search of a Neem tree, as he proceeds to pluck the choicest of leaves, so that he have can savour the choicest of meals! I remember distinctly, him trying to cajole me into eating the fried neem leaves, exhorting its values, but my tongue would recoil at its mere taste, and even though I acquired taste for the bitter gourd, for the love of God I could not acquire a taste for the neem leaves!

But coming back to my conversation with my flatmate, often while conversing we realise the small differences of our daily lives, owing to our vastly different cultural background. She has been recently trying to grow peas, broccoli and cherry tomatoes in our kitchen, courtesy the latest Albert Heijn (possibly the biggest supermarket in the Netherlands) trend of providing its customers with vegetable seeds. She was delighted to see two pods of peas growing in her carefully looked after plant, and it amused me since long ago my grandfather had owned a huge farmland, and I have been accustomed to see vegetables and fruits grow on trees or plants. Whereas like my flatmate pointed out, most in the Netherlands buy everything in the supermarket, everything packaged, that nobody ever gives a thought how the fruits or vegetables might have landed in a packet!

Though I am still not privy to how vegetables and fruits might grow, while going on long walks with my father, he patiently points out to me all the different trees, which fruits they might bear. On a trip to one of our relative’s village in West Bengal, I relished ambling along the fields and the forests. I would love plucking chillies from my relatives backyard just before lunch and eating it with my mutton curry! and trust me, those chillies plucked straight from the plant, were the fiery ones! Perhaps the best is when during the summer months in India, all along the roads, or as you traverse the fields while sitting inside a train, you can see the mango trees bursting with ripe mangoes. Plucking or even picking up a fallen mango straight from the tree has a sweeter taste, maybe that is why I have never bothered to buy mangoes in the Netherlands. The ritual of buying it in a supermarket just does not seem enticing enough as opposed to plucking it from a tree!

While talking of mangoes, I told my flatmate how common it is to see monkeys swinging amidst the trees in India, and their mischievous antics have no end in sight. During secondary school I remember while leaving for school and going down the stairs of my home, often I would see a monkey sitting, which would have me screaming my lungs out and running back to my home! She laughed and said that when her boyfriend had visited her last year, he kept asking what are the dangerous animals of the Netherlands! All she could muster was a boar maybe! I had asked a similar question to another one of my Dutch friends earlier, and he too was caught in a quandary, whether the boar is the more dangerous animal or the rogue cyclist in the Netherlands!

Sometimes when I think of all the above I feel truly blessed and privileged, one of my most distinct memories is of a firefly lit clearing of trees in the village of West Bengal that I had visited. With electricity not being available every night, the village would almost be pitch dark during night times, as my father and I carefully made our way in the dark towards our home, during regular intervals the fireflies would light up the trees. It is a sight I would never forget, and perhaps also a sign that we must not forget our roots, the roots from where everything grows, lest all is forgotten and transformed into a canned product.


2 thoughts on “Of Safi, mangoes and monkeys!

  1. wow & mesmerising because i can so relate to the packed vegetable seeds , and the monkey and the firefly. just made me think od the good old young days when we were so different.My boyfriend from belgium also got me packed seeds which made me awe at the packaging style nd so did my dad when i handed over to him. I still at time take shower with neem leaves in summers to avoid any skin infections, i am too shit scared of monkeys i think they are the worst( i think i am scared of every animal on earth) and i use to play with those fireflys when we use to have power cuts in the society.AH!!! those days.you dont complain the heat, the sweat or no power and you enjoy. i think i a m very attached to my roots , i dont like washing machines for washing my clothes, i dont like the home delivery service, i dont like market pickles(nothing can beat the pickle made by grandmoms )etc…etc… Nice writing girl.

    • Yo, and omg I so relate to the pickles bit. I only eat the home made pickles made by my mashi. It just has so much more taste. My baba tells me earlier their mothers would make everything at home, namkeens, mishti etc etc. Infact in my hometown, electricity is still a problem, and I get what you mean by how power cuts would not matter at all. I loved sleeping in the terrace under a mosquito net. And neem leaves in water! best antidote ever, even during chicken pox 😛 and thank you for taking out the time and reading this 🙂 ❤

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