|From an earlier Pineapple Fest - Image from Outlook|
I live in Pineapple City. It is a small town which officially is a village. The tang of ripe pineapple suffuses the very air of the town whose real name is Vazhakulam. Trucks filled with pineapples leave Vazhakulam market every day to different parts of India. The annual Pineapple Fest, which used to be a grand affair, was thwarted by Covid this summer. But pineapples have remained ubiquitously visible in Vazhakulam like in the past many decades. You can see hundreds of acres of land cultivated with pineapple if you travel in the neighbourhood of this place. The local people will tell you proudly that the particular variety of pineapple which grows here has a unique succulence.
The boast is not an empty one, I think. I am not a connoisseur of any food though I can distinguish good taste from the bad like normal people. I think the Vazhakulam pineapples do have a difference. No wonder they have been given a Geographical Indication Number too, No. 130.
The pineapple never fascinated me particularly whether of Vazhakulam or any place. Mangoes have remained my favourite fruit for long, followed by the humble oranges. But when I read in a book yesterday that the pineapple was a rare royal fruit in the old days and that a single fruit of that species was sold in the 17th century for today’s equivalent of 5000 pounds [INR 475,000], the pineapple – my next-door fruit – rose in eminence in the list of my desirable fruits.
The pineapple belonged originally to South America, this book informs me. It had reached the Caribbean by the time Christopher Columbus landed there. Soon the fruit migrated to Europe following the example of all other good things from many other parts of the world. But transporting pineapples was not quite easy in those days. Cultivating it was even tougher a job. So it remained very expensive.
Russia’s Catherine the Great and England’s Charles II were huge fans of the pineapple. The fruit became such a status symbol that people displayed it instead of eating it when they got hold of one. Poems were composed in honour of the pineapple. The guests of aristocratic evenings boasted about the taste of the tiny slice they managed to get with some difficulty.
Dunmore Pineapple - Image from National Trust for Scotland
The 4th Earl of Dunmore built a temple on his Scottish estate in honour of the pineapple in 1761. Christopher Wren, acclaimed architect among other things, crowned the south tower of St Paul’s Cathedral in London with this divine fruit.
The close of 19th century altered the fortune of the pineapple, however. Hawaii mass-produced the fruit and steamships carried them everywhere. The fruit became ubiquitous. What is common can no more be royal. Thus the pineapple became a humble, ordinary person’s fruit. It doesn’t occupy any significant place in elite evening parties. Nor will any architect think of giving the dome of his classical construction the shape of the pineapple.
The book in which I read these things – The School of Life written by a group of some 20 writers – says that “The pineapple itself has not changed; it is our attitude to it that has.” We considered the pineapple as the queen of fruits when it remained beyond the reach of the ordinary people. Economics has the dirty habit of controlling our loves!
Industrialisation, say the authors, was supposed to give us good quality products at cheaper prices. Everybody would be able to afford quality now. But in the process a tragedy happened too: industrialisation has robbed “certain experiences of their loveliness, interest and worth”.
This has added to the superficiality of our attitudes and loves. We take things for granted now because they are relatively cheap. That attitude passes into our dealings with people too. Alas, into our dealings with our gods too. Into anything and everything.
As a result, sanctity has all but vanished from our world. Is there anything sacred anymore? That is the ultimate question raised by the pineapple. [Metaphorically, of course.]
I shall bite into the next slice of my pineapple with the renewed wonder of a little child and savour its divinity anew.