Oranges and winter. Or oranges in winter. Whichever way you put it, oranges are synonymous with our short-lived winters. One may catch the smell of the fruit being peeled for the first time during the season as one walks across multitudes in a crowded market. That piquancy and that zing is heightened by the fact that you were least expecting it. Least of all when you had other things on your mind! But the glorious realization that the start of an orange-flavoured season has arrived puts a stride in your step. And you’re reminded of little orange-eating pleasures. That is, if you love the fruit like I do. So what’s so special about an orange, one might ask. But when the fruit makes its first appearance, it’s wonderful! Like the mangoes of summer Or water-melons. Or litchees.
I come from orange country too and the fruit reminds me of languorous afternoons, of basking in the warmth of a pale winter sun, and gorging on the most delicious oranges from Jatinga. Apart from the world-famous mystery of the birds, Jatinga then had the most luscious oranges with sprawling orchards in the foothills of the Barail ranges. In those days (about more than 30 years ago) we did not buy the fruit from the market because the women of Jatinga would come all the way to my hometown of Haflong. Although the distance is about 9 kms only, the road was uphill and there was no such thing as a public conveyance. The women would carry their wares in bamboo baskets and it wasn’t only oranges. Most would also bring fresh vegetables from their back-yards. They always had a cheerful smile on their faces and they were friendly. They would sit in the verandah as my mother sorted the fruit (and the vegetables) and after the usual pleasantries, the conversation would be about the yield, the weather, and every generation’s favourite topic—the signs of the times!! And the oranges did full justice to their name, the same that one would associate with one of those vibrant sunsets…”The sun was an orange ball of fire…”
When the afternoon sun was strong, we had oranges sitting in the back-yard where the hills were either blue or green depending on the weather. Any thought about my home town is also about those pretty hills. When it grew colder with the hint of winter rain we had oranges sitting near a charcoal brazier (a common winter feature in most hilly towns of our country). And although we loved the fruit so, the trees did well only in certain areas on the outskirts of our town. One tree did grace our garden slope. Peach and plum trees were common but an orange tree occupied a pride of place. It stood regally next to ancient and gnarled lemon trees. Whereas the lemon trees would supply lemons by the basketful year in and year out, the orange tree bore fruit for three years or so. Maybe the conditions were not conducive. It withered away and finally died.
So much for memories! I’ve gorged on more than my fair share of oranges this winter. So much so that I can no longer catch that sharp, piquant smell of a fresh peel. Maybe next winter I’ll catch the magic in the same transcient smell in a crowded market. That will surely put the zing and the tang back into the start of another orange-flavoured season!