What’s life without mangoes?


For a nation immune to scams, violence, bandhs, rapes, poverty and lawlessness, mangoes are God sent, literally and figuratively. They bring a bit of joy in our lives and make the entire country united in their love for this ‘King of fruits’. Even without a royal robe or a crown on its head, this juicy, golden ‘Royal Highness’ has everyone running after it, regardless of age, sex, colour, size, creed or status. We all look forward to its arrival.
Mirza Ghalib made this fruit into an icon going so far as to say that a person who doesn’t like mangoes is a donkey! You don’t believe ‘Chacha’ Ghalib? Then try refusing a mango at a party or any social gathering you will receive shocked expressions, surprised looks, wonder-stares and gasps. Nor will your ordeal end at these. Total strangers will want to know the reason for your disdain towards the fruit. Some will tell you of its virtues and contents. Others will try to make you realise what you are missing out in life. Still others will persuade you to have ‘just one bite’ and if you don’t, they will offer their deepest sympathies in public while calling you a ‘weirdo moron’ in private.

Even phonetically, mango has an edge over other fruits. Say apple and you visualise the K.G. teacher you disliked. Say orange and you think of Nagpur. Say apricot and it reminds you of jam. Say peach, banana, melon and you think of Crawford Market. But say mango and you think of heaven, swarg, nirvana, moksh!! Even when its price is sky-high, mango-eating is an extreme sport, almost a national pastime.
In India, we are totally spoilt for choice with the sheer variety of this fruit. If ‘Aphoos’ is the King of Mangoes, then ‘Kesari’ is the Queen with its’ lovely fragrance. In the South, we get ‘Malgova’ which is considered as the local ‘Aphoos’. A more expensive southern variety is the ‘Chanddrakiran’, which is used lavishly in making most of the traditional dishes.
In Karnataka, we get the ‘Banganpalli’ (named after a town in Andhra Pradesh). You can eat its’ skin as well as the fibreless golden pulp. It’s a huge mango, weighing 500 to 600 gms. So if you are buying one kilo of it, you will not get more than two mangoes. They also have another variety called the ‘Imam-Pasand’, also called the ‘Himayat’ a bit later in the month of May. The ‘Himayat’ is a slightly poorer version of ‘Baganpalli’ and is easy to cook and ideal for making sweet-dishes.
Another variety is the ‘Choosda’, so called because it is supposed to be sucked and not cut. Its’ a very sweet juicy mango and in my childhood granny would get a gunny bag of ‘choosdas’ from God knows where and dunk them in pails of iced water to ‘cool’ them, since most Parsi households did not have a Fridge in those days. The ice for cooling the ‘choosdas’ and meeting other requirements came on a cart drawn by a bullock in huge slabs covered by saw-dust.
Along with my late cousins, Zarine and Meher, I would have a feast at my maternal grand-mother’s place; in fact the ‘choosda’ would be my staple diet over the weekend. Mamaiji, being a doctor’s wife, knew the nutritional value of mangoes and called them ‘Vitamin-no-Bhandar’, long before health-magazines even appeared on Bombay’s horizons. (It was called Bombay then!)
On our return trip to Bombay from Kashmir, when I was about ten years old, we stayed in Delhi with my uncle who was in the Army. At that time, Sindhoora-Kairis were very popular in Delhi. My uncle ordered a large quantity of these mangoes for us which were brought by his Orderly. They were very juicy, sweet but full of fibre. I went overboard and my army-uncle called out, “Orderly, bring the gun, this girl talks too much and eats too many mangoes.”  Of course, everyone in the room started laughing hysterically, all except me. I felt humiliated at my uncle’s sick sense of humour, more so because my parents also started laughing.
Since my dad was in Tata’s all his life, we spent summer vacations at Tata’s Holiday Home in Matheran, carrying boxes of mangoes. Sometimes, we used to go to the Tata Holiday Home in Tithal which can be reached via Valsad, where mangoes were plenty. In the evening, we would go to Valsad in a tonga for having the ‘Sancha’ (hand-churned) mango ice-cream.
The last time we visited Tithal was during my Law College vacation in 1966. I was newly married, newly pregnant, newly experiencing morning-sickness and couldn’t stand the sight of food. What I enjoyed most was the bonding between my husband and parents! Sweeter than any mango!!
In May 2004, when I was invited for a lecture tour to Karachi and Lahore, distance made the heart grow fonder for our Indian ‘Aphoos’, so we ‘drowned our sorrows’ in local Pakistani mangoes, like the ‘Langra’, ‘Goli’, ‘Choosna’, ‘ Anwar-Ratol’ and ‘Sindhri’. Our first mango of that season was at the Karachi Parsi get-together, just as our first mango the previous year was at a dinner in the house of the youngest Parsi priest in Sydney. This year our first mango came in the form of ‘aam-ras’ at the Chetana Restaurant at Kala Ghoda come to think of it! Like your first love and your first kiss, it’s hard to forget the first mango of the season of the years gone by!!

Ruby Lilaowala
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