Kullu Orchard


Kullu Orchard

Everything is seeded – you and I, this
breakfast fruit Sai balances up the stairs
– rubied clusters of pomegranate (anār);
guava (amrūd)’s tough, granular seeds –
black crow poised on the balcony railing,
readying to steal pieces as I disappear
into my room to collect my notebook.
Honey bees thronging the almond and
plum trees, confused by mid-autumn
blossoms; golden apples an enterprising
American Quaker introduced all over
Himachal at the turn of the 19th century.

Last night clouds gathered over the
Kullu mountains and the moon strayed
into my room. I lay in bed, turning
over that old chestnut – whether to bring
a child into the world. No answer from
the rain, from the soaked earth, nor
from lines abandoned like morsels
of fruit for disappearing birds. Tracing
a path up to the road, I pass the
young couple lounging on garden chairs,
sipping Himalayan tea; they are not
honeymooning, they tell me, just getting
away from Chandigarh for Navratri!

A buffalo flanks the end of the path, its
calf disporting itself prehistorically next
to tractors that prepare the way for a
private road and a suite of villas closer
to the river. Still another noses its way
through nasturtiums which the owner
regards as weeds. Here he is now, waving
in workers who arrive as a small army,
then waving to me. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To the waterfall!’ He gestures me into
his bright Tata SUV, ‘It’s close, though
not wise for a woman to go alone…’.

Great grandfather bought the orchard
and today the fruit’s sold as far away as
Shillong and Mumbai, but at some point,
there came a need to … ‘diversify’.
Wife greets with a glass of apple juice and
bumper crop of photo albums. I turn pages,
feigning interest in sadhus, chief minister
(expert cutter not of fruit so much as
ceremonial ribbon) and a constellation of
Bollywood stars. I’m told rosy-cheeked
Rohan – everywhere photographed with wife
and children – runs everything nowadays,
spitting image of his mother – apple of her eye?

‘No other children?’ ‘Oh yes, a daughter
married and living in Delhi…’. The Beas
rushes on oblivious to the old man’s
instructions – where to park earth-movers,
where to pour tar. (Note to self: River, sky,
mountains – not seeded.) Lower Himalayan
peaks in the distance transubstantiate into
slate roofs blessed by chief minister.
Clever Mahishasura feasts on nasturtiums,
unhurried by late appearance of Durga.
I lick my lips and taste the ash still lingering
from fires lit to celebrate Dussehra last night.

Suneeta Peres da Costa

Author: Suneeta Peres da Costa

Suneeta Peres da Costa is an Australian author of Goan heritage. She writes plays, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her latest book, Saudade (Giramondo, 2018; Transit USA & Canada, 2019), explores the legacies of Portuguese colonialism and the Goan diaspora in Angola; it was shortlisted for the 2019 Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the 2020 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature and was a finalist in Field Notes' 2020 Tournament of Books (USA). Her writing has recently appeared in the Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin and Verity La. Over the years, Suneeta has worked with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The National Gallery of Victoria and the University of Technology, Sydney, among other organisations. She has been a fellow of Varuna – The Writers House, the MacDowell Colony and The Corporation of Yaddo. Her literary honours include a Fulbright Postgraduate Award (MFA, Sarah Lawrence College), the Australia Council for the Arts BR Whiting Residency, Rome, an Asialink Arts Creative Exchange to North India.

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