Hot, summer afternoons bring back memories of my childhood waiting for the Nongu or Palmyra Fruit vendor who would shout out – “Taadgole”, and look towards the balconies of the tree lined Gymkhana Road. I would rush out to the balcony and beckon him to come to the “doosra mala” (second floor). The tanned vendor would trudge up the four flights of stairs to reach our door, and then softly settle down the bamboo wicker basket. It would be covered in layers of parrot green banana leaves. He would carefully unlayer them.
My grandmother (Paatima) would urge me to carry a stainless steel vessel (the ones in which most Tamilians would cook in) to collect the jelly-like fruits. We would insist on the tenderest fruits – reconfirming that these are indeed sweet and filled with nectar. He would pick up the fruits gingerly and place them in the vessel, counting as he progressed. For goodwill, and because we were regulars, he would add one extra at the end. My mother would always haggle, though we knew how much to pay. She would however keep the discussion volume low, lest we attract the attention of our strict Thatha (grandfather) who did not like salesmen and other vendors arguing with the womenfolk of the house. I would be given the duty of peeling any of the brown fibrous covering, so tenderly such that I do not pierce the jelly like fruit and spill its nectar stored within. Then Paatima (granny) would ask me to take one to my Thatha while she would distribute the rest amongst ourselves. My dad and uncle would miss out on the fruit, as it is best eaten freshly extracted; and the lack of a refrigerator at home, meant that we could not even store it for them. The luscious, lightly sweet, succulent and translucent fruit was the perfect foil for a warm summer afternoon.
Many years before that, we had travelled to Kanyakumari, and I saw a tender coconut vendor also vending what looked like large brinjals bunched together. I was curious to know why he sold brinjals with tender coconuts. He coaxed us to try out the “brinjal” water instead of the tender coconut promising us that it would yield double the amount of water for the same price. We balked at his claim, but he was insistent. He used a sickle to slice off layers of fibrous covering, till a tender white top was revealed. He then gently poked it, and capped the hole with a tall steel tumbler, tilting the fruit upside-down. We could hear the liquid transfer to the tumbler, and then he reversed the fruit position to place another tumbler on it, and repeat the procedure. He indeed did collect more than 2 glassfuls of the fruit water. I later learnt that this was a tender Nongu / palmyra.
I still see the Taadgola vendors at street corners in Mumbai, and ask my children if they wanted the fruit. They would crinkle their noses at a brinjal look-alike, and instead head towards to the mango vendor.