Of all the things I miss about living in Assam, one of the biggest is revelling in the changing seasons. Although we hadn’t lived in Vietnam and Malaysia for long enough to witness the change in seasons, if any, Singapore has altogether deprived us of that simple happiness in the two years that we’ve lived here. Back home in Tezpur though, every little “first” in a season was a reason to celebrate, and finding all those hidden clues in nature was like being let in on the open secret: a change is about to come. Like spring, with its kopou phool and bokul phool, and jetuka and the heady fragrance of togor and gutimali in Aita’s front yard garden. Or winter, with its grubby gnarly potatoes we would freshly dig from the kitchen garden, and the shy cauliflowers hiding behind layers of leaves until big enough to stand boldly up. Every winter that garden would be a riot of greens, and come summer, the yellow corn would stand tall while the orange pumpkins played hide and seek under saucer like leaves. Summer also meant juicy mangoes and lazy afternoons and spending evenings lying down under the night sky (thanks for the power cuts, ASEB) and singing songs while Mamma and Aita took turns fanning us with a bisoni. Just like summer meant our dear Lesu Bagan (Lychee Garden) would once again come to life. Do bear me with as I give a detailed background yet again. Or wander off and rejoin me after this next paragraph.
When my father first built our house, it seemed to everybody like it was on the edge of the world, right before the end of civilisation. There were no proper roads leading to our house; to reach it you’d have to walk through a village. By the time you reached that sinister mango tree looming large over your head, making everything look suddenly dark and gloomy, you’d start wondering if you’d lost your way because certainly no human being could live in such remote corners. With time things changed, the muddy roads were replaced by broken gravel roads (more like pot holes threaded on ribbons of road), the mango tree got chopped off and people in the village started building swanky houses with tin roofs in place of thatch, and brick walls instead of bamboo. And “Lesu Bagan” became a landmark while trying to direct people through the maze that was our neighbourhood. It is quite remarkable, how decades later, I still find myself referring to Lesu Bagan when giving people directions to our place.
But it was so much more than a landmark. For me, it was no less than the charming forest from my fairytale books. My first tryst with Lesu Bagan was that it was where Podumi Ba, my first ever nanny, had lived. I was too young to remember much of that period, but I had loved her a lot and I did spend a lot of time with her. I also have vague memories of visiting her humble house once, and remember being fascinated by the rows of lychee trees right in front of her doorstep. I think part of the charm of that garden was that I’d never actually been there. We would see the treetops from the corner where the road bent towards Rubber Bagan (yes, another garden although just by name) but never really cross it. And each year, those treetops gave away the tell tales signs of summer with their tiny little green lychees suddenly making an appearance one fine morning. With thirsty eyes I would watch the tiny lychees grow bigger and plumper with each passing day until again, quite suddenly they would turn into brilliant hues of red. The trees would be at their finest right then, with their branches heaving under the weight of those plump red fruits, the shiny green providing the perfect foil. Quite typically, four or five days after that, the trees would be stripped bare overnight, with only lonely leaves remaining to tell the story of the have beens. I remember always wondering where the fruits went.
The real fun would begin when the footpath in front of Chowk Bazaar would be dotted with vendors selling bunches of lychees, and every day I’d unfailingly plead Mom to buy me some, until one day she’d relent and after five minutes of haggling with the vendor, hand me the bunch going “There you go. Now stop bugging me” That those bunch held way more leaves than fruit was lost on me. All that mattered was the hope that those fruits would turn out sweet, and the stone small. And because it was a precious fruit, the fun didn’t end with eating it. We’d ask Mom to cut the stone into half, and Deuta would expertly sharpen the edge of a matchstick and insert it into the flat edge of the stone and what have you! A mini spinning top! Oh the simple joys of summer….
Right now in Singapore, stores are suddenly being stocked with Taiwan lychees, or the China King variety. I hastily grabbed the first punnet I saw today, not forgetting to send the silent prayer that they turn out sweet. Because I couldn’t wait any longer, I tore into one right after we reached home, and broke into a jig because it turned out to be sweet and juicy and all kinds of delicious. And right then, I wasn’t in the kitchen of my flat in Singapore anymore; nor was I a wife or a mother. I was this schoolgirl in uniform walking past those mysterious treetops that somehow seemed to be separate entities from their trees, waiting with paramount patience to see tiny green lychees turn plump and red, just for assurance that summer was finally here. I had half a mind to rush to the store and grab a couple more punnets, now that the fruits were proven sweet, but something told me that when someone said, “Sweet are the fruits of patience” they just might have meant my lychees of summer.