City Food – Jamun Berries, Around Town
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They are dropping from the tree, hitting the ground—plop! Some of them burst, squirting their purple juice. Some lie whole, waiting for an unsuspecting person to step on them and slip. But no passerby is picking up the berries, despite the fact that jamuns can be so yum. Not even jamun seller Ajay, sitting cross-legged steps away from the tree, here on a pave, in Green Park Market.
Ajay’s basket of jamuns are sourced from Azadpur Subzi Mandi, he says, where they had came from Pushkar in Rajasthan. Why doesn’t he get them straight from any of the jamun trees lining the city streets? He silently shrugs. Miles away in Turkman Gate bazar, jamun seller Ishtiaq explains that hawkers avoid getting jamuns from the city trees “because then we are stopped by the people (in the vicinity).” The jamuns on his cart, he says, are from Agra.
The megapolis is in the early days of the month-long jamun season. In a Gugaon housing sector, vendor Bharat Singh lately changed his merchandise from coconut slices to jamun, his routine at this time of the year. On Tolstoy Lane, near Janpath, a jamun stands by the lane’s concrete signage bearing the Russian writer’s name in Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu (but not in Russian). The berries fall around Tolstoy as casually as snow in Moscow.
One afternoon last week in a Safdarjung Enclave park, a group of construction labourers were shaking a jamun tree, making the fruit fall from the branches. Another day, a bunch of house guards in Gurgaon’s Sector 6 had gathered under a jamun. Four men, including an excited child, held what seemed like a mosquito net underneath the tree, while an unseen man, somewhere up within the leaves, was beating the branches with his lathi.
Then there’s the great jamun in Connaught Place’s N Block. The tree is huge, the paved plaza under it gets completely splattered with jamun stains. This evening, no sign of jamun—not on the ground, not in the tree. An elderly beggar is lying by the trunk, eyes closed, a red balloon adrift beside him.
Jamuns unfortunately arrive in the time of mangoes, the scene stealers; so much so that Delhi’s great poet Mirza Ghalib wrote a lot on mangoes, and nothing on the poor jamuns. Naturally, a jamun aficionado feels grateful to poet Josh Malihabadi, who despite his name (yum, the Mahilabadi mangoes!), dedicated a couplet to our current object of affection:
Hai yeh bikhri hui zulfein ye kaale jamun hain
Hai yeh gulshan yeh sawan ki ghata chhayi hui
[These dispersed hair are black jamun
Like the rain clouds spread upon the orchard.]
PS: The photo shows vendor Munna selling jamuns for 200 rupees per kg.