Lured by Lychees
As June steps in and a cocktail of mercury and moisture content in the air begin their seasonal ascent, the people living in/around Kolkata have every...
As June steps in and a cocktail of mercury and moisture content in the air begin their seasonal ascent, the people living in/around Kolkata have every reason to sweat and swear. But for Naren Mondol and many more like him residing at Baruipur, a small fruit-growing hamlet tucked in the outskirts of Kolkata, the smile on their faces only broadens with each passing day Sriparna Saha It is because the warm humid weather is the best tonic for ripening the luscious lychee- a handsome-looking, delicious-to-eat fruit adorning their orchards. Once harvested, the fruit is sure to fetch them a tidy profit which will help them tide over the financial hurdles round the year. The lychee, a white and translucent oval-shaped fleshy fruit, is the quintessential queen of all desserts. The fruit, with its strawberry-red leathery rind, is a common sight in the Indian markets during the last leg of summer, before the onset the monsoons. Baruipur, located 35 kilometres south of Kolkata, due to its favourable climatic composition, has emerged as the fruit bowl of West Bengal with lychee being the hot favourite, though its season lasts only for about a month. On a bright and burning summer morning we set out from Kolkata to see for ourselves the lychee in its natural habitat. The drive through the countryside was extremely refreshing. We had barely entered Baruipur, when even from a distance, the cluster of dense-leaved trees laden with lychees, most ripe and rest on the way to being so, conjured a stunning sight- all the more accentuated by the contrast between the dark green foliage and rich red fruit. In spite of the inhospitable weather, Naren willingly took us around his lychee garden abutting the main thoroughfare connecting Baruipur to Kolkata. Soon a wave of green drowned the cacophony of the concrete jungle and an invigorating fragrance emanating from the ripened fruits rented the air. We stopped underneath a full grown lychee tree covered with nets. "That is to protect the fruits from the bats," Naren explained, noticing the inquisitiveness in our gaze. "They are a big nuisance. An army of bats are capable of spoiling all the lychees in an entire tree in just a matter of hours!" Though lychee's entry into India is fairly recent ( in the 18th century), the fruit is believed to have originated more than 2000 years ago in China and in the southern part of the country there still exists 1000-year old lychee trees. We come to know that there are 33 varieties of lychees available worldwide, out of which about 15 are grown in India. "Here in West Bengal we grow mostly the Bombai, Shahi (rose scented) and Elaichi type." The young caretaker of the garden, a lean lad by the name of Haru, chipped in. In the peak of the season, the Amrud Express run by the Railways daily transports about 500 tones of lychees from Baruipur to Kolkata after which the fruit finds its way into welcoming palates all over the country and even abroad. "A basket containing about 300 lychees normally sells for anything ranging from Rs. 400 to Rs. 600, of course depending upon the size and quality of the fruit!" Naren revealed. "On an average, a single tree fetches about 15 to 20 baskets." It takes nearly 14 years for the lychee tree to bear its first fruit. As the returns are time taking, many farmers feel discouraged to grow lychees. "Added to that, there are problems of safeguarding the fruit from birds, bats and insects," he pointed out. Naren and his men tutor us that when buying lychees from the market, one should go for the fruit with a bright red coat that has none or nil greenish hue. If the fruit is greenish, it means it is yet to ripen and is likely to have a bitter taste. Brown lychees are those past their prime. Fresh lychees can be stored in a refrigerator for a couple of days. It is advisable to store them along with their skins and stems, in zip-lock bags. In this method even though the skin of the fruit might turn brownish, the fruit's taste is likely to remain unaffected. The tough skin acts like an armour, protecting the tender fruit inside. If the stem is pulled off, it can rupture the skin of the fruit and soon it will become rotten. After a tour of the garden, it is now tasting time. Naren offers us a handful of his lychees and soon we get busy with removing the shells and nibbling the juicy flesh off the dark stone at the centre. Some of his lychees are also sold just outside the garden by the local women. They sell them cheap and by the basket, because, after all, this is lychee land. We secure quite a bounty from them and during our drive back to the city in the mid day heat, visions of the luscious lychee, stoned and added to fruit-salads, or poached in lemon scented syrup and served chilled, alone or along with creamy ice-cream fill our parched mindscape. Lychee - Profit from it Extremely low on calories-12 of them together make up about 70 calories. Ideal choice for weight-conscious people Juice contains bioflavonoids which reduces risks of certain types of cancer, mainly breast cancer Enhances energy levels (sugar content in lychees is over 70%) and feeling of well-being. The people of China use the dried lychee pulp as a sweetener for tea in place of sugar. A rich source of vitamins and essential minerals Helps prevent blood clots, improves the flow of blood and thereby reduces chance of strokes and heart attacks Beneficial effect on tumors Safeguards the skin from the harmful UV rays Aids in overcoming stomach problems and is a recommended dietary supplement for diarrhea Oligonol , a low-molecular weight polyphenol present in abundance in lychee has proven anti aging properties Recommended for blood shot eyes and weak vision