We lived on Maigandhadeva Mudaliar Road (named after a prominent corporator) in Fraser Town, Bengaluru. Our house, bought in the early 1960s, was just a stone’s throw from the popular Everest cinema, the East Railway Station, the Cox Town market, the government maternity home and the bus stop. A narrow conservancy lane ran behind the house. But one of my enduring memories was the tree-filled gardens that dotted the road.
The two giant, decades-old guava trees in the compound made it easy to recognise our abode. I am still waiting to see guava trees as massive as these! Unfortunately, termites eventually spelt their doom. The town had beautifully laid-out gardens, but mango trees dominated our neighbourhood. Monkey-top buildings were a feature of Fraser Town, and most looked identical. During our salad days, scaling the compound wall and reaching the terrace to indulge in the fruits hanging from the neighbours’ trees was a piece of cake. Climbing trees was another favourite pastime.
One of our next-door neighbours had three varieties of mango trees, while the other had mango, pomegranate, and guava. The latter secured the pomegranates with small cloth bags and kept a fruit count. But that did not stop my brothers and I from grabbing the low-hanging fruits protruding over the compound wall. Despite the neighbour’s repeated protests and our parents’ reprimands, we continued our daylight robbery. But on the contrary, our other neighbour was magnanimous, seldom complaining about our mango foraging.
When the mangoes were ready for picking, the neighbours would call a vendor, haggle for a fair price and sell the fruits tree-wise. The vendor came armed with a long bamboo pole tipped with a metal hook. A cloth bag fixed to the end of the stick helped to pouch the falling fruits. Fruits that fell on the roadside would be gleefully spirited away by passers-by. Bedsheets held under a tree also helped to bag the knocked-down fruits. On completing the exercise, the vendor counted the fruits under the owner’s supervision before sealing the deal.
The owners, however, kept some fruits aside for consumption or gifting to near and dear, and we were one of the lucky beneficiaries. We reciprocated the gesture by offering ripe guavas from our garden. Standing two houses away was a massive jamun tree (Indian blackberry). The kind-hearted owner would collect and rinse the fallen jamuns before parting with the mouthwatering delights. These freebies ensured we did not have to splurge on these fruits during those halcyon days.
We reaped a rich harvest yearly by consistently nourishing our guava trees with water and manure. Our father took charge of plucking the fruits, and my brothers and I assisted him. Monkeys and fruit bats often raided the trees when in fruit. My father would pack the luscious guavas and gift them to people he knew.
We never hesitated to offer fruits to passers-by who requested them. Our mother kept some guavas aside to make tasty jams and jellies. We relished eating fruits that squirrels and bats had nibbled on; believe me, they tasted heavenly. Despite the simian raids, there were sufficient fruits for everybody. Dad enriched the garden later by bringing exotic fruit saplings, such as rose apples, passion fruit, and soursop. Our “green friends” grew swiftly and rewarded us with ample fruits.
Regrettably, steel and concrete monsters have replaced the monkey-top buildings, causing the gardens and fruit trees of yesteryear to vanish. But those fruity memories remain!