Monday, March 13, 2006


Or mangoes! The word rekindles feelings of sweetness, aroma, summer in India and the longingness of being with people who are close. As children we would wait for one of the first green, raw mango to arrive at home. As my father would present the green jewel to the family, his infectious enthusiasm would catch on to the rest of us.

I like the shape too. It closely resembles the paisley and is often called “kolkla” or “keri buti”– something I want when I buy prints or clothes and even jewellery. It’s a very artistic shape and I think the paisley sought inspiration from mangoes for all I care!

One mango could transport us to so many places in our minds – that there was more to come, that summer was at the door, that a couple of weeks and we would have summer vacations and then - ripe mangoes!

As soon as the green mango was brought in, we would be served “tauker dal”, a savory sour lentil preparation or just “aamer tauk,” a sweet and sour dish that looked a beautiful opaque yellow liquid with pieces of mangoes that melted once they hit our tongues. As more raw mangoes were brought in, the best things made that I happened to like is often called “panna” in some parts of India. Basically the mango is roasted with its skin on and later peeled away and discarded along with the pit. The pulp is used to make a sweet, spicy drinks that would start dancing on the palette and taste like heaven on a warm summer afternoon. It has that nuttiness of burnt natural sugars of the fruit and the silky pulp of the raw mango along with roasted cumin and red chilies, sugar and salt.
There are households I am aware of, that would buy by the cartons and have the raw mangoes pickled in the hot summer sun and would be made in bulk for the entire lineage and even clan to share for the rest of the year.

The ripe mangoes were never very obviously ripe but sealed inside the the green outer cover is sweetness delight! The “langra” and “dusseheri” varieties arrive and no sooner had we glanced at them, they would be either wrapped in yesterday’s newspapers and kept in a dark store room or simply tucked away into rice canisters to ripen. When exactly they would come out of those hidden away places was not our calling. But when they did, they would be cut into three pieces length-wise. The yellowish-orange insides would peek through as the juices run down the knife and onto the plate. There were two “sides” and the pit and nothing was wasted. My parents would sink their teeth into the fruit like there was no tomorrow and polish all each side like they were empty bowls! I however used a spoon to make little scoops and eat it. I would keep scraping till I hit the peel and could find no more of the fruit. There was some tiff over who would eat the pit. Unlike other fruits, the seed of the mango does not come away loose and a lot of the fruit is always attached to the outer skin which could be eaten only by sucking on it. A bit messy but who cares!
There would be the “Alphonsos” coming in from Mumbai and then the “Begmaphalli” and “Chausa” varieties flooding the markets as the mercury levels hit high and high levels. People at every corner under the shade of a tree would be found devouring some variety of mango and relishing every bit of it.
Conversations would begin with, “did you know langra was being sold at twenty rupees a kilo?” Or that “ these days we don’t feel like eating food what with the heat and everything. A couple of mangoes and we are done for the day!.” Then again, “this year the dusseheris have turned out good. The early summer showers did not destroy the mango blossoms!” Strangely enough such interactions would be taking place several thousand kilometers away from where the mango orchards are! It is important to sound knowledgeable about the fruit because there is so little to do in the dry, summer months when everything really wilts including people and it seems that only mangoes see them through such trying times.

I have longed for this regal fruit in the USA and have not even ventured close to the ones available here. Maybe for salsa but that’s about it. I hear that the countries are now trying to make a deal to bring in Indian mangoes into the US. Long ago as children we had listened to my uncle who was a Botany big shot in the Forest Research Institute with wide eyed wonder that Indian mangoes could not be exported and that US would deny entry because the seed contains within it germs that might destroy other crops. I wonder what kind of visa restrictions have been loosened to have them over!