The King of Fruits is synonymous with the verdant richness of South East Asia. In my home country, Malaysia, durian season is highly anticipated. There are twelve native variants of durian in the Peninsula Malaysia alone, Sarawak is home to fourteen different types,while Sabah boasts fifteen different species that includes a variant that can be found only in the cool highland forests of the Crocker mountain range.
The durian tree produces fine hardwood timber that is sought after for high-value furniture crafting. Malay weapon smiths sought durian wood for the beauty of its grain to create the hilt and sheath of keris, sundang and other traditional bladed weapons.
The fruit is more than just a delight on the lips; the durian is chockfull of energy, fibre, protein, vitamins and essential micronutrients. Just don't eat it with an alcohol chaser; the durian affects the enzyme in your liver that detoxifies alcohol and may magnify the alcohol's effect on you. There have been anecdotes of durian-induced strokes when it was consumed together with alcohol.
You may think it is odd to compare the most complex of human emotions to the King of Fruits. But I think that durian is an excellent metaphor about what it takes to express love in its purest form. Not the kind of love that Hollywood hawks to us; but love that is beyond mawkish sentiments that evaporate when hardship pops up.
First of all, like durian, love requires patience. When my paternal grandmother planted the durian trees in the orchard near her home, she planted the wild type; seedlings from wild durian harvested in the forest. She did this with the acceptance that she would not taste the fruit of her labour. These days you can plant the clone variants that will bear fruits faster, but in the old days, this option was not available. The variants she planted can take up to twelve years to produce flower and even then, perhaps no fruit for the first few years.
Hence, cultivating durian takes a great deal of patience: you have to keep watering it; to keep weeds and pests away from it; to keep fertilising the tree when year after year and after year passes, and still you get nothing. But when it does bear fruit, these wild types offer the sweetest, creamiest flesh, accompanied by an unforgettable aroma of decadence that delights all your senses.
Like durian, love needs patience. I see this in my friends who have autistic children, or have kids with special needs. It is easy to love children when they are cute, bright and clever. It's not so easy to love children who scream continuously despite your every effort to comfort them, children who miss all the milestones that their peers seem to sail past effortlessly. But no matter the hardship or heartbreak, I've yet to see them falter in their affection and truly, this is a prime example of how love demands patience.
Secondly, love requires a flexibility of perspective. How could Anthony Bourdain, who once described the smell of durian like "something died in a week-old gym sock", or something like that, became an ardent lover and advocate for the King of Fruits? If he had kept to his original opinion and not have the openness to try something new, he would never have learned the joy that durian brings to the lives of all its lovers.
This flexibility is very important when we love. Consider when parents become infirm or eccentric in their golden years because of illness or just advancing age. They feel like strangers at times; what happened to the stalwart father or the loving mother you knew when you were younger? Fear and depression arising from illness can cause changes in personality. It may seem unfair that we have to be the only one making the sacrifice in the face of such changes, but if we are willing to adapt, we could forge a different and no less (perhaps even more) meaningful relationship with our parents. If we are lucky, we too, will grow old; so who's to say we will be the carefree sort we are today and not gnarled and crotchety like our parental units?
Beyond patience and flexibility, like durian, love requires a certain amount of creativity. Think about it. The durian is a well armoured fruit; its tough shell is not easy to defeat. To get to the delicacy, you must figure out how to open it without damaging the flesh within. A sharp machete is helpful, but what if you don’t have one? I have seen my father deal with a recalcitrant durian husk with a screwdriver. I have seen an Orang Asal fruit seller use his bare hands and no implements to crack a durian open. Really, the possibility is limited only by one’s imagination.
Creativity in love is not about elaborate proposals captured on video and uploaded on YouTube for posterity or transient social media popularity. I’m talking about what happens after the happily ever after. The fairy tales never tell you about how to deal with the fact that the princess of your dreams turns out to be a Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde three days out of the month. Nor do they give tips about what to when your prince charming comes along with an ogress of a mother-in-law or when his business is facing financial difficulties.
Do you give up on love when dastardly challenges rear its ugly head? No. You put on your thinking cap and figure out a new battle strategy. Chocolate, a hot water bottle and a massage could keep Dr Jekyll locked away in your dream princess’ personality closet. A monster-in-law could be tamed with patience and affection. You can help your prince with readjusting his business priorities; streamline the cash flow, whatever is needed to tide him over until the wheel of fortune turns once again.
Katherine Hepburn once said, “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.”
In essence, durian is a reminder that love is a verb. Love demands patience, flexibility of thought as well as a huge dash of ingenuity. But like durian, the sweetness and joy that love and loving brings make all the work worthwhile.
NB: Pictures are of Daddy opening the durian planted by his Mom in early 1970's.