Inspirational short stories about life – GRANDFATHER’S WATERMELONS
ow does one choose a watermelon from an assorted heap, with the certainty that it has bloodred innards tasting as sweet as honey? I for one have not the faintest idea of how it is done. So, I generally leave it to the wisdom of the vendor to select it for me. The other day when I was out shopping for a few household provisions, I saw a roadside vendor of watermelons doing roaring business. His stock-in-trade was considerable – a mountainous heap of watermelons of all shapes and sizes. The sight was a little too tempting to be ignored. I decided to add a watermelon to my shopping list.
“I want a sweet and juicy watermelon,” I said to the vendor, as soon as he was free to attend to me.The vendor ran his appraising eyes all over the terrain, and then pointed with his finger to a watermelon that seemed to me a trifle too big for my requirement. “No, I want one somewhat smaller,” I said.
He picked up another and said, “Take this one. Itʼll taste as sweet as mishri.”
When he set about weighing the watermelon, I casually remarked that a watermelon I had bought a few days earlier from another vendor turned out to be as insipid as a turnip. “I do agree with you, sir. I know some vendors sell second-rate stuff,” he replied, with a faintly disdainful smile on his face for such cheats, “but I give my customers the choice to buy a watermelon after first tasting a slice out of it. Of course, they have to pay a slightly higher price for it then.”
Recalling the proverb warning us not to buy a pig in a poke, I said I was ready to pay the higher price. He made a quick, deft incision in the watermelon with his sharp knife, and held before me a triangular slice of the fruit. The succulent red pulp, studded with shiny black seeds, was a tempting sight. I tasted it. It was indeed as sweet as ʻmishriʼ (crystal sugar). I paid the price he named without haggling.
As I drove back home, it was watermelons that occupied my mind all the way. I remembered I was always very fond of them. I was only a small kid when my grandfather once came from his native village in Punjab to our home in Dehradun. Apart from a tin of desi ghee and some freshly-made jiggery from the sugarcane grown in his fields, he brought for us two watermelons, neatly tied up in a gunny sack. Grandfather was very proud of the watermelons grown in the fields of his village. He would often wax lyricalpraising these great thirstquenchers in the scorching months of summer. “According to historians,” he once told us between puffs at his hookah, “it was the Mughal emperor Babar who introduced watermelons into India.
If, indeed, Babar brought this delicacy to India, then I think he must have found the land of my village the most fertile for this crop. That is why in our part of Punjab, it is often said that he who has once tasted the watermelons of my village cannot much relish the watermelons of any other place.”
THE FUNNY STORIES
Grandfather often regaled us with a funny story about a vendor of watermelons. It was the time of World War II. A vendor of watermelons in a locality of Lahore was heard shouting, “Aagaye, aagaye, Hitler de bumbaagaye…” (Theyʼve come! Theyʼve come! Hitlerʼs bombs have come!”) as he came along the road with his rehri (cart) heaped with the fruit.
A policeman on traffic duty was of course too loyal a subject of the crown to ignore the subversive call of this dangerous vendor of watermelons who was comparing his fruit to Hitlerʼs bombs. So, he took the vendor, rehri and all, to the nearest police station. It was only after the vendor tendered a written apology and also many verbal assurances that he was let off with a stern warning.
Now about the two watermelons that my grandfather had brought for us from his village. He asked my mother to keep them immersed in ice-cold water for a couple of hours. Mother followed his instructions, though I was so impatient to taste them that I thought it was a needless prelude.
And when at long last I came to devour my share of those watermelons, aha, I found them exceptionally sweat, aromatic and mouth–wateringly delicious. In fact, so juicy were those watermelons that grandfather said that he would give me a silver rupee if I could eat my slice without letting the juice trickle down the corners of my mouth. Of course, I could never earn that silver rupee. “And about the watermelon that I had bought from the roadside vendor.” In spite of his sweat talk, it turned out to be anything but sweat!