seduced by a mango (finally)
my mother is never going to believe this.
in all the 29 years of my life, i have always *loathed* the alphonso, the so-called ‘king’ of fruits. for as long back as i can remember, every summer vacation was spent with all of us cousins together. and i would dread meal-times when a katori of the orange liquid would be thrust into my plate, along with piping-hot and irresistable puris, and a simple but soul-filling cauliflower-potato-peas sabji.
“eat!” my maasis would scold affectionately, shaking their heads in disbelief. “how can anybody not like mangoes!??”
so while all the others would help themselves with three or more aamras helpings, i would steal glances at their plates, and cheat without a thought, simply swapping katoris when i found the right moment. sometimes my cousins caught me in the act: “tch tch, arre yaar, saal mein ek baar hi to aata hai aam, ab nahi khaegi to kab?” (come on now, the mango season just comes once a year. when else will you eat it if not now?) and i would make a face like it was the most bitter thing ever grown on earth.
not that i accompanied my parents to the market as a child. even if i did, and if it happened to be that season, i would hold my breath till we passed the nehru-capped men sitting behind hundreds of the green-and-yellow-mangoes-in-hay petis (boxes), praying that my mother doesn’t stop to buy one of them. eventually, she would. and then i would stay away from the kitchen, watching from the corner of my eye, how both my parents would enjoy washing each and every mango, place them one-by-one slowly – in a bucket of cold water behind the wooden door so they turn jucier (i think). yechch!!
two or three days later it would be sunday. amma would have been waiting for this day. she would pick out the ripest mangoes and squeeze the pulp out of every one of them, blend them in a mixie along with some cold milk or ice-cream, and plop the thick smoothie into shiny steel cups with hot rotis or puris alongside. of course it was a ritual to make some extra aamras so we could share it with our neighbours too. while i nibbled at the puris and sabji, my family would relish the sweet excitedly, amma looking up between spoonfuls, so content and happy. “nice no?” she would ask.
after marriage when i went home for the first time, cousins and aunts would huddle around to hear stories of the phorein land, and gasp every time i mentioned, quite matter-of-factly: “aam? those are always available in london, anytime of the year.” the trick never failed to amuse me. that i still stayed about ten feet away from the mango shops and sections was a secret i kept to myself. until two weeks ago…
it was the colour.
bright orange and chrome-yellowish with sharp tinges of red here and there. no matter which direction i turned to look, there they were, throwing at me my childhood memories and demanding attention. i gave in. hands in my pocket, i walked across, looking at them intently, wondering all of a sudden why i always hated them so much, why had i to be forced to have a bite. “just one small piece beta, just one spoonful.”
the next thing i knew, i was holding a huge mango in my hand, feeling it for the pulp inside and smelling its sweetness. praveen laughed when i put it in the shopping basket. “are you sure you are going to try it?” he asked, now well aware of my impulsive habits. i nodded, not sure whether this is going to be some round of self-torment, or whether i really wanted to have a mango, without being told to.
for two weeks it haunted me. just doing nothing and sitting there on the kitchen worktable. when my in-laws arrived from india last week, i was relieved. at least now i wouldn’t have to cut it myself and eat it. they can have all they want. they enjoy it. i just bought it because of its colour. but it lay there, untouched.
then, this morning, i suddenly decided to make puris for lunch, just like that. there was cauliflower in the refrigerator, a capsicum, peas and potatoes too. i thought i would try the same recipe my maasis used. and then i looked at the mango again. i would make aamras too.
it took me just 15 quick minutes. i tried to recollect how my mother used to do it, and suddenly it was as if she was right there with me. i couldn’t help smiling as the rhythm came to me. turning the mango over and over, feeling how right it was, slicing it, gently scooping out the luscious orange pulp, enjoying all the mess i was creating, mango juice all over my hands and face when i tried to steal a couple of oddly scooped out bits. next, mango pieces in the mixie, a dash of cold milk and whoooosh! a really rich-looking aamras was ready!
“nice no?” i asked praveen, a little surprised at the question myself. i had indulged, shamelessly. i was seduced. the mango had taken its sweet revenge.