The doorbell rang.
The man and I are in the garden, S engrossed in his email that has arrived overnight, I browsing the headlines of the newspaper, desperately looking for that one article that would not be depressing to read.
Who’s it so early in the day ? I wonder.
I don my mask and walk up to enter the door.
It’s S, our sweetheart help, but this is far too early for her.
All well ? I enquire, opening the door.
And that’s when I see the stunning beauties – I saw these abloom in the neighbouring yard, S narrates, checked with the Aunty and she was too happy for the flowers to be put to use. Got them early before they wilted.
My smile said it all.
I am indeed on seventh heaven.
And memories come rushing back.
The pumpkin vine in our backyard in Karimganj that had effortlessly conquered the roof of the cowshed, thereby earning the monicker of Queen Victoria from a bemused Bapi. And to think of it, he remarked in jest, she didn’t even need the excuse of a contentious Doctrine of Lapse to usurp it all.
And then the Sunday morning ritual.
Manikkaka dragging the battered ladder out of the cobweb-riddled shed, carefully climbing to the top while Dada held the ladder firmly, inspecting the pumpkins and finally choosing one. The ominous knife would then make a sudden appearance from the folds of his gamchha waistband, a sharp snip of an experienced hand and the pumpkin would be brutally dislodged from the mothership.
Manikkaka would roll the pumpkin down the gentle slope of the roof, Dada would inevitably attempt to catch the free-falling pumpkin. On some days he would succeed and we would spend all of the week that followed listening to commentaries of his stunning catch or watching shadow replays of the same; most days however, the pumpkin would land with a thud only for Dada to bitterly complain how Manikkaka hadn’t alerted him in time.
Then there were days when Grandma or Maa would request Manikkaka, still atop the roof of the shed, for the young leaves and tendrils from the vine, after all pumpkin leaves were a delicacy, even Dada who didn’t particularly adore his greens, loved pumpkin greens with shorshe and posto.
And I chuckle reminiscing how upset Grandma would be if Didi mistakenly discarded the seeds.
The seeds were meant to be carefully preserved – scrubbed thoroughly, dried under the sun and relished as nuts (long before pumpkin seeds became hip and trendy)
Or planted back in the yard.
Or even gifted to family and friends.
And finally the flowers.
Flowers were rarely plucked off the vine.
No, not even the male flowers, Grandma had vehemently refuted Dadas challenge one morning, they are integral to the chain, without the pollen from the male flowers transported by the bees and butterflies to the female ones, we wouldn’t be blessed with such stunning produce.
It’s a delicate balance of Mother Nature. All her creations have roles that can be fulfilled by only them.
And so, as much we cherished Kumro Phooler Pur, we had to solely rely on the flowers that had fallen off the vine. Or the rare occasions when Manikkaka managed to spot them in the local market.
Kumro Phooler Pur. Resplendent pumpkin flowers. A tear-jerking stuffing of shrimps slathered in poppy-seed paste. Dipped in a batter. Fried to a splendid golden. Wicked, isn’t it ?