jackfruit cooked in a vegetable dish is a delicacy in the
place I come from. So we have Kathal (jackfruit) pulaos
being served with as much élan as you would serve
a katchi biryani here. Or a single dish of kathal aloo is
enough to perk up an otherwise boring meal. Jackfruits make
delicious pickles and their 'kababs' (actually a misnomer,
because what is a kabab without meat? But when we can have
paneer 'tikkas', why can't there be kathal kababs?) offer
stiff competition to the most succulent of sheek kababs.
Now don't get me wrong here. I am not a vegetarian in the
strict sense, meaning being a stickler for meals sans fish,
eggs, garlic, and hold your breath, sans onions too! How
on this earth, and in any kitchen, is that possible? Well,
you have to have a truly 'vegetarian' meal at our place
to lay your doubts to rest.
But as always, I digressed. The point being made here is
that despite my distinct preference for the meats, nothing
in the world can match the experience of having a kathal
dish on the dining table. Last year, when The Hubby and
I moved to Dhaka, my only disappointment was at the non-availability
of kaccha kathal. Not that the fruit is not consumed raw
in Bangladesh, it is just that somehow I could never manage
to lay my hands on one.
So you can imagine the frantic rounds I would have made
around town in search of that one elusive raw jackfruit.
The 'best and last piece', to quote the vendors, would somehow
miss my shopping bag by just that fraction of a second.
Madam, shesh hoi gacche” became my nemesis! The vendors
at the Gulshan kacha bazaars knew me as this mad woman who
comes looking for unripe kathals; the Mohakali vendors refused
to entertain me after my fourth visit; the ones at Karwan
Bazaar instantly knew I was from the other part of the subcontinent
because apparently, the bazaar had seen similar eccentrics
in the past. Oh! What can a soul deprived of the taste of
aloo kathaler dalna not do? The piles of jackfruits being
sold on the streetside all over town looked, smelt and felt
ripe, so it was futile going to them.
Now against this backdrop, you should judge my quirky behaviour
when this weekend The Hubby and I made a brief trip to Agartala,
Tripura. All along the way up to Akhaura, I could see huge
trees spilling over with jackfruits. Pendulous, green and
firm ones. But what was the point. Their owners were patiently
waiting for these to ripen. There was no way I could have
had them. I half expected The Hubby to climb up one of the
trees and prove himself useful just that one time. He chose
not to budge, so the 'most dispensable' tag stays on.
Once on the other side of the border, I nearly fainted because
there were rickshaw loads, jeep loads, even truck loads
of the BIG fruit all waiting at the border to exchange hands.
And again those ubiquitous fruits hanging from the trees
everywhere. The people in Tripura also relish them as ripe
fruits, so no luck again.
My heart, however, waltzed for the obvious reason as we
reached our hosts' cottage. Their garden had these humungous
fruits, still not ripe, teasing me from all sides. The kathal,
my holy grail, my quest for it successfully terminated there.
Understandably, I went berserk at the sight of them.
The rest of the tale follows a natural denouement. The hostess
being made to stuff the grub prepared for us into the refrigerator,
jackfruits being cooked in five different ways, the same
being had at all the meals we had over the weekend, the
husbands giving up in desperation, The Hubby cooking Maggi
noodles for himself by the second day's lunch, five fresh
mammoth fruits being shoved into the boot of their car to
be brought back to Dhaka.
The border crossing posed a bit of a problem. You can't
just lift these fruits and glide past the border formalities.
Our car waited at the other side of the border, but that
quarter of a kilometer had to be traversed without wheels.
The BSF, the BDR, the immigration and customs officials
on either side, a few goats and a motley crowd of travellers
waiting with their passports stared at me. The Hubby disowned
me there. How I finally ferried the monsters across is another
story, but the exercise over, I felt I had attained nirvana.
You can't possibly consume five jackfruits in a couple of
days. So before they showed signs of ripening, they were
chopped, boiled, and stored away in the deep freeze. That's
a year's supply of jackfruit. And everyone's invited.