Charmed by Mahua

The off-white coloured flowers smell like freshly cooked rice. Is that the reason that you can make good alcohol from it?   Does anyone have the answer?

Few Sundays back Ashok brought a handful of Mahua (Bassia latifolia) fruits. He has a huge Mahua tree in his compound and had collected the fruits which lay on the ground.

I had first heard about Mahua from my father, a much travelled man and being in the Indian Air Force done the length and breadth of the country. Having served in one air force station for a year and then transferred to the other. Seated on the floor sharing the evening meal, he had told us about how Mahua liquor was a favourite among the Bastar tribals.  I have never been to the states of Central India and sadly never seen a Mahua tree. Until, just by accident I came to know that there was one in my neighbour’s farm in Badlapur.

It was the first time I had held Mohua fruits in my palm and smelled them. The smell brought back the memories of those evenings we shared stories with Babu, as we addressed our father. He was a great raconteur and could bring the smell and feel of the place and people he spoke of.

“Saheb, give me a fortnight I will offer you Mahua liquor,” Ashok said breaking my reverie.

The ripe flowers, which fall from the tree are collected and fermented in an earthen pot. The freshly prepared liquor has a strong smoky foetid odour, which disappears on ageing. The flowers are also used for the preparation of vinegar. The major components of flowers are sugars and additionally it contains proteins, vitamins, organic acids and essential oils.

By next week I hope to taste my maiden Mahua distilled liquor, as Ashok has promised.

This monsoon I plan to plant a Mahua sapling on the outer edge of my plot. In the years to come (when the tree starts to bloom) I hope to treat visitors to my farm with Mahua liquor. Hope you’re coming.

I was putting finishing touches to this post when my friend from Jadugoda sent a mail stating: “Walking beneath a blossoming Mahua tree is a magnificent experience. I have no words to define its fragrance on a full moon night.”

Being in Jadugoda for over three years now, he tells me it’s an experience worth a lifetime. “I wait for April nights for this. The days are awfully hot while the nights are pleasant.”

The cool breeze blowing during late April evenings delivers the fragrance to your being, embracing you with a hug.  It is as if you have been dipped in a vat of perfume. You want the moment to freeze, not wanting to let it go. With just the sounds of the rustling leaves, the call of a cricket and the luminous disk overhead playing hide and seek with the clouds you would kill to have such a solitude.   A night was never so beautiful making you long for your beloved. The estrangement more profound.

Note: The pics are from that friend.

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