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  • We, that is the L & M, the FB and I lived in Secunderabad for close to two years.
  • My sister and brother-in-law bought a house in Kochi and settled down there with parents (mine and the sis’)
  • My mother ate a big fat custard apple and threw the seeds in the backyard of the house (or so she claims) for a custard apple tree to grow.

These are three distinct and seemingly unconnected events. But they have ended up having a connection. Mother claims that she took to my sister’s home (in Kochi) some big fat juicy custard apples when she returned from a visit to my place in Secunderabad. She further states she then scattered the seeds around sister’s house in the hope that the seeds might germinate and a tree would grow, to give the same fruits. Perfectly possible, of course, except that I know what an imaginative mind she has. Personally, I disbelieve anything she says as a matter of principle, and proceed promptly to separate wheat from the chaff in my mind. Only when I am clear that facts indeed verify her claims do I accept her word for anything.

After a few months or a year or whatever time it takes for a custard apple seed to grow into a sapling and then a lanky as yet awkward tree, mother one day asked sis,

“Remember those big juicy custard apples I brought down from your Chechi’s (elder sis, that’s me) place at Secunderabad?” She then pointed to a young tree outside, “This tree is from the seed I planted from those fruits!”

My sister gave her a noncommittal look wondering how to break it to mother. I mean one never wants to pour cold water over apparent enthusiasm. I admit, here I am merely guessing because I wasn’t present. But knowing her and being a writer of fiction I am at liberty to make up a few things. The sis being a wizard at Math and blessed with stupendous memory to boot replied,

“How can that be? We bought this house AFTER Chechi left Secunderabad and arrived at Trivandrum!”

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Anyone would have felt deflated at their (baseless) assumptions meeting with such solid (and provable) facts and disintegrating into nothing. Anyone other than our mother, that is. She listened and there upon went about repeating the same story to all and sundry, the proof that sis presented notwithstanding. She told those at home, which at the time consisted of father, BIL, his mother too must have got to hear it, I am not sure about that, and of course the little grandson and granddaughter. This was followed by the household help, the neighbors, friends and relatives of all descriptions that dropped in or she met on her many forays outside the home.

Eventually the news reached me, who was staying a few hours journey away at the time, at Trivandrum. I snorted and thought, how like her! If anyone had cared to ask I would have told them, ‘What did I tell you?’ I am familiar with mother and her imagination that has no reins (The matter of ethics does not enter the picture at all) whatsoever since a long, long time. In fact whatever my siblings (might) say, I have known this trait of hers the longest.

So when finally when it was my turn to hear about the ‘the custard apple tree that has grown from the seed of the fruit I brought from your place at Secunderabad’ I said in my no-nonsense voice,

“What nonsense!”

Yup, I am direct that way. I hate nonsense. Period. She of course went wide-eyed innocence on me (for a change, usually she sulks) trying to convince me that I had a poor memory. Well, I am not my sis, but I have a reasonably good memory too. The L & M has many a time taken off his imaginary hat in honor of my excellent memory. Be that as it may. I replied, still in my non-nonsense voice, that I had been back in Trivandrum in 1989. The sis and BIL had bought their house a good two years after that. So which custard apple was she talking about?! Anyone else would have been flustered. She, unfazed, came back to me with a puzzled,

Appol pinne athethu custard applinte kuru ayirikkaam?” (So then which custard apple’s seed could that be then)

Search me. How would I know? It could be any one of those you must have got from the market, I suggested. And one would think by her innocent air that I was the first one telling her about the clash of dates. I rolled my mental eyes. Anyways, that settled matters for the time being. Yup, you heard that right, for time being only.

Years down the line, she regularly brought up the matter as if for the first time and told us (also the brother and sister-in-law) and any visitor, the story about the custard apple that had journeyed to Kochi from Secunderabad and now had an offspring in the tree that stood in the backyard of the sister’s home. We children corrected her when she told us the story, but a few months later she would tell us the very same thing.

If any of this gives the impression that mother is senile or has Alzheimer’s or anything of the sort, please refrain from taking that route. Even now at a sprightly seventy plus, she takes classes (spiritual/music), sings, gives speeches, is learning Sanskrit, writes articles for religious magazines, travels with her group for singing bhajans, is an active member in the executive committee of her residents’ association and what’s more, walks more briskly than the lot of us of the next generation or the next. She is as sharp as they come. But she still thinks the custard apple tree is of Secunderabad-ian origin. Nothing could dislodge that thought that had somehow taken firm root in her brain. No amount of chiding, reminding, biting her head off, explaining, could correct her misconception. The next time we met, she would say the same thing.

Just the other week I happened to be in Kochi and she told me,

“You remember the juicy custard apple that I brought from your house?” I knew what was coming. She pointed outside the window and said, “That tree right there grew from its seed!”

I was gobsmacked. Twenty goddamn years later she was repeating the very same thing that we children had time and again PROVED to her as false. Her (believed) story was so deeply entrenched in her psyche that nothing we had said over the years seemed to have made even a tiny dent. I was too amazed to use my no nonsense voice. I simply replied in a tired voice,

“How can that be when this house was not even bought until much later?”

Without missing a beat she answered (I told you she is smart) “Oh then was it from Delhi that I got it, from where your brother stays?”

I did not bother to answer. At the time she mentions, my brother had been nowhere near Delhi.

Let’s leave the story of the custard apple tree right here and go on to the reason why I recounted it here in the first place. I have always been amazed and extremely saddened by people who believe a story that their mind has conjured up from their own experiences in life (perhaps) or their imagination. You try to point them the right way, show them facts to disprove their assumptions. Yes, it might sway them for the moment into believing you. But at a later date, they will once again go back to their own made up story and serve it back to you forgetting whatever had happened in the intervening time that had busted their story truly and surely.

Isn’t it sad that so many people have such ‘custard apple trees’ growing out of nowhere in their minds? Growing up with someone like mother I have had quite a few ‘custard apple trees’ thrown at me. Many of the populace have them growing as well. Some carry veritable orchards inside. The saddest part is when those closest to you have even a single ‘custard apple tree’ sprouting in their minds. It comes back to haunt you time and again. Nothing outsiders do will change a thing. Those that have the ‘custard apple trees’ in the shadows of their minds should be ready to ruthlessly question its origins and throw out the theories that don’t fit on their own. But will they? That’s the proverbial million dollar question.

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