‘The salty, summer breeze swept lazily through the leaves, and the fruits on the trees swayed and created a mesmerising whisper—Have-us, Have-us. Have-us. The villagers, lured by the whisper, came towards us. When they looked up, they saw a sight for sore eyes: our reddish-pink tints, our curved and upturned base like the soft roll of a comma, and of course our radiant golden-yellow skin.’
Immediately, almost as a reflex, Hapus smiled sweetly and added, ‘Just as lovely as pale-yellow or greenish-yellow.’ The words differed from Hapus’s thoughts: ‘Poor bananas so ordinary in appearance, with their pale-yellow skin and brown or black blotches. Gosh, how glad I am for my firm skin, golden and splendid with lovely red tints as though kissed by a rose!’
Pride that had been brought forth by the approving look and attention of the fruit-grower and her family, and the fruit-seller and his wife, and by the admiration of the bananas, had now firmly established itself in Hapus’s mind, and had found two cohorts, comparison and false sympathy, to help assert its presence.
Hapus continued, ‘The villagers eagerly climbed the trees, picked the ripened fruit, took a bite, and were delighted by the tart sweetness of our pulp.
Sated and in a stupor, they said aloud our whisper. Their voice had a different accent, because of the way in which they rolled their tongue to speak their native language, and our whisper was heard as—Hap-oos, Hap-oos, Hap-oos, which over time changed to Hap-us. And that is how we came to be known as Hapus,’ it concluded with the flourish of a storyteller.
‘And as Alphonso Mango,’ pipped the bananas innocently, at which our gender-neutral Hapus flinched.
The bananas were lifted off the display table even before Hapus was done flinching. All three bunches of bananas had been taken away in the same manner, abruptly.
For a moment—for a very tiny moment—Hapus became a little less self-engrossed.
A new bunch of bananas were placed casually next to it. Greetings were exchanged, and Hapus began its tale about how it got its name. The bananas were listening with interest, when suddenly they too were taken away, leaving Hapus with an unfinished story.
The shutter went down, to be pulled up again at the crack of dawn. Light filtered in and incense was lit. The fruit-seller swept the floor and the pavement in front of his stall, and his wife poured water where he swept to settle the dry and small particles of dust. Then she took Hapus out of a small, cool box, and while placing it on the table, said to her husband, ‘The mango doesn’t look that fresh anymore. It will go bad by the evening, you better sell it today.’
A lady came to the stall shortly after, and the fruit-seller picked up Hapus, cradled it in his palms, and said, “Look at this beautifully perfect mango madam, won’t you buy a dozen of my fresh Hapus stock for your home?’ The lady took the mango in her hand, gently pressed it and said, ‘The mango is too ripe and its skin is not taut any longer. I don’t want any from this lot. Let me know when you get fresh ones.’
Hapus grimaced, as though it had been struck: ‘Its skin was no longer taut. The lady didn’t think it was perfect? What’s wrong with being ripe? Wasn’t the lady ripe in age too?’
The lady picked the bunch of bananas placed next to Hapus. She paid the vendor and left. As the day grew warmer, Hapus grew more uncomfortable, it felt less energetic, it smiled at the new bunch of bananas but it didn’t tell them the tale about its name.
In 36-hours six bunches of bananas had arrived on the display table, and five had left. Just when the sixth bunch was being lifted off the table, Hapus felt a small pair of hands lift it.
A little boy came with his grandpa to the stall, he picked up Hapus and said, ‘Dada (grandpa) please can I have a Hapus mango? Please.’ The grandpa looked at the fruit-seller, who said, ‘Take it Ajoba (grandfather). I won’t charge you.’ The old man smiled gratefully, because he could not afford to pay for a Hapus, the best of fruits and the king of mangoes (yet another example of our patriarchal organisation of the world).
The little boy gleefully took Hapus in his hands and hugged his grandpa’s thighs. ‘I love the taste of Hapus, Dada. It’s so delicious. Remember when abba (father) got it from the building where he cleaned the garbage: that big, tall building near our lane? He said a lady there gave it for me. For me, Dada.’ The old man patted the boy’s head, and thanking the fruit-seller they left with Hapus.
The boy didn’t say once that Hapus was perfect or beautiful, all he said was I love the taste of Hapus. Was there then nothing special about Hapus individually?
The image that Hapus had seen of itself in the eyes of others, was not to be found in the eyes of the boy. Hapus felt as ordinary as it thought the bananas had looked.
The boy’s grandpa put Hapus on a plate, peeled it with a knife, and gave the boy the entire fruit, keeping not a piece for himself. The boy bit into the mango, his mouth watering, his eyes gleeful, delighted with the same tart sweetness that the villagers had enjoyed in the 16th century.
What remained was the pit, the seed which carried within it a new life.
..And a thought lingered: when a life-bearing fruit is called a king, a masculine noun, and a life-bearing woman is a feminine noun, then its best to see the contradictions in the use of gender; the usefulness of which is restricted to the field of biological sciences, as a tool to categorise and organise data for the purpose of study only.
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What a gem! Brilliant and creative, one of your most delightful reads, Neha! And I love the subtle ‘fruit-grower’s husband’, balanced by the later ‘fruit-seller’s wife’.
What better way to convey the message of realization and procreation.