Gauva trees don't grow very tall and they always send out helpful branches at different heights to help five/six year olds to clamber on top to get to its fruit. Our tree had stretched his arms across the top of the chajja (gables) and the eaves as well as the adjoining sloping tin rooftop.
Late July or early August would bring the mighty monsoons to Dehradun and with the rains came the first signs of fruit on our guava tree.
It didn't yield much, but this was our tree and we had the right to its fruit. So, when the house filled up with friends or cousins and we had enough numbers to gather the guts we needed to defy Papaji's warning to leave his trees alone, we came up with strategies to conquer the tree without getting caught.
The perfect time would be when the adults were heavy with food after lunch. A pair of eyes on the door, a crude warning system in place (just shout when you see an adult) and discarded chappals (slippers) announced the start of our mission. It's much easier to climb barefoot. Plus, if there was ever any need to jump in a hurry, the thud our bare feet made when we jumped off the tree onto the shiny grey cement was much softer. Regular tree climbing teaches you all these tricks and then there are always older cousins around to show you the ropes.
I don't remember how the fruit of this tree tasted but I remember the terrible tummy ache I got (more than once) after eating its unripe fruit, despite all the warnings and threats laid out by Papaji and mummy (my mother).
Then one day, we got caught.
There must've been about four or five of us scattered on different branches of this tree and on the chhajja (gables) and on the sloping roof of the main house.
"Khote de puttron!" (sons and daughters of donkeys) cried out Papaji as he banged his laathee (walking stick) first on the grey cement and then on the rough trunk of the guava tree.
"Thalle aao." (Come down).
We scrambled like mice; in different directions and at once.
I was on top of the chajja when Papaji's walking stick hit the tree trunk to shake us all out. I jumped. And landed phataak on the shiny cement on my bare feet. The balls of my feet bawled with agony for a few days. The pain couldn't be shared with mummy or anyone else, or I'd get a whack for not obeying the elders in the first place. Yes, parenting was very different in the 70s. So I had to wait for the pain to subside before I could climb the grapefruit tree which was taller. My cousin, who was older and stronger, had conquered it already and had been showing off ever since with the leaves of the grapefruit tree he had plucked and was now using to whistle tunes with, like a leafy harmonica.
My grandfather loved his trees and protected them with gusto and a bag full of Punjabi gaalees
(swear words to rebuke us with). Some gaalees I understood and some I understand only now and find it strange to place them beside the memories of my loving, adorable and gentle Papaji.
But then what's a Punjabi without his fill of foul words?
The one gaalee that always made me giggle was: khote de puttar (son/daughter of donkey in Punjabi). That always made me imagine my father with two large ears:)
My husband's favourite reprimand when our son needs to be disciplined is, "gadhe ka bachha" (son of a donkey in Hindi). And my seventeen year old retorts back the way he has always done since he's been able to talk, "But Papa, why are you insulting yourself?"
I personally love donkeys and think they get too much bad press in this part of the world. They have kind faces and gentle eyes. I click them when I meet them...
And at Petra
As well as in Ali Bhugyal, Uttarakhand.
Wishing you all a great weekend.
Hope to see you with H.