I share the shameful inability of the majority of my countrymen (especially the city-dwellers) to identify by name most of the different species and varieties of plants, trees, large animals, birds, insects, and fish that surround us. Nevertheless, I can remember vividly the splendidly different colours and flavours that those bananas
possessed - some impossibly long and thick skinned, others tiny as a finger but intensely sweet, some a dull emerald green, others an attractive russet. Most of these fruits made their appearance only during a particular time of the year, unlike today when everything appears to be procurable all the
time - at least to those of us who have the money. But this intermittent availability, along with the different seasonal childhood pursuits hardly ever engaged in today (flying a kite, spinning a top, playing marbles), only enhanced the natural rhythm of the months of the year (otherwise marked in Visakhapatnam only by a progression of the weather from warm and humid to very warm and very humid to hellishly hot and humid, culminating in very wet and very warm before the cycle repeats itself).
A walk or drive, through the city today reveals mounds of attractively polished fruits (the vast majority
are over-packaged, like almost everything else today, in cardboard and assorted materials derived from non-renewable hydrocarbons) on sale, around every corner. Look a little closer, however, and you will note that most of these have been procured not just from distant parts of this country but from around the globe! The Grouch is all for free trade but does anyone try to figure out the true cost of such
imports - not just the added pollution and related environmental degradation involved in shipping (often in refrigerated containers) produce over long distances but the impact on small local agriculturists? These are people who have always worked hard and received
little, now, they are probably out of work and receive nothing -
unlike the kamchors / panidongas who infest our bureaucracy and political offices and fully deserve the bracing jolts delivered by
globalisation and privatisation. Sadly, this obsession with things foreign and exotic has intensified at a time when the trend in the US and, on a larger scale, in Europe is towards farmers markets and organic foods (locally grown in most cases). Organic foods at this stage in India appears to be more of an upper class
affectation - the middle class and the nouveaux riches still have not had their fill of fatty foods, refined flours, and excessive amounts of sugar. The poor, as ever, continue to starve or be malnourished.
I will admit that the mindset which identifies "plasticky",
homogenised and American as good and organic, uneven, and indigenous as infra dig (if not bad) is not uniquely Indian. It features in most Third World countries. On a recent visit to Grenada (a country, or at least it attempts to pass itself of as such, in the Caribbean) the Grouch noticed billboards (which shall be the subject of an upcoming rant) sponsored by the British government exhorting the populace to consume more local
produce - the islanders are spoiled for choice when it comes to fruits and vegetables grown locally but are inclined to prefer shrink-wrapped and tasteless rubbish (usually also over-processed and over-priced) imported from the
Some items such as Tegalu, Karrapendalum, Erra Dumpa (Sweet
Potato) are now considered 'downmarket' fit to be eaten only by 'villagers'! I remember a time when women bare above the waist (Vizag was an innocent place then) sold these items at street corners.
Older residents of Vizag will at least remember (if not remember having eaten) fruits such as
Regu Pallu, Parim Pallu, Eetha Pallu, Waka Pallu, Jeedi Pallu Black, Neredu Pallu, Thummi Pallu, Balusu
Pallu. Now, we have fruit sellers in Vizag proudly proclaiming that their Papayas are 'Taiwanese' and Apples 'Chinese'. In
Visakhapatnam and most urban areas of India, even fruits and vegetables that have been grown regionally look rather uniform and bland-most of the varieties that used to be available apparently having been displaced by a single strain that looks good but lacks character.
Think about these things the next time you instinctively bargain (to the point of driving out of business) for a few paise with a vendor in Vizag who has walked miles carrying a small basket of superficially misshapen and soil-smeared fruits and vegetables and also when you unquestioningly whip out your credit card and pay the price asked for some waxy looking (and tasting) apples grown in some place you have barely heard of.