Maybe my father had something against oranges. Maybe because he never expressed his disinterest for the yellow juicy fruits to us, Mother and children. In any case, he never brought home oranges. Instead, apples and bananas were heaped in the kitchen. That these two, that is to say apples and bananas, were his favorite, we children knew.

We had a large private garden for vegetables and fruit in that little East Indian town of Motihari. In it grew all sorts of seasonal vegetables, and on the edge of the field numerous banana trees were planted. In the hot monsoon region no apples grow, after all. They come from the northern Himalayas, where the climate is more temperate and the land is hillier.

Oranges didn’t grow at our place either. They came from the western part of India to us. It was said that there were many orange plantations in the vicinity of Nagpur, but I never saw any orange tree as a child, though I wished to fervently: fragrant trees full of juicy fruit!

As a child, I liked them very much, also because the humid summer lasts a long time in India—just as the drizzly German winter does. So my dry child’s throat yearned for sweet fresh orange juice. And my second-eldest sister, Mukta, liked citrus fruits very much. We siblings squeezed the stinging juice from the orange peel into each other’s eyes mischievously. We considered it good for the eyes, just like the tears from cutting up onions.

Oranges were available at home only occasionally, if someone other than Papa bought fruit or had brought it as a present.

Fruit was plentiful in Motihari. Sometimes a little more expensive, sometimes a little more affordable. At the Mina bazaar in the center of the town there were countless fruit shops. Papa bought fruit from a fat, rich merchant on the main street. I did not like this man at all. Not only because of his gigantic belly, but above all because of his manner. The fat man gave me the impression of being unlikeable and lucre-lusty. But he had more luck than other merchants. The location of his shop was perfect and the rich and illiterate merchant had good clientele from the middle and richer levels of society.

I do not know to this day what the cultured people of my town saw in that puffed out belly and on the even more puffed out posterior of that merchant. I suspect perhaps that the old law of capitalism was at play there. To wit, that money makes one more interesting and attractive. So the rich man got even richer. Whether his brain developed further is doubtable.

That there were so many subspecies of orange is something I didn’t learn until I was in Germany. Clementines, mandarins and oranges I eat here now and again. But such a yearning for citrus as in my childhood does not exist. Perhaps the reason is that my throat here, in the cold of Europe, rarely experiences thirst. In contrast to hot Motihari.

But the desire for an overloaded orange tree awakens in me now and then. And tragically, oranges are not cultivated in Germany. They come from Spain. Perhaps I will one day read my poems in Spain beneath an orange tree.

Contrary to expectations, Papa died very young. And he still owes me an answer as to why he could not abide oranges.

I feel sometimes like a magician and to top it all off, I am a poet. Perhaps I should conjure up Papa some day and get the answers to my question.

Yet I know, if Papa is here, that I would have forgotten my question. And he would bring apples and bananas home again. Yes, no oranges, my dears. And I will teasingly make fun of his apples and bananas, for I grew up to be almost as big as he.

(Translator: Dr. Marilya Veteto Reese, Northern Arizona University, AZ)

The original text in German “Papa und Orangen” is in the book “Die uferlosen Geschichten (Schweinfurt 2003)”


One Response to “STORIES BEYOND BORDERS: 1. Papa and Oranges”

  1. empopeutteD Says:

    Wow – kinda great theme. I’m going to blog about it likewise!!

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