The king is back! Nature’s continued munificence despite our unfriendly acts towards her is quite reassuring! The fruits are in such a plentiful supply – they are to be seen in the market, by the side of roads or on the trucks being transported. It is a time for me to celebrate! For the next three months, the treat to my palate and taste buds is guaranteed!
My relationship with mangoes started right from the days of my childhood. We had about ten mango trees around our home in a village in the northern part of West Bengal. I saw the trees blossom, the blossoms grow into green mangoes and then the fruits hang from all the branches. The blossoms were the first promise of a harvest.
But sadly, the storms at the beginning of the season would blow away half of them or make the small fruits that had just begun to grow fall to the ground. It was fun for me as a kid to collect those windfalls from the ground – the small mangoes that fell before fulfilling their promise.
But the fruits that remained would grow in a month into mature mangoes. Those green mangoes that were sour and tangy made our mouths water at the prospect of a bite. The boys or girls who were good at climbing trees would climb up to the branches, pluck the fruits, collect them in a bag and climb down. Or someone would take a pole with a forked end at the top, entangle the branches and shake them. A few twigs would invariably snap and fall to the ground and along with them some mangoes.
Cutting the fruits into slices and mixing it with chilli, salt and mustard oil and biting them, one would satisfy the taste buds craving for a taste of sour. Or better one can make chutney, which is such a wonderful delicacy after main course of the meals.
A month later, mangoes that survived the storm and greed would ripen and fall on their own in a windy night. Lest our neighbours have them in the next morning, my mother and I used to collect the windfall in the midnight itself. Some of them might not have ripened fully. My mother used to keep the green mangoes under the warmth of rice so that they ripen fast in the heat of summer.
In daytime, some of us would simply climb the tree and just shake the branches to make the ripe mangoes fall one after another – sometimes on our heads as we stood expectantly underneath. Some mangoes on the top of the trees would remain out of reach for us but well within the reach of the crows, bats and all other birds. Sometimes those ripe mangoes would be eaten by bats, crows and other birds and fall to the ground half-eaten.
The mango saplings would grow naturally in my place where the seed would germinate under the ground. We would rub a side of those seeds and open them up. Then blowing air into the opening, we made the seeds whistle tunefully.
Coming back to the present, the mangoes are available in so many mind-boggling varieties – in so many sizes, shapes and colours. The sizes can be small or medium or big; taste can be sweet or sour even when ripe; and pulp can fibrous or fleshy. Commercial varieties like Langra or Alphonso are grown in orchards in huge quantities and marketed.
In South India where I live now, we have Bigonpilli, Mallika and many more! The climate and soil have a special impact on the growth. The seeds might be sown any where but they would not quite give the taste of the original.
Mangoes are a gift of nature and a part of our rich cultural heritage. The story of feast and joy with mangoes is related to us by our grandparents and it will be told and retold as life goes on and moves from one generation to another. But there is a difference perhaps. Our grandparents told us how they planted those trees, saw them grow and finally bear fruit. The satisfaction they drew from sowing the seeds and later enjoying the fruits after many years cannot be matched simply by the relish we have by consuming them.
With more urbanization and population growth, there is less space for having a sprawling homestead with trees, ponds and gardens around. But mango trees are grown by the roads and in orchards and there is more than enough production of fruits every year. And equally phenomenal is the consumption. Let the mania continue for centuries to come.