Representattive Image
Representattive Image

Let’s bring back the times long gone

Mulberry trees can be quite small, which means you can reach for the fruit without breaking your neck.

The first sign was in the purple staining the ground. Little rivulets of purple bled from bruised fruit. Over our heads, birds grasped the bounty on the boughs—some fruits were a fresh, leaf-green, and others were a wine-purple. If you touched them, they nearly exploded in your hands, and so you had to be gentle. It’s the season for the mulberry or the shahtoot, that once-a-year abundance of handpicked sweetness.

Mulberry trees can be quite small, which means you can reach for the fruit without breaking your neck. Each tree will give you little hills of fruit, and these are easily propagated. Many childhoods feature a mulberry tree, and little teams of grasping hands reaching for the fruit. Rituals bind this finding. One, you go fruit-hunting with a friend. Two, you wait patiently until they ripen, and all bitter or sour twinges are gone. Three, you do fun innovations like laying a tablecloth under the tree to get all your heart desires—or the sturdiest person in the gang shakes the tree. Fourth, you promise to do it all over again the next year.

And then, life happens, you grow older, and you forget the games of childhood.Perhaps the present sight of another fruiting mulberry—followed by mangoes, karonda, litchi and custard apple—can change this.

In her seminal book, Braiding Sweetgrass, scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about a reciprocal bond with nature. Things like collecting fruit, braiding rope, and being in nature reinforce a connection to our place in the world, she writes. She also emphasises that nature has gifts for us which we must respond to—and natural stories often can be cultural ones.

As for the mulberry: knowing when a fruit will ripen and waiting for the cycle of its ripening is a relationship richer than going to a store and buying a kilo of fruit. The first is a system of knowledge, bequeathing you with an agency and the promise of exploration; the second is a market system where your role as a buyer is fixed in place and time. Discovering a wild or cultivated fruit, ducking its thorns and resident insects, positioning your body and self in a way that’s flexible and friendly to your companion—this is a kind of wander with deep individual (and community) meaning.

You realise somewhere down the line it wasn’t the fruit that was so important, but the pursuit of it, and the writing of personal place and meaning. As a child I ate peepal figs—they were stringy and not particularly tasty, but it was about spending vagabond time with my friend. I realised too, that it was all about sharing; beyond the mere consumption of a purchase.

Bees and Coppersmith barbets wanted the peepal figs too, and eventually we shared them: that tree connected us to a wide world where things came from the sky and crept from the ground, all with the same purpose as ours—sweet nutrition. As an adult, I hope more of us can plant generous shrubs and trees that fruit, and we can share that bounty with birds, insects and perhaps a child that wants to begin the adventure of foraging.

Neha Sinha

Conservation biologist and author

Views expressed are personal

Posts on X: @nehaa_sinha

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