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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The scent of spring is...rose apples!

It's coming up roses, weather-wise. That lovely, too-brief time of year when you pack away the woollies but not the silks; retire the water heater but don't call yet on the ice-maker; sun the pillows and air the quilts — and rush to get them out of the freak rain that reminds you it's not officially spring yet.

What? You say there's no spring in the tropics? Well, tell that to the birds and the trees. The roses aren't done yet, but the bottlebrush has gone a bright, bristling red that threatens a thorough spring cleaning. The spiders are shivering about their webs in the garden. The bulbuls and doves have gotten beyond chatter and coo to quite raucous courtship. And the elusive rose-apple is popping up in small, drab piles that lead us by the nose to roadside vendors.

Oh yes, the signature scent of a tropical spring is... rosy!

Of course, I had to have a bowlful (and nice Boys be thanked!) of what Bengalis call the golaap-jaam and Hindi-speakers dub gulab jamun — confusing poor monolinguals, who imagine we're waxing lyrical over deep-fried syrupy doughballs. How sad, as they turn up their noses, that they can't know what their missing — that shockingly heady fragrance of tea roses that beckons from a pale, sallow, hard pebble of an apple-crisp fruit! An aroma that enchants you into burying your nose into a paper bag — six times, dangerously, on your drive home. And then, arriving on your doorstep, spurns subtle Earl Grey and calls peremptorily for a rosebud tisane as its only eligible escort.

Expensive tastes they nurture these days. The once-wild Syzygium jambos has become so short-lived and reclusive a treat that a venerable Bengali bystander at Gariahat was puzzled by all the excitement, especially at Rs400 a kilo — the gentleman had clearly never met this plain-Jane jamun before, and his inquiry was rather of the order of 'khaay na mathaay dyay (to paraphrase a tad: does one eat them or exfoliate with them)?'

Such a pity the rose apple looks so dull, as deceptive as chocolate dirt, certainly no colourful Holi mascot! Until it seduces the intrepid with a mouthful as fragrant as the queen of flowers and tangy as a green mango — promising summer, bridging winter...

Maxim of an adventurous eater: Never judge a food by its favour; flavour is all. And oh, the irony that it should take daring to pursue something so delicious! The ignominy, that such gorgeous local produce should be edged out of fruit baskets by exotic apples, oranges, and 'Singapuri' bananas!

But then, as long as this princess of plums keeps a low profile, so much the more for me — for as long as they make it to market this year, that is. (I fear, and predict, they won't see the month out.)

So excuse my waxing lyrical for this so-short season of spring. Blame it on the scent of rose apples.

EDIT, 14 March: Curiouser and curiouser — turns out the rose apple is not only related to the wax apple (jamrul) and jambul (jamun), but also a cousin of cloves! I didn't know that! Did you?

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