The wonder years

“Stop binging on those cashews, then you complain of acidity,” my friend chided her husband. “As kids, we used to gobble up, literally, a sock-full of these nuts in one go,” he remembered wistfully his days of growing up in cashew-land Goa, reluctantly retracting his hand from the jar filled with the roasted, golden crunchies.

“Goa’s undulating landscape is dotted with cashew plantations and it was great fun to skulk into those veritable treasure troves to gather the green kernels while trekking to and from school,” he rekindled his childhood memories. “We would collect them in a sock and hide it behind a rock, mark the spot and move on to collect some more. This way, we tried our best not to get caught red-handed with the booty by the ever-vigilant guards,” the naughty boy in him came forth.

“Scraping the green skin off the kernel against a rock, we would crush it with our feet to squish out the white nugget. Blister would cover our soles, the next day. The green skin’s acrid milk does it, you see.  On occasions, we would roast them and that proved our nemesis at times. The smoke and aroma would attract the guards and what a thrashing we would receive,” he grimaced while instinctively rubbing the parts that bore the brunt of those beatings. “You know, they make a lip-smacking, non-alcoholic drink with the dregs of the pulpy part of the fruit, left after extracting juice meant for mass-producing feni, the locally brewed spirit. Niro, as it is colloquially called, is a coolant and endemic to the region as it is not commercially sold,” he reminisced.

“It used to be a jungle out there and encountering a snake, mongoose, hare, jungle fowl or exotic birds was nothing out of the wild. We had our favourite spot, a clearing where we would lie down to study with our bags as pillows. And lo! a creepy creature of the snake family would slither past us, crackling the dry leaves underneath. Lying still, we would let it pass. It used to be scary but we took our chances. Once, my friend and I were blissfully snacking on juicy jamuns and whoosh, fell a python right in front of us from the tree we were perched on. We froze, our voices choked. We sat hypnotized, quite like Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book when he bumped into Ka. Once the spell broke, we ran as fast as our legs could take us.

Now, it all seems like the lost world. I have witnessed the builders’ mafia take over my beautiful land. I have seen the verdant greens disappear and concrete structures come up in their place. I still remember the spots we moseyed around and the trees which stood there once, tall and proud,” he said, his voice dripping with nostalgia.

“Those were the days of our lives, the bad things in life were so few,” he signed off with a song from Queen.

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The wonder years

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