Down in jungleland: Going Bananas

Or the perks of growing your own fruits and eating them too

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published:December 15, 2013 5:45 am

For many years,I thought I was allergic to bananas; I liked them and had consumed dozens. But eventually I realised that they made me queasy and stopped eating them. So I wasn’t very excited or enamoured when the mali decided to put in three banana trees in the garden. Now,at the outset,let me say,I know next to nothing about gardening — and the mali,I suspect,knows not much more. But we did have a pretty successful innings with a Chinese orange bush (excellent food plant for the lime butterfly) and a nimbu tree that produced nimbus that could be mistaken for musambis. (Sadly,it died of what I think was the botanical equivalent of a massive heart attack — it just went brown all of a sudden.) A similar fate overtook the papaya tree,though it did produce a bunch of raw papayas that make an excellent tenderiser (with dahi) for meat. Anyway,back to banana business…

So these three banana trees shot up,like beanstalks with sails just outside the dining room. And then my sisters came to visit.

“Welcome to my banana republic!” I greeted them and proudly showed off the trees. They were appalled.

“Are you nuts? Get rid of them! They’re gross! Huge,ugly,and in such a small garden,how could you? How can you expect bananas to grow here? This is not Kerala…They need rainforest climate…” And so,on and on.

Now the banana trees were doing quite well (except for the fact that there were no bananas) and seemed happy. Their leaves provided shade to the bench where I sat and read,they made a pleasant rustling sound in the breeze and I loved the patter of rain on them. Also,I had steamed fish wrapped up in their leaves and it had come out really fragrant. The mali,of course,was confident that the banana trees would eventually do what they were meant to — produce bananas. So I decided to dig in my heels: the trees seemed happy and healthy and did not deserve the death sentence just for looking gross (to some people).

“Let’s wait and watch,” I said. “Besides,” I added smugly,“it’s supposed to be auspicious to have banana trees in the garden.” And hey presto,suddenly one of the trees flowered (not prettily,I agree) and there was this bunch of curvy bhindi-like things hanging down from it.

“What are those?” I asked.

“Bananas!” came the mali’s proud reply.

“What?” They looked like Shrek’s fingers. I felt them,they were rock-hard.

“They’ll get bigger…”

I nodded sceptically. And then,a second tree flowered and produced its own bunch of baby bhindi bananas. We were in for a bumper crop! Except that the banana trees appeared to be working like a government department,because for months nothing further happened — the file just did not move. This made the neighbourhood monkeys that had been monitoring the developments very impatient and one day they launched a raid. The first tree had a bunch of young bananas yanked off it and it went into shock at this act of vandalism. The mali bundled up the surviving bananas in cloth — to help them ripen quickly. With winter approaching,I was hugely doubtful. But then I noticed that the bananas on the second tree — unmolested by monkeys — had become much larger. And that a couple of bananas had actually turned yellow.

The news leaked to the monkeys and one morning they launched a fearsome series of raids across the border. This was no hit-and-run operation; this was a sit-and-eat-at-leisure buffet. We drove off the enemy and cut off a huge bunch of bananas,which are now ripening in the dining room one a day.

As for me,I’ve discovered that with a sprinkle of nimbu juice and chaat masala I have no problem eating them anymore. And they’re good,wholesome,organic,pesticide-free bananas! I’ve just visited the vandalised banana tree this morning and it too seems to have somewhat recovered from its trauma.

Even better,there are now three small papaya,one guava,two fledgling nimbu and two baby chickoo saplings coming up in the garden. Fruit salad,anyone? n

Ranjit Lal is an author,environmentalist and bird watcher. In this column,he reflects on the eccentricities and absurdities of nature

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