The Forbidden Fruit

I spent a great deal of my childhood days, at the place of my grandmother and in the company of my elder sister, Romila. My sister was a plump, docile and very girlish child. She was my buddy when my best chum, my brother, Jan, was not around.

My grandmother, Nani, was a rich widow. She lived in a big wooden and shingle roofed house in the City of Curepipe. Nani’s house was nestled in the heart of a large property covered with exotic fruit trees.

A tomboy, a relentless adventurer and explorer, I loved to climb trees and hide in their leaves, playing at imaginative games. I was simply and purely fascinated by trees.

I was particularly impressed by a majestic Bell Fruit tree (also called Jamalac or Jeanbosse tree in Mauritius or Jamrul tree in India) that stood in the midst of the vast terrain. It was always laden with big, juicy and tantalizing Jamalacs. The fruits were milky white in colour whereas other fruits of the same family were comparatively smaller and either pink or red. Unfortunately, we, children were not allowed to go near this tree and were strictly forbidden from eating the milky white fruits.

‘It is possessed by a spirit’ Nani told us.

‘Leave this tree and its fruits alone!’ She severely cautioned us.

However, one fateful day when Nani was absent from home, I made up my mind to climb the Bell fruit tree and to taste the forbidden fruit. Romila was playing quietly with her dolls, in a corner of the room which we shared with our grandmother. I summoned her and asked her to join me. At first she refused and reminded me of the spirit. I insisted with dominant persuasion. She finally gave in and meekly followed me. She revered me as a leader in audacious games and dreadful adventures.

We slipped out of the house noiselessly and headed for the coveted tree. Once in close proximity, I could not help feeling an eerie atmosphere around the tree. It made my heart pound with excitement, mischievous delight and awe. Ripe, luscious jamalacs were hanging from the over laded branches. Even more so, the fruits were practically sweeping the ground that was covered with dry leaves. I looked up and my eyes caught sight of a beautiful, shiny jamalac at the top of the tree.

In no time, I frayed my way through the tangled branches and started to climb the tree with astounding agility, like a monkey. Romila yelled out at me to stop and to come back. I did not pay heed to her. My mind was set on reaching for the forbidden fruit.

I arrived at the top in a flash and, I hurriedly reached out for the fruit. All of a sudden, a branch of the tree hit me violently like a big slap in the face. I shut my eyes. Behind my closed eye lids, I saw the sun and the blue sky in an aperture between the rich green leaves.

The next thing, I knew, was that I was lying in bed, surrounded by my parents and other family members. My mother was sobbing.

To cut a long story short, Romila ran for rescue when I fell from the tree, like a bag of potatoes. I was carried unconscious to Nani’s house. When later she arrived, she phoned my mom and dad. Most importantly, she called for a local healer cum psychic, a ‘hoja’. He brought me out of what he ably qualified as a ‘trance’. I had fallen from a height of 15 feet unscathed. I had no bruise, no injury and no broken bone.

One of the worst rabble-rousers in the family, I had become a ‘miracle child’ thanks to the forbidden fruit!

Anita Bacha

In the illustration picture is my granddaughter. She has taken after me in tree- climbing.

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The Apple of My Eye 

 The Apple of My Eye

I am reposting this poem and a short story ‘The Scent of a Woman’ which I wrote for my mom, after I read the post ‘Cancer’ on Word press. A very moving story, it left me flabbergasted for days. Cancer is definitely a killer disease, so is ‘stroke’. I was nine years old when my world collapsed. My mother had a stroke; it left her a living vegetable for the rest of her pathetic life. She died after years of suffering at the age of 42.I still wonder how I grew up without her tender care.

 

The Apple of My Eye

She was walking on the beach,

A long skirt hiding her knees;

Dotted with tiny blue florets,

A white linen blouse flattened her bosom,

Prude,

She never wore a swimsuit;

 

Immaculate as the sunset,

Pretty as a picture,

Mysterious as the sea,

Smiling to herself,

Poetic, in love, sweet,

A dreamer,

She fell in love only once,

People said,

The blessed day was her wedding day;

 

A long trail of footsteps,

She left,

Printed in the moist sand;

In joyous innocence,

Behind her I walked,

Placing my steps,

One by one in her wake,

She was the apple of my eye!

She was my mother!

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The Scent of a Woman

 

 After the Second World War, there was a shortage of food stuffs in the island. In those years, Mauritius was a colony under the British rule.

Nonetheless, our family did not feel the immediate pangs or the aftermath of the war, as we were quite well off. My mother, I fondly remember, splashed herself with Yardley Eau de Cologne every morning after her tub bath. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and, I could follow her around the whale of a house that we had, sniffing her perfume like a little dog.

