Come the rains and the backyard is a frenzied riot of verdant green.
The papaya trees, just outside my bedroom window, so close that I can stretch my hands out and touch the leaves, are laden with fruit.
In different phases of life.
The young fledglings, a pristine green.
The frivolous adolescents, green with pompous specks of gorgeous golden.
The proud adults, gorgeous golden with faint reminiscences of green.
And the wise elderly, a luscious resplendent orange. Inviting the world to relish their mellow sweetness.
The gluttonous birds are on a song, feasting ravenously on the plump fruit, leaving a splatter of grey-black seeds all over the yard.
The squirrels too are back, chasing each other silly, gorging on the papaya.
And occasionally a wilderness of monkeys descends, more for the bananas though, leaving a trail of carnage and destruction behind.
Manikkaka cannot stop grumbling.
His laboriously assembled scarecrow, complete with a face, designed to intimidate even the lion-hearted, as he loved to flaunt, a worn-out shirt and Dada’s long discarded sun-bleached trousers have failed miserably to keep the feathered friends at bay.
Let them eat some of it, Grandma consoles, we shall still have enough fruit left to dispatch to friends and family and treat ourselves.
And indeed the kitchen has been relentless churning out papaya delicacies.
Peper Ghonto. With its overload of raisins.
Peper Dalna. With those to-die-for lentil fritters.
Even Pepe Chingri. Green papaya paired with shrimps. That Dada and I keep entreating Maa to prepare for us again and again.
But then one day, Maa cooks a Pepe Jhal to Grandma’s instructions.
And I fall in love with the humble green papaya all over again.
Pepe Jhal. Green papaya. The aroma of bay leaves and cumin. The pleasant heat of peppercorn. The earthy sweetness of poppy-seed paste. The fragrance of ghee. Food heaven !!!