Hunting for Avocados
I went to India in July of 2012 to complete my dissertation research, which involved training a group of women on how to grow avocado and drumstick trees as well as how to incorporate these foods into their daily diets to address the rampant vitamin A and iron deficiencies which are common to rural India. I arrived in Hazaribag on July 15th, 2012, a small town in the state of Jharkhand, which is located in the northern part of India and is one of the poorest and most backward states in the country. As soon as I arrived, my hunt for avocados began as I was scheduled to start the training program the first week in August and I needed the fruit to use during the sessions. I had brought 10 avocados with me, but due to a train diversion, I arrived three days later than I expected and they were all squished in my bag… even Globie got a little avocado on his foot!
After getting my new apartment in Hazaribag set up with a nice place for Globie, it was time to start hunting for avocados. So with the help of the Globetrotter Grant, Globie and I embarked on a whirlwind adventure through three major cities in northern India in search of avocados.
July 20th, my search began. I started by going to Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, which is about 100 km from Hazaribag, but by bus it takes about 3 hours due to poor road conditions and many stops to pick up passengers along the way. I went there to meet with a fruit vendor, who could get avocados, but his minimum was 100kgs, which was far too many for the project and at least half would rot before they could be utilized. So plan B kicked into effect.
I had a few leads in Calcutta, which was the closest big city to Hazaribag and knowing that avocados are becoming more popular among the upper class in large Indian cities; I decided I would give it a shot and make a trip to Calcutta. So Globie and I packed up and settled in for our overnight 12 hour bus ride.
Globie and I arrived to the wholesale market via taxi at about 7:30am and it was already teeming with men unloading truck upon truck of fresh imported fruit. I managed to make my way to the exotic fruit area to ask about avocados but as most adventures go, it would have been too easy if the main vendor of exotic fruit had piles of avocados waiting for me. Although he didn’t have any, he did send me away with some other places to look. After breakfast and some coffee, we took a taxi to New Market, a huge market area that sells everything from clothes to meat to fruit to jewelry. We walked into the bowels of New Market, through twists and turns, alleys and showrooms until we came to a vendor who was known to sell avocados.
He was indeed a seller and opened his fridge and gave me 3 avocados, 2 of which were rotten. Even though I was only holding one avocado, I was excited that I had finally found some; so I bought the one good piece and then wandered again through more twists and turns to another vendor, who pulled out not just 3 but a bagful of recently harvested avocados. I had finally found them and I felt as if I was holding a long, lost treasure. I asked how many he had and after about 20 minutes of waiting, I purchased his entire stock of 11kgs for Rs. 160 per kg ($3).
Globie and I then had the rest of the day to enjoy Calcutta. We went to Victoria Memorial and learned about the British Raj in India; we went to Science City and played among the interesting displays of technological advances; we went for a paddle boat ride at Nicco Park and walked along the famous Park Street sidewalks where we stopped at Flurry’s for some beans on toast to cap off our trip through one of India’s oldest cities and a former capital of the British colonies. We got back on a bus that night at 9:00 and headed back to Hazaribag, with a bag full of avocados and a smile on both of our faces.
Our adventure to Calcutta was fruitful, but I knew that I needed more avocados and a steady supply that could be delivered to me because traveling on an overnight bus every couple of weeks was not going to be feasible. So the following weekend, Globie and I packed up again and got on an overnight train headed for Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. I was hoping to get in touch with some vendors as well as spend some time touring around the city. After visiting a few markets and even some major chain stores, I finally found a few avocados, but the price of one piece of fruit was Rs. 178 ($3.56).
So although Lucknow did not pan out as a supply center for avocados, Globie and I did have a fun time eating at the famous street dhaba (roadside eatery) Royal Chat and marveling at the 100 stone elephants lining the walkway of the newly constructed memorial to Ambedkar, a social justice activist. The memorial cost over 7 billion rupees ($140,000,000). So after a fun filled weekend that turned into more touring and less working, Globie and I headed back to Hazaribag to renew our hunt for avocados.
Finally after many emails and phone calls, I found a vendor in Chennai who would send me 50kgs of avocados to Ranchi every two weeks for Rs. 85 per kg. This was great news for two reasons, the first was that without the middle man in Calcutta (I learned that they too got all of their fruit from Chennai) I was paying about half as much per kg and secondly, Globie and I only had to take a 3 hour bus ride every two weeks instead of the overnighters to Calcutta or Lucknow. So although our two adventures out of Hazaribag did not result in creating avocado connections, they did allow for some great traveling and touring. This was just what I needed in the beginning of my trip to get me revved up and excited about my work, but also gave me time to really learn more about Indian culture and traditions before I set out to work very closely with the women in my study.
Ultimately, the research was a success and the women and their families loved the avocados and are now looking forward to the time when the trees they planted will bear fruit. The Globetrotter Grant helped make all of this possible by encouraging me to not only achieve my academic goals, but to take some time and experience new places in order to enrich not only my life but my research as well by learning more about Indian culture and tradition.