Today it is close to 39 C ( 100 Fahrenheit ) in Pune.Electricity cuts carry on regardless of the heat.The MSEB (Maharashtra State Electricity Board) euphemism for this is 'loadshedding.' The unbearable heat of being is shed on tax paying citizens and today they have announced that power cuts will be increased to 4 hours a day in Pune and 9 hours a day in the rural areas ! April , by the way, is the worst month of the year for unrelenting heat in Pune, without a bit of breeze to stir the air.
Okay this is not a grouch blog so here is the bright side.To battle the heat there are all sorts of lifesavers.Sliced cucumbers, large helpings of watermelon and then sugarcane juice, nimboo sherbet,chhaas,nira, lassi and falooda. Cool, cool , cooling drinks with inventive additions to multiply the chill factor.
Around the corner from us,there is a small booth run by Vaishali. She sells Nira among other cool drinks,a great favourite in Maharashtra and other parts of India where it is sold along the highways and on the streets in towns.
It is transparent white in colour much like coconut water and smells and tastes sweet. It is really very cooling with the added benefit of being excellent for digestion.
Nira ,otherwise known as sweet toddy, is an unfermented juice which is collected from the wild date palm, phoenix sylvestris. A cut is made in the top of the tree and a pot placed strategically to catch the steadily dripping sap.It is gathered by the toddy tapper at least once a day. Where the trees are tall, this requires him to shimmy up the trunk with the aid of a flimsy hemp rope .This is as dangerous as it looks.
Vaishali brings the Nira from Walchandnagar in Baramati district where it is collected in the early hours of the morning around 4.30 a.m. or so. She is part of a co-operative who share a Tempo ( three wheeled vehicle) to transport the toddy to different parts of Pune District. Each sales booth is expected to stock 50 litres of Nira at the start of the day.
Toddy tapping needs a licence and the quality of the drink must come up to certain standards regulated by the government. For example there can be no foam on its surface nor fermentation.It must be without acid or colour.A licensee must have an icebox or refrigerator to prevent fermentation as well!
The sap is also used to make palm sugar or gur which is lighter in colour and has a more delicate taste than regular gur made from sugarcane.
Since the wild date palm grows in many areas which are otherwise uncultivated due to lack of a steady source of water and because of poor soil, toddy tapping is a welcome source of income for many rural folk and a blessing to all those townies like us who are reeling under the summer heat without recourse to relief in the form of fans let alone air conditioning!
Cheers to Nira.