Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dumchee in the Age of the WW --3

My father who grew up in the immediate post WW-1 years, said he was puzzled by the local fruit sellers in Kumaon referring to sweet dates as Dumchee. The mystery was solved for him by an elderly uncle who had been witness to this christening.
During WW-1 the British regularly sent small contingents of British soldiers back from the Front, to recover in the salubrious climate of the hills. They stayed in the local fort area, wore their red and gold uniforms and often marched through the town . They were referred to locally as Tommies and were much feared by children and the young women out to gather fuel and fodder in the forests nearby. They called them the 'red faced ones'( Lalmunha) and young girls were under strict orders from their families to hide as soon as they heard the sound of marching boots.
History will have its little jokes even during the most tense times . A large consignment of sweet dates from somewhere in central Asia was delivered in ( no doubt by mistake) Almora town. The fruit vendors used to selling local apples, oranges, pears and plums, were quite surprised by the sight of the new fruit that came in cakes and tasted so sweet . The locals, mostly Brahmin families observing strong food taboos, stolidly refused to buy this foreign fruit.
One day as a listless wayside vendor, conned into buying a box by some wily retailer, sat with his wares fanning flies off the heap of non selling dates and ruing the day he landed up with them. Just then a troop of Tommies marched in . At the sight of dates, they all jumped up ! 'How much?' they asked the seller . 'Whatever you like,' came the answer followed no doubt by sotto voce murmuring in the local dialect about how all he needed was money to cut his losses. 'Tell me what is the name of this fruit and take it at any rate you wish', he finally said . '
'Damn cheap!' yelled the Tommies and within minutes all the dates were sold.
Aha, Dumchee ! the fruit seller said . We now at least know its name .
As the fame of Almora dates spread in the fort area, more and more Lalmunhas came asking for the Dumchee fruit . Everyone now brought out  their non selling consignment of dates, wiped out the losses in no time and considered ordering some more from the plains.
The date or Dumchee,  thereafter went on to become a best selling item in the fruit markets not only in Almora but also Ranikhet and Nainital that saw a steady pouring in of Gora soldiers. By and by the locals convinced by some educated citizens that it was a fruit like any other, also accepted it.
The name Dumchee for dates, however, continued for decades, my father said till the literacy levels went up. The women who knew little English preferred to call it Pind ( consolidated) Khajoor .
As always the local name given by the women continued even after the genteel ones began to call the fruit by its Angrezi name .
(next- The season for making Badi Mungaudi preserves) 


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