My father was a whole sale merchant and he was bringing home our share of ration rice. It was our basic food and also the basic food of the whole population of some 500,000 heads.

 A hard, little, yellowish pearl, unpolished and unrefined, my mother told me that this grain of rice came in its husk during the war. In those days called ‘le temps margoze’ (the sour gourd days) by the local people, the women folk had to pound the rice in a mortar to separate the husk from the rice. They used to call it ‘di riz pousse femme’ (the rice that drives women away) because it was a real nightmare for women to pound the rice.

We were fortunate, I gather, because we did not have to pound the rice. But once a week, in a ceremonial manner, my mother sat on a small wooden bench; surrounded by the maid servants, they would busy themselves at cleaning the rice. The rice was placed on large aluminium trays in small heaps. It was winnowed and then the grit was separated from the grain. In a small tin, my mother kept the small black pebbles to throw away and in her lap, the broken rice to feed the birds.

Close to her, on a smaller bench, I sat down to be with her. I felt like a big girl because I could pick out the stones from the broken rice in her heap. The foreign traders were crooks, my mom told me; they added pebbles to the grains of rice to cheat on the weight.

After she had finished and filled a big iron container with the clean rice, I had the liberty to hide my head in the warm and loving lap of my mother. I breathed in the intimate scent of a woman interlaced with the perfume of eau de cologne and the smell of ration rice.

Years after she passed away, this scent still filled my whole being with the sweet memory of my mother.

 

Anita Bacha     

http://poetryofanitabacha.com     

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Reflections

 A TRUTH UNTOLD

Kaki turned sixty-seven last summer. Her children were married and had left home. Her husband, a retired army officer, was more cantankerous than ever before; a wife beater and a bully, he had no one except the docile Kaki upon whom he could vent his erratic and ominous temper. Kaki sought refuge in her childhood memories.

 Alas! These memories were far from being joyful and bright. She recalled the often quoted proverb of her mother ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes forth the truth’. However, Kaki was a special child. She rarely talked, not because sometimes the truth is better left unsaid but simply because she was afraid. She was scared of telling the truth. She was scared of being accused of telling lies.

At an early age, Kaki became aware that she was endowed with a generous dose of acuity. She unwittingly watched and read the faces and mannerism of the people around her. This was how she found out about a sordid affair between her widowed grandmother and the dandy gentleman with the gold chain watch.

 Kaki’s grandma was a stern and authoritative woman. She was feared by all. She married a widower when she was fourteen and inherited a family of eight children. She procreate an additional eight kids. When Kaki’s grandfather passed, her grandma was a young woman bursting with feline energy. She heartily accepted to take Kaki under her charge when Kaki’s mother left this world.

The gentleman paid irregular, nocturnal visits to her grandma.  When he came, Kaki sat silently on a small wooden bench in the kitchen and shared with the two adults, the warmth of blazing charcoals in the hearth.  They talked and laughed at the same time as they enjoyed the home-brewed coffee which her grandma stealthily hid in a tin jar kept in a small cabinet under the stove. The jar was removed from its secret place only on the arrival of the gentleman. Kaki watched them dreamily. On these special occasions grandma was particularly attentive and caring to Kaki. She unreservedly treated her with a bowl of fresh boiled and creamy cow’s milk. A really scrumptious beverage for the child! She slurped the thick drink, licking the bowl clean. She never recalled when she fell asleep and who carried her to bed.

 Unhappily, in next to no time, that which looked like a fairy tale to Kaki turned out to be a horror story. One dark and silent night, Kaki was sleeping in her bed; her tiny toes touched what felt like the soft, warm and moist belly of a puppy. She woke up and found the gentleman, in his birthday suit, sleeping soundly at her feet.  She sat up in shock! She did not scream; she did not shriek. She was too terrified to utter a sound.

 As a consequence of the traumatic experience, she became a victim of severe panic attacks. She dreaded   the reunion in the kitchen and she shuddered with anxiety every time she slipped under her blanket. Nervous and wretched, she got into the psychosomatic habit of lying in bed in the fetus posture. The nightmarish incident repeated itself several times in the coming months or probably years. The trust and confidence which Kaki had placed in adults were lost forever. She hated them.  As her mental health deteriorated, she became pale, sad, aloof, forlorn and insomniac. But inhibited by an overpowering emotion of fear, she kept quiet about her condition and suffered quietly.

 The truth remained untold.

 On the other hand, the grandmother of Kaki and the gentleman continued to see each other for a good number of years. No one ever learned about their clandestine liaison.

 

 Anita Bacha