Those who grew up in the ‘70s would remember this song. It went something like this:
‘Lemon tree very pretty
And the lemon flowers are sweet
But the fruit of the lemon
Is impossible to eat.’
I grew up in Delhi, and in my youth had not seen a lemon tree. So I took the first few lines of the song to be true. But I always wondered about the last two lines. Sure, we didn’t eat the lemon, but we couldn’t get by a day with it! The rasam, the dal, the nimbu paani, the lemon rice, the zing needed to cover up any insipid dish. The lemon was irreplaceable.
A few years ago, we moved to Bangalore. And for some reason, the price of lemons soared that year. Considering we use about 10 a week, my veggie budget soured. Having a small plot at the back of the house, I decided to grow my own lemons.
The next day, I marched off to the nearest nursery. The nursery-wallah sold me a lemon tree (over the years, the feeling has grown that he actually sold me a lemon, but more on that!). He assured me it was a hybrid and would start flowering the very year. ‘Pluck out all the flowers this year’, he said. “Then next year, you will get a good crop.’
I looked out of the window every morning to check on the flowering so as to quickly pluck them out, lest they jeopardize the long-term fruiting. After several months, there was one bud. I plucked it out.
Along came the next year. Oh, the anticipation! I waited and waited for my tree to flower. Every time I picked up lemons from the vendor or the super market, it was with a sense of ‘Listen, I am paying your price now. But you are not going to take me for a ride for too long. Just wait till my tree starts fruiting.’
It was a case of the milkmaid and her castles in the air!
My tree did not flower that year.
Or the next.
I shared my sob story with anyone and everyone who would listen.
Then a friend told me to beat the tree with a broom, in the night! She said that it was a well-known remedy for such recalcitrant lemon trees! I got home and googled it, and sure, there were lots of people talking about this. Quite a prevalent urban myth! Many posts suggested that it was the beating with the broom that was at the core of it. The beating at night, they said, was so that the neighbours didn’t think the perpetrator was mad!
Nothing to lose, I thought, and did the needful for a week, in the dead of night. Though I have to admit, I couldn’t bring myself to beat it very hard!
A month or so after that, I went to a Krishi Mela. Lots of agri-related people and enterprises had stalls. I picked a couple of likely looking ones and shared my woes. The first listened, asked me a few questions, and declared that there was no hope. I just needed to pull out the tree and plant another one. The next stall guy told me the problem was completely solvable, and sold me a few soil tonics and leaf sprays, which he assured me would fix it.
I followed the instructions. And also beat the tree once in a while for good measure.
And lo and behold! The tree flowered. Rather generously. At last, I thought! Whether the beating or the tonics, one or both seem to have worked. I didn’t care which!
The flowers turned to fruit. But my days of waiting are not over. The fruits haven’t grown bigger than a large marble, in two months. My neighbour’s tree in the meanwhile is full of large, yellow fruit.
Believe me, the lemons look much bigger in the pic than on the tree!
I look out of the window every morning and think: ‘The lemon tree is not a particularly pretty tree. Nice enough but nothing spectacular. The flowers are nice too—small and white. But again, the anar next to it has prettier flowers. But the fruit of the lemon is what I want, but will I get it?’
Will I be a sour loser this year too? Well, at least I will try not to be a sore one!