<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 108 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 6, 2003

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The Quest…

Richa Jha

Raw 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.


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