Tuesday, May 12, 2009
“I am an Orange, Kala Dodang, also called Gus Narang. My value is unappreciated.
Finally after decades of living and dying, refertilizing my mother tree with my remains, I am now being exploited, and brought to the world’s attention.”
So goes the story as narrated by an Orange that was picked from a tree in the Ranchettes of the homes in the far off villages of Rotawewa and Ratmale(purana gammana) bordering the Kaudulla National Park near Minneriya in the Polonnaruwa District.
“ My mother tree was planted by my master 8 years ago, from a seedling that had grown under an older tree, my grandmother tree, that is now too old to bear many Oranges, but has still not been cut down as there are a few more years of fruit to be produced here and there. My brother Oranges and I have been born in these villages for a very long time. They are from trees that have been planted from seedlings neighbors gave each other from other trees, and are usually planted with lime trees in the vicinity. I don’t know the origin of where my species came, but would surely like to know my history.
Over the years, until Rajaratarala appeared on the scene, we have grown, matured, ripened and fell dead just where we were born, with few people taking any notice of us. Our masters rarely plucked, ate, squeezed or sold us. There was no market for us, as people don’t like the little bumps we have that look ugly on the outside and therefore look like some apparition. Oranges are supposed to be perfectly smooth, like the Bibile Oranges, which are Green and sell for Rs25each. Now even they face stiff competition from the Orange color Valencias that are imported from Pakistan in thousands and sold even in way side stalls in our area for Rs30ea. Our juice is lime colored theirs orange!
My true value is now being explained as my worth, and my history is being narrated to the world by Rajaratarala, a person who has come from afar as if sent by some force to amongst other things bring to light our plight and try and build a notoriety as the best, healthiest, and greatest treat whether eaten whole or squeezed into a glass to satisfy thirst.
We grow with no added fertilizer. The elephants who used to come to my yard before the Elephant fence encircled the village always avoided us, so we were unharmed by them and even the ever present Monkeys don’t come anywhere near us or our cousin limes, because we have thorns that prick them. We are truly the safest crop to be grown in the midst of the whole range of animals that inhabit our area. So it is ironic that we who no one harms are also unwanted. We who no one cares to even put any nutrients provide a bumper crop, only to be left to ripen and rot on the ground.
There is nothing more organic than us. All the market Oranges are grown in conditions of exploitation, so fertilizer, pesticides and tissue culture are all used to have trees that produce thousands of fruit each season. Our mother tree decides when to flower, if the water or rains come suddenly. So we are not regulars like clockwork. Some trees decide to have a rest and miss a season of flowering. Actually the level of drought and intensity of the resultant rains determine how many flowers and therefore fruit my mother tree decides to put out in a season, along with how many dead leaves have rotted under the tree, as well as fruit to provide it with the nutrients necessary to produce more flowers.
Each of our mother trees have different intensities of sweetness, and sometimes two fruit from the same tree taste slightly differently. So we are not consistent and predictable. Even our sizes are different. Some of us grow very big, others smaller. If we are too mature when we are plucked, and we fall to the ground with a thump, we bruise badly. That bruise comes out in a patch of brown in 24hours and so even Rajaratarala cant sell us to anyone. So what he does is remove our skins and have us squeezed into fresh juice and refrigerated for him to drink as his favorite drink. In season he drinks about 6 glasses of Orange juice a day, and I can assure you all he is the only person on the face of the planet who gets a completely organic, forest grown juice that is priceless as his favorite tipple. Unfortunately for him our season runs for about 4 months and unless he juices us and puts us in a freezer, the period he can drink us is limited to that time.
Due to the seasonality of our birth it takes people a while to get used to drinking us and once they are hooked, we are no longer available. This is a problem Rajaratarala faces every year in finding a market for us. Rajaratarala buys us from our masters for between Rs 2and 3 each depending on size, after plucking us carefully, trying his best not to drop us to the ground, a difficult task, as we are inside in very thorny trees. He and his mates find it hard to reach us and pluck us safely. If our masters pluck us we all fall to the ground, and become unsellable, so Rajaratarala insists on him coming to pluck us.
He then has to pack and transport us trying to make sure we don’t get the sun on our heads as we get sunstroke and people think we are spoilt! He takes us in his pickup hundreds of kilometers to his customers in Colombo, who treat us with curious eyes, and pick and choose the bigger ones leaving the stragglers to be made into juice in Godagama when ripe. So after the post harvest loss of off about 25% as explained above, in bruising and spoilage, he sells the balance for between Rs5 and 7 each. He has to pluck all the oranges in a home garden, so sometimes he has to buy more than he can sell, so occasionally we get thrown away uneaten, though he tries to keep them for himself.
To think we are consumed by posh houses in Colombo, which if they don’t add sugar, cost them about Rs15 a tall glass, is the best value for money they can buy anywhere for a wholesome drink, full of vitamins and minerals and transported from afar. If only they know our humble beginnings, they would be more respectful of our personality and even save the rind to make marmalade, instead of throwing it away.
Rajaratarala is building his home in the village where we live, and he hopes to be able to entertain his friends and customers, so all of you who like us please come and see us one day, and maybe take the best of us and develop us into a native species of fruit to be propagated nationwide, being more adaptable to local conditions than the harder to grow Bibile, and the impossible to grow Valencia and also value us more by increasing our demand and paying a higher price for his efforts. One day, Rajaratarala has promised to grow many of us in his Ratmale property so he can make fresh Orange juice, chilled and deliver to his customers once he has been able to build a loyal clientele for our taste. I can assure you that we have a good life, unlike all the other crops that are grown and so take an interest in our welfare and usefulness in telling your friends our story.”