Last night I remembered one of the many stories by grandfather used to tell me. Once there was a man who was sitting by the roadside crying. Another man passed by and asked what the matter was. “I have only fifty paise, and my hens, my horse, and I….we’re all hungry. I cannot figure out whom to feed with this little money.” The passerby said, “It’s quite simple. Buy some kharboojas with the fifty paise. Feed the rind to the horse, the seeds to the hens, and eat the flesh of the fruit yourself.”
Of course my grandfather did not recalibrate the story for inflation since his childhood, but you see the point.
Kharboojas (muskmelons) were in regular supply in our home. They came in those delicious early days of the summer I secretly felt thrilled that though it was May, it was not really as hot as summers are wont to be. It even rained once or twice, to delude me into believing we were going to have a cool-ish summer. Kharboojas are all about the heady fragrance and succulent coolness of the early summer, and when the blazing heat kills the infant summer, it tries to make up for its crime with the frontal attack of the mangoes, making the kharboojas taste bland in comparison.
Each home probably cuts up and serves muskmelons in their own unique way. Our style was long slices (never cut along the ridges on the skin of the fruit, for some unfathomable reason) from which the rind was separated with a clean sweep of the knife, but left joint at the end…maybe to catch the drippy juice, maybe for ease of holding, maybe as an umbilical connection. Thus each one of us had a pile of rinds on our plate when the kharbooja session was done. My pint sized sister made sure grandpa had no more slices than she did, being born in a democracy and all…
Another ritual was to save one half of the first kharbooja if it turned out to be exceptionally sweet, in case the rest were disappointments (the family being in the insurance business). Some were so bland that we refused to eat them, but Grandpa stressed their “utility value” as roughage, an argument that has never historically worked with children.
The kharbooja sitting in the fruitseller's shop is so unyielding of its mysteries. Who knows what lies underneath its thick skin? Many standards for selection were tried with varying degrees of success: dark green lines, sharp contrast, no lines, small ones, light ones, early ones, late ones….
And now we go to a fancy vegetable store and but Sardas (called some fancy name in English that I refuse to look up). They look like lemons gone berserk sizewise and have very thin skins, few seeds, and are almost invariably sweet. All the fun of the kharbooja, and none of the mystery or hassle. I love the taste , and hey, they’ve been here almost the whole year now… But they’re non-magic food.
I can live on sardas, grandpa, and I don’t worry though they’re close to 25 rupees for one now. But what about my horse and hens?