While I was forced to gulp down some vegetables floating in an oily gravy and rice in a never ending train journey from Delhi to Kolkata, my travel companions and I craved for a taste of forbidden fruit – Kul (Indian Variety of Jujube) that is served in the lunch platter as part of Saraswati Puja. Saraswati Puja is celebrated in honour of Goddess of Learning.
In Bengal, children are initiated into learning and students across age groups and faith celebrate this festival as this is a day of ritually sanctioned abstinence from books. Reason: books are offered to Goddess so that she can bless. As a kid, I used to place my Maths Book hoping for a highest mark which never happened. Besides, that since the festival happens in February- March, when we bid adieu to our “winter” wardrobe, we also embrace the new season in new colour. Doing complete justice to the name “Basanta”(Spring), there is a tradition across Bengal to wear clothes of yellow colour. So, you would find shops across the streets selling yellow sarees with bright red border, blouses and petticoats for even 3 year olds. Considering it is a state holiday, and most of the schools celebrate Saraswati Puja, children get a chance to be in full fare. It is equivalent to the celebration of Valentine’s day across Bengal. In fact, to this date I remember how love letters exchanged hands on this day. While I have stopped wearing yellow sarees, or gearing up for this special day one ritual I have obediently followed and never questioned is staying away from the forbidden fruit till Saraswati Puja – Kul.
Kul is the Indian variety of Jujube commonly found in this season. Pickled Kul is one of the food items sold by pickle vendors outside schools. This is one fruit I can eat without being reminded. This takes me back to an incident when I had given into the temptation of forbidden fruit and savoured a good amount of pickled kul. I was in Standard V. While eating, I stained my white skirt. When I reached home, I neatly folded the skirt and kept in the laundry bag. Nevertheless, this was not enough to save from my mother’s prying eyes who found out that I had eaten Kul. While serving me dinner she told me that she is confident I might not score well in my Unit test as I eaten the fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati.
I don’t remember what had happened in my Unit Test but as I recounted this story years later to my fellow co-passengers they remembered how they were warned not to have this fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati. Three of us in our different side of 20’s laughed that how we have continued to abstain from consuming this forbidden fruit before Saraswati Puja? While lamenting over the delay in train timings and missing out on the fun of “local” Valentine’s day we watched with pleasure the sight of a shy school girl and boy holding hands and sitting in the railway station. They were not spared from the three pairs of inquisitive eyes as who were ready to attack the pickled kul that the boy lovingly held in his hand while the girl nibbled daintily on one of the forbidden fruits. I decided to draw the curtains so that they could enjoy their possibly first date over forbidden fruit from our childhood days.