Beri Wala Bagh and other musings about Ber the fruit
Statuary Warning: This post is nothing about Travel. So I will not feel bad if you want to skip and move on with your browsing. But I would feel awesome if you are interested in travel and may want to check this little story about the kindness of strangers in Rural Rajasthan, or how I met a Home Stay owner with Gandhian values in Wayanad Kerala, during Kerala Blog Express.
Those of you are still with me, thanks for still being here, you guys are awesomeness + sweetness combined, desi gets an adrenaline boost by folks like you.
Well this post is about Beri or Ber one of those fruits that was considered poor man’s apple as it grows in dry areas, does not requires any care and gives bountiful of fruits making it affordable. But that was in another time and age. Ziziphus mauritiana, also known as Ber, Chinee Apple, Jujube, Indian plum and Masau is a tropical fruit tree species belonging to the family Rhamnaceae. The beauty of the Ber fruit is that it can survive in dry areas and the fruit does not needs refrigeration to keep it fresh. In fact as the fruit ages over days it starts turning from green to yellow and then rust color, becoming more fragrant, succulent yummylicious juicy as it ages. I like my Ber when it has become soft and rusty giving a heady fruity aroma that cannot be explained in words.
But Ber or Ziziphus mauritiana, the fruit has both historical and mythological significance. If you follow the Ramayana you will remember that Lord Rama ate Bers that were first tasted by Shabri a poor tribal woman. Shabri wanted to make sure that only the juiciest and sweetest fruits are offered to Lord Rama. And Rama in his affection for his devotee cherished the Bers offered after tasting by Shabri. Ber is also one of the fruits that is offered to Lord Shiva on Shivaratri festival.
Noted poet –Kavi Bhushan also mentions Ber fruit in his poem :
“”Unche ghor mandar ke under rahan wali unche ghor mandar ke under rahati hain, kandmool bhog karen, kandmool bhog karen, Teen ber khati ab teeni ber khati hain””
Without going in details, the poet is referring here to the queen of Mewar, wife of Maharana Pratap, when he was living in jungles during his war with the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Here the poet mentions that the queen who use to eat three times in a day now survives on 3 Ber fruits. A fitting reference to the hardship that Maharana Pratap and his family went through during his struggle to not give up the independence of Mewar. The humble Ber was the only fruit-growing in the Aravali ranges that came to the rescue and was available to eat to the Royal family willing to undergo a life of hardship but not willing to give up freedom. So the little fruit has played its role in freedom struggle just like Salt and Khadi, though much earlier.
Sometime later when Shri Harimandir Sahib was under construction in Punjab, Shri Guru Arjan Sahib used to sit and pray under a Beri tree while he was supervising the construction of the holiest of holy Sikh Shrines. I have been fortunate to be there more than once and always feel blessed when I visit Shri Harmandir Sahib. One can still see these gnarled Beri Trees on the banks of the Amritsar or the lake of nectar after which the city of Amritsar is named. These must be the oldest Ber trees anywhere in the world and if you are lucky you may get a fruit from them. One of the Beri tree is called Dukh Bhanjani Beri (or a Ber tree that will take away all your sorrows), as it is believed to have healing properties if you take a bath under it in the holy Amritsar.
But as time passed the Ber or Beri fruits lost it prominence to more good looking and expensive fruits like Apple, grapes, strawberries etc. There was a short one time sparkle in the illustrious history of the Beri fruit when Asha Bhonsle sang “ Na Na Meri Beri Ke Ber Mat Todo, Koi Kanta Chubh Jayega” ( Don’t pluck my Beri fruits as you may get hurt by a thorn ) in movie Anokhi Raat, and it was filmed on Aruna Irani, who later played opposite Big B in his first movie as a lead actor.
But this small spike in prominence in Beri history was soon itemized when the craze for remix songs was at its zenith, while the gyrations in the songs were reaching their nadir and every starlet featured in a Beri song till they were done to death.
Any way coming back to why I wrote this post about Ber or Beri a fruit that finds mention all the way back in Ramayana and is showcased every year in every Ramleela ( a dramatized version of Ramayana, enacted in most parts of India every year ).
Delhi for a long time was surrounded by orchards of various fruits most ubiquitous of them was Mango and Ber. All the way from Shalimar Bagh in North Delhi to Mehrauli in South there were fruit orchards nurtured by generations of gardeners. Ber was so popular fruit that we have 2 localities named after the fruit Ber Sarai in South Delhi and Beri Wala Bagh or Ber Orchard in West Delhi. Alas the orchards or Baghs were all lost about 15-20 years ago, due to expansion of Delhi when the thorny bushy of Bers were replaced by Barbed wires of DDA parks, that were slowly but steadily encroached and all you have in place of Beri Wala Bagh is just a few Bushes of Ber trees that are on the periphery of the once dense orchard. The Kooh Kooh of Koels in these gardens is now replaced by honking of cars and all you have to remind about the once lush green Beri Orchards is a board from DDA, the agency responsible for upkeep of gardens, but chooses to rent out the plot for marriage celebrations. The gardens are now used for marriage functions and DDA makes good money by renting them out. What they use the money for is not known, certainly not to keep the area clean.
Though there are only few stunted Ber trees left, which rarely bear any fruits due to neglect the tradition to sell Bers on the boundary of Orchard or Beri Wala Bagh Continues. While passing through the area today I saw some guys selling Bers so I decided to stop and investigate. More so as the stunted Ber Tree had some fruits on its branches. But I quickly figured out that the Fruits on the trees were stuck using thread by the fruit Vendors to attract customers.
No Bers grow now in this Beri Wala Bagh the fruit seller told me. All the fruits they were selling come from Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan. And as for the price the fruit that was once considered to be a fruit for poor man’s apple cost us Rs 120 per Kilo, we also bought. Some apples that cost us same 120 Rs per kg from the street vendors (they cost much more if you shop in a mall).
So with this dear reader I end my Ber Puran, as I need to enjoy the delicious Bers. As I mentioned that the real taste of Ber fruit comes when it has ripened and gained a rusty color, fortunately some of the fruits we bought are already at that stage, and rest will reach that stage over next few days. So I will be eating healthy for next few days.
The Ber pictures were clicked using my cellphone Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.
Note: There is also a smaller species of Ber that is about the size of a big pea and is reddish in color when ripe.
And here is the video of Na Na meri Beri Ke Ber Mat Todo
Trivia: Though the Ber or Beri name is very similar to botanical classification of fruits it is not technically a Berry but actually classified as a Drupe. Beri is also a common Punjabi last name like in Prima Donna of Indian Fashion Ritu Beri, though it is not restricted to Punjab and we have the Oscar Winner Halle Berry with the same last name but with different spellings. I am pretty sure the two Berries each with a talent of her own, are not related. 🙂
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