Sweet robbery

“Alabad, Alabad,” the hawker’s cry pierced the silence of the cool, sunny December afternoon in Bangalore. I opened the door and peered outside to find a man pushing a cartload of guavas — purportedly the famed Allahabad variety known as ‘Ilahabadi amrood’ in Hindi.

I grew misty-eyed and the scene before my eyes changed... I was there! The guava trees, laden with luscious fruits, hung temptingly low over the hedge into the lawns of our barracks that were the quarters of the staff of the Civil Aviation Training Centre (CATC), Bamrauli, Allahabad, where Dad worked. The guavas came in all shapes, sizes and other properties — some were the size of mini melons (no exaggeration), hard and juicy; others the size of cricket balls. There were also golf ball-sized ones, soft and pulpy. But all were just as sweet and delicious.

Winter holidays were great fun. They meant comics (the original American westerns, classics Illustrated), Enid Blytons, Biggles, shuttle badminton —  and of course guavas, for us children of St Joseph’s, dubbed ‘Bamrauli boys’ by our school headmaster. It was also the time for mischief! When in such a mood, we would sneak into the orchard on chilly, sunny mornings in a single file, a la Secret Seven, Famous Five,  pluck every fruit within our tiny reach and pass it to the last guy in the line who carried an inconspicuous cloth bag for the loot!

We went about our adventure stealthily, savouring the thrill and the joy as we kept plucking fruit after fruit, munching and passing on to the last guy. We would be all ears for the shout of the caretaker, who would routinely holler from time to time to keep off cattle, birds and trespassers. However, we kids had a well-rehearsed line for such occasions. “Ball dhoond rahen hain,” we would yell back with practised nonchalance and a minute later, add a reassuring ‘Haan! mil gaya’ and scamper with the fruits of our labour. Then, somewhere in the shelter of an abandoned shed or the shade of a tree, we would relish the sweetness of the success of our childish adventure.

That was some 40 years back! Some time ago, when the barman at a local pub opened a can of juice with ACCOS written on it, to mix a cocktail, I reached for it, for I knew where it came from. ACCOS simply stood for Allahabad Canning Companies — where all the guavas and other fruits went for processing. The can bore the Bamrauli address where I had lived.

My reverie ended as the cry “Alabad, Alabad” faded away in the  distance with time.

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