I’m curvy and I like it. I’m also big and green. My skin is not smooth but it is useful. I’m a hard nut to crack, well, literally not a nut. I’m the perfect example that beauty is just skin deep. But once you get past the exterior, I am absolutely delicious. Yes, I’m the Jackfruit.
I live in my hometown, South India particularly the Western Ghats region. Reflecting Indian culture, I live in a huge joint family with my parents, uncles and siblings. We also have second and third cousins who have settled abroad, i.e. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries. Occasionally, we do have get-togethers.
Annual ceremonies for the ancestors require only Indian fruits and vegetables to be used. And being the rare fruit that we are, our demand is high. So the twitchy restless cousin, who is dying to explore the world, trotted off eagerly. He has never once called to let us know how life is outside the tree. We got our information from other sources. We know that he would hang out with the fruits like mangoes and bananas, which would also grace the ceremony. Apparently we are liked best during the summer and autumn seasons. Our sweetness is at its peak anytime during March and September depending on the rains and our health.
Kerala is our home state and Keralites are so proud of their ‘Chakka’ that we have been crowned as the “fruit of the state”. The Malayalam New Year, Vishu begins with our auspicious presence right before a mirror. I shouldn’t say so myself, but I looked good. The day began with people looking at themselves and then at us. Their eyes flickered to me briefly before fastening on the ‘king of fruits’. I really hate Mango. He steals my thunder.
A brother of mine is of the harder variety with larger flesh, while I’m femininely delicate with soft flesh. My brother shrugs off his thick green coat ready to dive into the next phase of our adventure. Since there is so much of him, he decided to try different things. He felt that the seeds were weighing him down, so he shed them. Part of him leapt into the pan of oil and swam leisurely till he became crisp and red. Then he pulled himself out and rolled onto a mixture of salt and chilli powder. The chilli powder tickled his nose. ‘Achooo!!!’ The chips were ready.
Raw Chakka can be cooked as a curry to be eaten with rice. I got to meet the red chillies. But, remembering my brother’s experience, I kept my distance. The coconut, onion and curry leaves seemed nice enough. But onion suddenly started weeping. My brother, the gallant man that he is, leapt to comfort her as did coconut and the others. They ended up in a hot pan and had a good time as they became Idichakkai Thoran. Then we met jaggery and coconut milk. The rest of my brother frolicked with them and they ended up a pudding ‘Chakka Pradaman’.
Later, it was my turn. I too shed my green coat and seeds looking for something new to do. The seeds decided to gallivant in the sun. They acquired a fairly good ‘tan’. I heard that they taste really delicious after they dance on the hot charcoal. I segregated my bulbs and urged a portion to dive inside a bowl of sugary syrup. The bulbs dawdled in there before leaping into a tin. The next set of bulbs didn’t have that much of a sweet tooth. They preferred to dip in oil with salt and chillies. So I let them be pickles. Assured of a long life, I knew they both would go places.
Who doesn’t love jam or ice cream? I just found out that I can be both. Dividing the rest of the bulbs, I sent half of them to mingle with dry ginger and cardamom to create ChakkaVaratti. Since I am health conscious and ‘diabetically’ sweet on my own, I prefer to fraternize with jaggery. The rest of them decided to live in the refrigerator as ice cream. Ripe or raw, seed or flesh, I’m useful. My family home (the tree) too, has its uses in making furniture and musical instruments.
This summer, my brother and I got the chance to go on the world tour. Stuffed with the nutrients and appropriate sweetness, we jumped into the vendor’s cart. James Joseph, a hot-blooded young Malayali man with impeccable taste for the finer things in life has launched a brand, “JackFruit365” that would revive jackfruit in our own backyard of south India. Working as a software professional, Joseph saw ripe jackfruits abandoned on the roadsides during a visit to his hometown Ernakulam. That’s when the idea struck him.
Thanks to JackFruit365, lovers of the seasonal fruit can now buy freeze-dried jackfruit as well as a variety of dishes made from it – from pies to payasam– 365 days a year. The world has become our oyster! The Clark Kent in me has found her superpowers. After the disguise in me had been unveiled, I emerged as the Super Chakka, and not just in one avatar. Now, the various ‘MEs’ have been well packed into little cans and I’m off to America. Ta-Ta!!