What’s your beef? Mine is…
Whenever I see a Goyave-de-Chine, this quite unique sweet-and-sour fruit anywhere, I go all nostalgic. Nostalgic for many a teenage year when a group of us used to cycle — sometimes, no! mostly unbeknown to our parents — for 10-miles past the Nicoliere reservoir and up the winding mountain road to the Salazie woods to pick them. Led by Colonel Garcon Dada, our Supremo!
After finding a suitable hide for our bicycles, we would fight our way into the thick woods because there were never any ripe ones left by the roadside. I can still recall the excitement at the sight of the first bunch of the scarlet fruits. Of course no sooner picked, we gorged upon it.
After an hour spent picking, the Colonel would call out to us. Like obedient foot-soldiers, we would respond by showing up asap at the bike “garage.” There he would ensure everyone had a decent tanteful to take home by pooling and sharing equitably the group’s pickings. That was CGD’s army law and I cannot remember anyone arguing with it. It’s not that he was authoritarian or anything like that. No it’s just that arguing with adults was frowned upon in our rural Baitka society. Arey, iss ka sanskaar his aysa hey! (His upbringing is devoid of all cultural values), people would say whilst shaking their heads from side to side.
Late teenage arrived and suddenly, abruptly it was time to tear away from loved ones and move on to pastures new, into the unknown depths of societies we only had a passing acquaintance through rudimentary History books. Brave, no; adventurous, certainly!
The absence would ostensibly last three-four years, time enough for a much-coveted British qualification. But somehow we — almost all of my generation — had a premonition that, given the reality back in Mauritius in the 1960s, it would last a wee bit longer than that. Like so many of my contemporaries, mine lasted a lifetime. I still have sort of schizophrenic feelings about the experience, but it is perhaps better not to analyze these things too deeply.
Anyway, when we eventually returned home to Mauritius after retirement, my wife and I used to take all our nephew and nieces to Plaines Champagnes, to the rich picking fields. I still don’t know who between us and the kids loved this the most. We used to pick not only enough to eat as “salade” but also make delicious jam with its own special G-d-C aroma. Old age and arthritis prevent us from going on these excursions now but, every time we go to the town centre, we are sure to buy a bagful or maybe two from one of the ubiquitous sellers to be found near the fruit-and-veg market.
I marvel at the continuity of a tradition that started long before I was born. I marvel at the hundreds of these intrepid men who get out of their warm beds in the small hours — come rain or shine — and cycle all the way to Plaines Champagnes in order to pick their cargo with which they provide so much pleasure to their customers. I marvel at the thought of this singular wild fruit that still provides for the livelihood of so many families throughout the Summer/Spring months.
To give just one living example, my cousin Dhaneshwar managed to buy a plot of land and build a beautiful home partly funded by selling G-d-C and supplying Ravenal (the Travellers tree) leaves on the occasion of many a Hindu wedding. Somehow the traditional haldi meal does not taste the same when eaten from an artificial banana leaf, does it?
Delight. If you ever were to chance upon my back-garden, you are sure to find my own private G-d-C tree growing nicely there, because it is threatened to extinction by Government, of all people. It would seem that they been advised by some clever technicians at the Mag to eradicate this precious bush from our woodlands. According to our geniuses, it is apparently encroaching upon and killing all our endemic plants. (You would have noticed they all seem to emanate from the Royal College and, as my friend Cooldeep would put it, have amassed “certficats longeur la-semaine but short on khopri”). However you don’t have to take my word for it; just look at the current mess they have made of the importation of medicine that is leaving many patients from procuring vital medication from the NHS or, even when they can afford it, from any chemist on the Island.
Anyway after I don’t know how many eons growing in the local forests, just like generations of immigrant diasporas in towns and villages, the G-d-C itself has surely become a native by now. But who cares, because the Old Royalists know best? Piffle, rot, utter nonsense! I can hear my old buddy Keshraj uttering in indignation and total disgust. But who cares about the opinion of the little Man, who cares about his needs and his desires? Indeed who cares, period?
What we seem to fail to understand in our little world (and contrary to popular belief, we are minuscule!) is that extinction is in-built into nature. Darwin’s whole Theory of Evolution was based on natural selection and the survival of the fittest. The weak have always had to give way to the strong. But government is government and, against all logic, decides. Who cares if the entire population is orphaned of the only wild fruit that they have in the whole of the country? Who cares if generations to come will never have the pleasure of tasting of this exquisite fruit — with or without the ubiquitous disel-piment?
So I do my bit by simply encouraging friends and relations to plant a bush or two in their gardens so as to ensure that their grandchildren, their children and their children’s children will have the good fortune of partaking of this delicious, beautifully perfumed gift of nature that we have had the privilege of having in abundance during our lifetime.
Inquilab, long live the Goyave-de-Chine!
* Published in print edition on 24 August 2018