Fruit of my labour
The wife settled for one pomelo, for which she shelled out ₹2,000. Suttappa sanitised the pomelo before packing it
Until last Sunday, I didn’t know who or what a pomelo was. If you had asked me, I would have told you that it was perhaps a corruption of ‘Pamela’, a name made famous by iconic social activist Pamela Anderson. But the pomelo is actually a large, round fruit that can break your fingers. I know because I’m typing this with my little finger in a cast.
It all began with an idea for a road trip. “The Deys own a pomelo orchard in Uttarakhand,” the wife said one morning. “Their daughter — the one doing MBA — wants to go and stay there but they don’t want her travelling alone.”
“What’s a Pamela Charge?” I said. It’s possible I misheard because most Bongs would pronounce ‘Pamela’ as ‘pomelo’ and when my wife said ‘pomelo’, I automatically heard it as ‘Pamela’.
“I said we’ll drive her there,” she said.
“You did what?”
“It would be a lovely drive to the hills. We’ll pick up a few kilos of pomelos. I haven’t had them in ages. The ones you get in Delhi are so expensive and no good.”
And so, the following Sunday, four of us — the wife, myself, Kattabomman, and Suttappa Dey, the younger daughter of our neighbour, Mr. Dey — set out in my car for a pomelo orchard in the Kumaon foothills.
“Four masked individuals setting out in a car at the crack of dawn. You look like a gang of bank robbers,” Mr. Dey said, cackling.
“In which bank is your ill-gotten wealth?” I said. “We’re going there first.”
“He’s joking,” the wife said, addressing Mr. Dey.
What’s the difference between intelligence and wisdom? Intelligence is knowing what’s the right thing to do. Wisdom is doing it. For instance, I had the intelligence to know that embarking on a six-hour road trip with two women — of which one has a history of motion sickness and the other is an unknown quantity — is asking for trouble. But I lacked the wisdom to heed my intelligence.
Suttappa was a mask extremist. The first thing she said to me was not “Good morning” or “Thank you for your kindness” but “Your mask is not fully covering your nose” — and this, when I was out of breath from loading her enormous suitcase into the boot.
True to her name, she also turned out to be a chain smoker. Before even crossing Ghaziabad, we had taken half a dozen smoke breaks. I thought the wife would be worried we were exposing Kattabomman to a bad example. But she was happy with the frequent stops as they kept her car sickness at bay.
So I also didn’t complain, even though the frequent halts were upsetting my driving rhythm. I initially said nothing when Suttappa made me stop near Moradabad and asked me to go buy a pack of cigarettes from a roadside paan shop. But when I handed her the pack, she recoiled in horror. “What are you doing?” she screamed.
“What did I do?” I said. “You wanted me to buy cigarettes for you. You don’t want them now?”
“Of course I do! But how can you hand them to me without first sanitising them?”
I don’t know what got to me — the younger generation’s extreme sense of entitlement or the extreme irony (of demanding sanitiser for cigarettes) or the two extremes fertilising each other on a national highway — I finally lost it.
“Suttappa,” I said, “No more suttas for you. Just Shuttuppa and get in the carappa.” I threw away the pack of Wills I had purchased. She ran to pick it up, but didn’t smoke after that — either because the pack wasn’t sanitised or because I wouldn’t stop the car. Probably the latter.
We made it to the orchard by late afternoon. There were stacks of pomelos all over the farmhouse. “Here, try it,” said Suttappa, tossing one at me.
“Ouch!” I wasn’t prepared, and as I tried to catch it, the big fruit landed on my little finger. “You’ve broken my finger!”
“It’s probably nothing,” she said, blowing smoke in my face from a freshly sanitised cigarette.
Wife’s dreams of five kg free pomelos got swiftly squashed. She made the mistake of offering to pay, expecting Suttappa to demur. But the MBA student cashed in.
“Alright,” she said, “These are ultra-premium pomelos, strictly for export. They sell for ₹2,000 apiece in Norway. But I’ll give you a discount. You can have five for ₹9,000. Here’s my Paytm number.”
The wife settled for one pomelo, for which she shelled out ₹2,000. Suttappa sanitised the pomelo thoroughly before packing it. Perhaps because of the price, or because it looked magnificent, the wife lost all interest in eating it.
Kattabomman suggested we paint a demon’s face on it and hang it above the main door. But his mother had other ideas. She had the pomelo framed in a glass box. It now occupies pride of place in the drawing room showcase.
G. Sampath is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.