In the same way, as I grow older, I seem to appreciate the beauty and bounty of nature more and more. Be it the contrast between the dark green, old-looking and rough-edged leaves of the Har-shingar tree juxtaposed with the fragility of its star-shaped white flowers laden with perfume, standing proudly on their bold-coloured orange stems or the abundance of fruit and vegetables that grace our markets in every season. On Saturday, I visited my favourite vegetable mandi in Munirka, near the Malai Mandir and was almost transfixed by the sheer variety of vegetables and fruit available. As usual, I was greedy and bought more than I think we can eat within a week, as the market is a little out of my way. But the luxury of being able to choose so many fresh, naturally ripened vegetables and fruit is one that I never cease to appreciate.
There were all kinds of exotic and mundane things available – from the kannadiga favourite seeme badnekaayi or Chayote, to onion flowers, looking like frailer versions of asparagus, to tender young asparagus itself. Leeks, white onions, sambar onions, spring onions and red ones. Sweet potatoes, new potatoes and ordinary ones. Five kinds of eggplant or brinjal, from the big, round one used for bhurtas to long purple Japanese ones, tiny green ones prized by the Thais, small purple ones perfect for Bagaare Baingan to slim, delicate looking white ones. Fresh greens, from Bibb and iceberg to lollo rosso, a big bunch of spinach, a bunch of methi or fenugreek greens, rocket, dill, coriander and some red leaves that I don't know the name of. All kinds of squashes and root vegetables, from sweet potatoes to yams to taro…The fruit stalls too were full, for once, with fruit ranging from Indian green pears to yellow Bartletts which I promptly bought for the purpose of poaching in red wine, pomegranates from Afghanistan, large and bursting with juice, red-cheeked apples and star-shaped disco papayas, oranges and custard apples, Maltas or navel oranges and persimmons, and of course, the humble yet much-loved banana…
I came home laden with bags full of farm-fresh produce and I can only hope that we manage to eat everything we bought before it goes bad. But the experience of buying and being able to select from such abundance, and more, cooking the produce in such a way as to bring its flavours alive without killing it in an overdose of oil or spices, and then enjoying every mouthful…Ahhhh, there is nothing that produces a greater sense of well-being.
For the past few days, I have been indulging in a guilty pleasure once the kids are on their way to the park. I shut the door behind them, revel in the momentary blessed silence, then head for the kitchen to rootle out a Malta and a sharp knife. I quarter the fruit and settle into my favourite armchair. Then I greedily stuff a piece of the fruit into my mouth, sucking the sharp, sweet-sour juices and enjoying every last drop as it dribbles into my throat and think, "Gar Firdaus bar rue zameen ast, hameen ast, wa hameen ast", Babar to the contrary!