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A fruit of the gods, jamun plays host to planned urban spaces

"Jamun kale, kale kha; Jamun bade rasiley ra" (Jamun – black, succulent, ripe with juice, Jamun-laced with ambrosia).

The cry of the jamunwalah broke through the languid expectant monsoon afternoon, signalling reluctant activity for the adults and gleeful anticipation of jamun fights among us children. We would rush to the gate, with our minders admonishing us not to talk to the jamunwalah. He was in their heads – the bogeyman to frighten us into good behaviour; only we knew better!

The kitchen Hitler would bark orders to his junior to wash them well – a daunting task as the delicate skin taut with juice bruised easily. We had our pact with the junior, any fruit which got bruised and could not be served at tea, would be our booty.

Let the jamun fight begin! Heaven help the reluctant participants; like Holi, they would be our target. Clothes would be stained permanently, tempers lost, the fist used freely, till a voice of authority interrupted and we were once more in the doghouse. Summer holidays, with our cousins, were all about grabbing a window of opportunity followed by chastisements and revoking of privileges!

Eugenia jambolan, Syzygium cumini (Latin), Jambu Phalinda in Sanskrit, Java Plum in English, and Jambu or Jamun in Hindi was central to those heady childhood pleasures. It is among the few trees that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It was introduced during the Portuguese colonisation to Suriname, Trinidad, Tobago, South-Asian countries, and South America, particularly Brazil. It grows in the jungles of Brazil, a favourite of native birds such as Tanagers, the great Chickadee and the native Thrush. A gift from the Indian Parakeets, the jamun is seldom cultivated in orchards.

This great beautiful evergreen tree reaches a majestic height of 30-40 metres with a life span of 100 years and more.

The Matsya Puran specifically names trees which are meant for urban spaces in town planning and the jamun is among the primary trees. The Puran has recommended planting it on the sides of roads, for shade and easily available food (during summer) for the travellers as well as all creatures who live or perch on the trees. Instructions followed by Lutyen and Bakers, in planning the wide New Delhi avenues, planted with jamun and tamarind tress. The giant fruit bats are permanent residents of the avenue of jamun trees. Farmers plant them as windbreakers, which also works to build cheap furniture, wooden ploughs and railway sleepers. This great beautiful evergreen tree, reaching a majestic height of 30-40 metres with a life span of 100 years and more towers over its shorter cousins, and are also planted in public institutions, parks and other recreational spaces. A good season can yield 50-60 kg of fruit per tree.

In Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cosmology, the jamun tree is located in the centre of the Island Continent known as Jambudwipa. A favourite of Lord Ram in exile, it is regarded as the fruit of the Gods. Worshippers of Ganesh and Lord Krishna particularly vest a lot of religious significance in the jamun tree, and leaves of the tree are offered in all ritual offerings. They're also used for temple decoration and in the doorway of houses, to ensure perpetuity, continuity and a stable marriage! In Kerala, the jamun fruit is a common symbol of prosperity in kolam designs that decorate the entrance to temples and homes.

The luminescent beauty of Lord Krishna's dark skin is compared to the shiny black fruit; just as a woman's round, beautiful eyes is often poetically referred to as 'jamuns'. The God of clouds – Lord Megha incarnated on earth as the jamun and that is why the colour of the fruit is like the stormy monsoon clouds. Auvaiyar, the famous Tamil poetess and political/ethical commentator, was resting under a Jamun tree in retirement when Lord Murugan (a guardian deity) appeared to her and ordered her to get up and complete her life's work. Children in Tamil Nadu are still reading those works in text-books after many millennia.

The tree is a rich source of vitamin A and C and is used as a preventive medication against diabetes, liver, heart and gout, blood pressure and simivitis problems. Ayurvedic medicines use all the parts of the tree, as medicinal properties exist in every segment of the tree. The jamun fruit makes the most delicious vinegar and cider or summer squash. A friend makes a delicious jamun sorbet, but refuses to share his recipe. Do experiment making it, just substitute orange juice with jamun juice.

Germination is almost instant, which explains the birth of the tall beautiful tree that grows in our backyard. A careless flick of the wrist by my daughter's father landed a jamun seed in a planter. The man no longer is in my life but the tree has remained constant, faithful, fruiting every year!

"The fruits of the tree are very tasteful; One who regularly consumes the juice of the Jambu tree, does not suffer from old age, disease and can even resist death..." – Vayu Puran, Chapter 46, Verse 28/29.

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