Indian Gooseberries: The Lost Fruit of Childhood
I was in the fabulous Udaivilas in Udaipur, enjoying the morning breakfast feast, when my eyes lit up. No, it wasn’t some grand Rajput jewels which had so excited me, though these gems I speak of were a rich golden orange and came wrapped in a delicate outer covering of gossamer beige.
Indian Gooseberry Tales
I’m talking of gooseberries – those lost fruits of childhood. I hadn’t encountered them in decades! Seeing the quirky little berries in their quaint natural packing took me years back to the bustling byways of Connaught Place in New Delhi where young boys selling gooseberries in straw baskets would waylay passengers as they got off from their parked vehicles to shop in the stores. I remember the old stores including Raghumull’s where my mother would buy our red blazers and white divided skirts – our school uniform for the Convent of Jesus and Mary; warm woolen vests for the harsh Delhi winters and red socks and belts to complete the stiff do’s and don’ts of a formal, no-nonsense convent education.
There were tons of school books to buy but that was another trip to Gole Market for new and used text books, all weighing a ton. But there too the gooseberries came in; they were ubiquitous, with the over-enthusiastic gooseberry boys pushing them aggressively to passersby. Luckily for us, my mother almost always bought some, after the mandatory bargaining, through the window of the car. And often I’d accompany her to the fruit market which during season was flooded with gooseberries, not to mention chikoos, papayas, mangoes, and tiny tasteful strawberries. The gooseberries, however, always intrigued me because of their unconventional, natural packing. This was designer fruit, fruit before its time.
So years later, I greedily strip open the outer covering and pop a golden berry into my mouth. I close my eyes and the burst of juice and the sweet-sour tang of berry takes me back instantaneously to childhood, to a very particular world which has long since evaporated. Still, it’s nice to close one’s eyes and revisit the past. As I re-open my eyes, I see the bowl of golden gooseberries before me. It is a lovely winter morning in Udaipur, the masala tea is steaming and there’s crisp toast. I’m surrounded by extended family and the day stretches ahead, full of promise. Yes, the past is gooseberry-sweet but the present isn’t so bad either.