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Part 6 : Lamkhuang
The past month was a quick blur, mainly due to the out of Mizoram trips. After a short work-related stop in Pune, I was supposed to spend a few days in Kerala for a family function. Manohar went ahead of me to Kerala and one evening he called with exciting news. “We saw some Jackfruits for sale on the roadside”, he said. He, who knew about my JF obsession had bought a whole fruit. A perfectly mature fruit which will ripen in a week; the saleslady of the streetside shop had informed her gullible and inexperienced buyer. I was thoroughly excited myself- a whole jackfruit! Something to look forward to indeed.
I want to say that I dreamt of the jackfruit all the way on the flight to Kochi, but I didn’t. It was an early flight, and I was way too groggy from the lack of sleep. At home, the functions had started, and I was doing my daily checks on the Jackfruit. Days passed quickly and we were to depart from Kerala the next day when the fruit finally gave off its divine aroma. Appropriately excited, I opened the fruit only to discover that it was not a properly matured fruit. Or it was one of those varieties where the seed was bigger than the flesh. Anyways, the fruit, although aromatic, was bland to taste.
I didn’t want my dreams to be dashed yet, so I launched a plan B. The jackfruit pulp was slowly dehydrated in a thick bottomed vessel and to it, a generous amount of ghee was added, along with plenty of jaggery to counter the lack of sweetness. It took some elbow grease and a good ninety minutes in front of a commercial grade stove, but as they say, one could eat even a blanket if it’s dipped in ghee and sugar. The jackfruit preserve was a grand success and after preliminary taste testing, the whole lot was packed in a seemingly clean bottle for its long journey to Mizoram.
Our return flight to Aizawl was from Chennai. If we were to travel from Kochi, we had to spend a night in Kolkata and then board the Aizawl connection on the next day. Instead, we could visit my sister Chin-Nan in Chennai and stay a couple of days on the IIT campus. We could then catch a connection to Aizawl via Kolkata, without the night halt. Manohar had prepared a long to-do list for Chennai, most of which he accomplished, but at least some of the tasks were abandoned, thanks to the sweltering Chennai heat. I gave Chinnan some of the Jackfruit preserve which she promptly put in the fridge for later enjoyment. We enjoyed a few spoonsful too, thankfully. Because, on day 2 of Chennai visit, we discovered that the preserve was not really preserved. Apparently, non-sterile bottles and Chennai summers are optimum in inducing fungal growth. There was nothing to do, other than to toss the contents into the bin, and wash the jar. Ideally, one should have washed the bottle and dried it in the hot sun, prior to packing the perishable provision. In my defense, there was no scope for any solar sterilization due to incessant rains in Kerala. Anyways, after two happening days in Chennai, we flew back, saying bye to our dears and the deers- the IITM campus being home to a variety of wildlife.
However, this year, my quest for Jackfruit was not a total failure. On the day of our departure from Kerala, we happened to pay a brief visit to a cousin’s home. No prizes for guessing, they had some delicious jackfruit which a neighbour had given them just that morning. And after the visit to the cousins’, once we returned home there was another piece of jackfruit waiting for me. Turns out, Lathika Chechi, who helps in our kitchen had found a fruit which she thoughtfully shared with me, after having witnessed my disappointment on the preserve preparation day.
Back in Aizawl, the airport road was dotted with jackfruit trees full of young immature fruits. I told my driver in broken Mizo that I loved these fruits, even the unripe fruit sabzi. He seemed to make a mental note of the same. The next morning, he brought with him two small unripe Jackfruits, explaining in his broken English that he had gotten them for yours truly.
Like many Malayalis living outside Kerala, we too carried with us, a consignment of banana, jackfruit, and tapioca chips, deep fried in coconut oil. I took some to the office for my colleagues and kept some as a reserve stock. Munching the chips, my office colleagues taught me the Mizo word for jackfruit- lamkhuang. Until we meet next time, dear lamkhuangs of the world.