As always we were at the park by 0700: to amble and breathe the crisp clean air, absorb the rare element oxygen and do a bit of yoga on dew-damp grass, enjoy breakfast and coffee beneath the trees…ah, all so good for body, mind and soul in these troubled times.
Presently we strolled around the stalls and tables in the farmer’s market, picked up a few leafy vegetables and some little green elaichi bananas to ripen at home. We didn’t really need dry fruit, having stocked up amply the previous weekend; yet we stopped by Her table. She comes from a village near the twenty-five-centuries-old trading town of Herat on the Silk Road— in western Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s iron fist has struck the hardest. Her family trades in almonds, pistachios, walnuts, dates, figs and other dry fruit from Afghanistan, of such exquisite and unique flavor that we value them infinitely more than the slight premiums at which she sells them compared to the prices of similar produce marketed by the mega-kirana shops of Bezos, Biyani et al.
As always, we shared a smile and a quick word or three. As we turned to go, she softly called: “Wait!” She picked up a date in delicate fingers, deftly opened it down the middle, selected a walnut kernel and placed it inside the date, folded the date shut, and then offered it to us with both palm extended, eyes shining, radiant with the invisible smile beneath the mask that erased the lines of anxiety and weariness from around her eyes and forehead.
Not long after, we were sprawled in deep shavaasana at a favourite spot—a little grassy plateau in a secluded corner of the park, shaded by a thick cluster of young trees, with the scents of myriad flowers and wet leaves in the air, inquisitive squirrels scampering about, and an orchestra of sparrows, mynahs, crows and an occasional lapwing providing ambient music to soothe the senses. A murmur reached our ears, a gentle ripple that brought us out of dreamy reverie: four women, young to middle-aged, had wandered into the grove. Briefly, they glanced at us: quick smiles and nods, and then they returned to their quiet converse, their eyes scanning the foliage above them. From time to time they reached up and plucked slender stems lined with light-green leaves, which they gathered in their palms like little bouquets. As they came close we sat up and exchanged namaskaars,
“What will you do with those leaves?” we asked.
They laughed and chorused: “We’ll eat them, of course!”
“But…what leaves are those?”
“Why, tamarind of course!” they laughed again. “Haven’t you eaten tamarind leaf?”
“Yes, tamarind,” murmured one of them, clearly the eldest. “The young leaves are sweet to eat,” she went on. “They’re good to flavor your dishes with too. The leafing time is nearly ended now; it’s hard to find any young leaves, they’re the most filled with flavor. But still, if you look hard enough you can find some…” Her Hindi carried the flavors of Rajasthan, her smile smoothened the deeply etched lines of a thousand cares and never-ending drudgery.
She nodded in farewell, and the group wandered off through the trees. We sank back into reverie, emerging when she suddenly reappeared. “Here, these are for you!” and she thrust a bunch of light-green leaves at us. “Enjoy their freshness,” she cried with a laugh and darted off to join her friends.
Two little flavoured moments: sweet nuttiness blending with earthy, lemony tartness. Two little moments: so inconsequential, yet filled with so much affection, spontaneous generosity and warmth, power, shared joy… elements that will endure long after the toxins of these dreadful times have dissipated; the elements that make up timeless memories, that become anchors for us to find stability and equanimity in the choppy unpredictable currents of life, blessings for which we are infinitely grateful.