Khéjur-gur

(page 2)

After a late breakfast we left the Tourist Lodge and found our rickshaw man waiting for us outside the gates. During our ride into the lodge in the morning we had talked to him about our interest in going out into a village to see the process of making khéjur-gur. He proved to be knowledgeable about the area and was to be our guide for the rest of our stay in Shantiniketan. We were taken to a village about 5 miles outside of Shantiniketan and the scenery changed as we got out of the hustle and bustle of a university town. A pastoral ambience pervaded as far as the eye could see. There were Phoenix sylvestris and Borassus flabelifer trees everywhere: by the roadside, by village ponds, in the middle of rice fields, and seedlings all over by the hundreds. On reaching the outskirts of the village we made enquires as to the possibility of buying some fresh khéjur-gur. We were directed to the house of a farmer in the locality. We made our way through the edge of a pond lined on all sides with massive Borassus flabellifer trees and the tall but daintier looking Phoenix sylvestris. A surreal reflection of these trees on the pond surface made us stop and enjoy the scene. The man, Anand, expert khéjur-gur maker, was having his morning meal with his family in the small courtyard of his home. After introductions we were welcomed into his home. No, he would not mind if we photographed him as he went about his activities, but the khéjur-gur production for day had finished, early in the morning, and he was now going into the fields to plough the land. He did, however, agree to answer some questions.

Anand lives on land owned by a family. He cultivates the land and the main crop is rice. He gives the landowner a certain share of the harvest. All the Phoenix sylvestris and Borassus flabellifer trees in the land are the property of the landowner and the harvest derived from these trees, whether fresh sap, fermented alcoholic drink or khéjur-gur, is shared with the landowner. Is he happy? Can’t complain, it is my destiny, he tells us. But I make the best khejur-gur in the area!

In the evening, as the sun sets, Anand climbs up the Phoenix sylvestris trees and sets his earthenware pots to collect the sap. Then, in the early morning before sunrise, he climbs up again, to bring down the pots filled with sap. The slightest rise in temperature starts the fermentation process of the sap. If one wants an alcoholic drink, then this is not a problem. If one wants to make gur, however, then the sap has to be processed immediately after harvest. If one wants to drink the sap fresh from harvest, it is a sweet, wholesome and nourishing drink devoid of any alcohol content.

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