You may have noticed hawkers at traffic signals selling them in baskets atop their heads. You might often also see mounds of these in the local sabzi mandi (vegetable market), piled up in straw baskets. After a heavy spell of rainfall, you will probably spot them squashed on your walking path—when the wind shakes the tree so hard that a purple bath paints your otherwise concrete path. Yes, it is officially jamun season in Delhi!
My earliest memory of jamun trees is from the early ’90s—when I would come to Delhi to my uncle’s, and he would take us to India Gate for picnics on the weekends. I fondly remember those majestic jamun trees that lined the road from India Gate to Raisina Hill. Believed to have been planted in the 1920s as part of Edwin Lutyens’ original design for Lutyens Delhi, they are as much a part of Delhi’s heritage as any of its other landmarks.
Often, I sat and wondered how these trees have seen this city evolve, their roots firmly planted. They have even been of the utmost significance to bird watchers and nature lovers of the capital, as twice a year, there is a buzz of Rosy Starlings hovering around these jamun trees—also the roosting site for parakeets in the city.
A few days ago, I happened to notice jamuns being sold in fancy packaging via food aggregator apps across Delhi-NCR. Today, the price of convenience you pay to devour them while you sit comfortably at home is a very precise and mechanical-sounding “`60 for 225gm”. I chuckled as I thought of how my grandmother would react to this information. “Itne mehnge jamun? Jaao, saamne ped se tod ke le aao!” [Such expensive jamuns? Go get some from the neighbourhood tree instead!]
Today, if this was to be an actual conversation, I would have probably told my grandmother that there are no jamun trees around, so I’d invariably order it online. However, almost as if on cue, I discovered that we often do not see what is around us in abundance.
Two years ago, while I was working on the food photography of my recipe book, one of the recipes required fresh jamuns to be used in it. Early in the morning, I ventured outside to look for a jamun-wallah, but could not find a single one at that hour. While I was on my way home that day, my father and I stumbled upon a (literal) purple patch. Looking up, we found a grand old jamun tree—it was always there, and we would hardly ever think about it! Thus came handy an old-school trick; my father and I displayed utmost dexterity with a few humble pebbles—until we were showered with fresh jamuns!
I do not remember the last time I plucked a fruit from its tree and had it, prior to this. But, this made me feel more connected to my childhood and all the stories and imaginations I grew up with—a time when the fruit came from its source and not in plastic packaging.
If such an encounter sounds too far-fetched for you this summer, though, there are plenty of old-school items for you to try. For instance, the jamun kulfi at Kuremal-Mohan Lal Kulfi Wale in Sitaram Bazaar in Old Delhi, which was established in 1903, could well be the Delhi discovery of this summer for you.
is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’