Nazrul and his sister Mariam's ash gourd plants grew tall, climbed the walls of the kitchen hut, and crept over the roof almost unnoticed. Not until the flooding of their village in mid-August did the vines prove their worth.
The ash gourd plants at their home yard were spared, unlike the ones Nazrul was cultivating on a 15 decimal agricultural land.
Flood waters could not reach as high as where their homestead is located, in Hajiganj village of Shaturia upazila at Manikganj. Four hardy vines were there like invisible companions to the family.
The brother and sister have so far harvested some 40 fruits from the four plants.
This Eid, Mariam made a delicious beef stew with one of the ripe gourds and stored two to three more to make morobba (a type of jam). Nazrul sold the rest at different local markets.
One of their gourds, weighing about 6,377 grams, arrived at Prakritik Krishi, an outlet of organic foods on Salimullah Road in Dhaka's Mohammadpur area on Thursday. Nazrul brought it there, along with other organic agricultural produce from his village.
Delowar Jahan, an agricultural activist and organiser of Prakritik Krishi, was a bit worried to see the mega size gourd. He took a photo of the cucurbit and posted it on Facebook.
“Perhaps the beef stew and morobba are two delicacies that almost all families in Nazrul's village have partaken of during Eid without much cost, thanks to the gourd plants that are grown in almost all the households, rich or poor,” Delowar said.
Growing ash gourds and other plants in their home yards is a vital practice that residents of low-lying areas have long inherited, he said, adding that the practice is more prevalent in char areas prone to flooding.
“Last Monday, we visited a char village named Chanduk. It's a new habitat at the heart of the Dhaleshwari River in Nagarpur upazila of Tangail district. We discovered that almost all of the families grow ash gourd in their home yards. Moreover, many vines were seen climbing up big trees on the roadsides and in higher elevation areas of the village,” he further said.
The agricultural activist noted: “The entire village was flooded, except for the homestead areas. The ash gourd plants and arum plants in their home yards were surviving. The fruits were everywhere, hanging from the vines. These are vital food sources in times of disasters like flood.”
“An ash gourd kept in jute-made hangers, locally known as shika, hanging from the ceiling is a common sight when one enters rural households. A ripe ash gourd can be preserved like this for about one year,” he added.
Incidentally, a customer visited the Prakritik Krishi outlet on Thursday, in search of Nazrul’s ash gourd, and bought it with Tk250 to make kumra bori, a dish of small sun-dried dumplings made of gourd and lentil.