Oh, for a Durian Party Day

Durians! Durians! Durians! Yes, the durian season is here.

Durians do not make for just delicious eating. They also make for enduring and delightful family and social memories.

I remember how my mother, queen-eater of this king of fruits, would bring home a dozen durians at the lowest cost-price, courtesy of her clever bargaining skills during the fruit season. We children would sit or squat, encircling the thorny pile, taking in the aroma, ready to pounce.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL


My father, king-dreader of the fruit's smell, would valiantly prise open each one with his all-purpose chopper knife, following the lines of the fruit's explosive mechanism, after which he would quickly retreat into the background, only to reappear when we had devoured the devilish fruit, to help dispose of the husks.

By the way, this is an enduring example of my father as a role model of the sacrificing parent who would do almost anything for his family.

Mother and children would eat till we burped, and nearly burst, all the time comparing and commenting on the fruits' different tastes and textures, digging out the last tiny segments, picking out the still good bits in any worm-ridden ones, and going "umm" in delirious expression of our delight and satisfaction.

Eating durians together for dinner or supper was our idea of an extravagant party; otherwise, we ate simply and frugally. On the rare occasion, such as when mother won at gambling, we would head to the fruit stall near the cinema down the road, and squat or sit on stools in the bright glow of a paraffin lamp, for a similar heavenly outdoor party.

Another precious memory of durians, from my days as an undergraduate in Penang, is of the aptly named Durian Valley, which all must pass on the way to the university library. Some of us, especially the guys, understandably never reached our intended destination during the durian season; we inevitably detoured to the obviously more desirable place.

Spotting the fruit hanging on the trees, hunting among the tall grasses and savouring free durian runtuh (literally, "durians that fall", and also a Malay proverb that means unexpected good fortune) was our favourite weekend pastime during the peak season.

Our hostel also held an annual pyjama-fruit party during the fruit season. A $1 contribution from each girl combined could buy whole baskets of durian and fruit from the plantations near the campus, and saw us eating fruit close to midnight dressed in, well, our pyjamas - which, in those days, were decent, not see-through night attire or sarongs. How the idea of a pyjama-fruit party came about is a mystery but wearing pyjamas to eat durians and other fruits at the stroke of midnight somehow added to the taste and excitement.

The durian also brings to mind a special memory about my parents. My mother once insisted on bringing the fruit whole and unopened for relatives living in Singapore.

My non-complaining, durian-hating, family-loving father painstakingly hacked off all the troublesome pokey thorns of about 10 huge durians with his reliable chopper knife, and gave thorough instructions to my mother on how to haul the sack of bald fruit onto the train from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, and then to Jurong - where my sister lived - and to Tanglin Halt, where my mother's Hainanese kin were gathered.

This must have been their ultimate buah tangan - literally, "fruit in hand", a Malay expression for a gift to bring when visiting - present.

When I was a girl, durians made me wonder about their science and magic. How could water poured into their husks, for rinsing mouths and fingers, get rid of the strong smell? Why did the fruit trigger such extremely opposing reactions in people? Why were most Caucasians so averse to it? As an economics student, I wondered: Why not manufacture durian deodorants and durian perfume soap for the tourists?

Now, I don't really care for the different brand names given to durians, be it Mountain Cat or Teresa Teng, so long as there are durians to eat. But I do think banning durians on trains and buses is a downright unreasonable concession to durian-haters, and totally discriminatory towards our king of fruits so beloved by so many regardless of race, language or religion, and an utter insult to local culture and nature.

If I could, I would include durian and other fruit trees in the making of Singapore as a city in a garden, all for citizens' plucking and enjoyment. I would declare a Durian Party Day, with mass durian eating and sharing, preferably at the Padang. And I would get someone to compose a rousing Ode to the Durian.

suntimes@sph.com.sg

The writer is an adjunct senior fellow at the University Scholars Programme at the National University of Singapore and teaches modules in multiculturalism and religious diversity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Oh, for a Durian Party Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe