Life & Style

Memories tinted yellow

Summer of mangoes This season is all about devouring juicy fruit

Summer of mangoes This season is all about devouring juicy fruit  

Throughout a life spent in Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Karnataka, mangoes of different varieties kept stealing their way into the author’s heart

In mid-February, as the last of the nippy mornings were on their way out, I stepped out onto the balcony to enjoy my cup of tea. The mango tree in the next compound looked different; as the sun rays cascaded on to coastal Mangaluru, they hit a bunch of freshly bloomed mango blossoms.

And so, week on week, for two months, I watched the blossoms sway, sometimes succumb to the evening breeze, and finally take shape. There are more than a hundred mid-sized green-yellow mangoes on the tree right now. The birds have a feast, and so do we, when the neighbours hand over a bagful of summer.

The neighbour’s mango tree has always held a special place in my life. Growing up under the shade of a Malgova tree in cool, calm Podanur, near Coimbatore, mangoes were a yearly treat. This tree was especially generous: as my neighbour Sriram remembers, it yielded fruits twice a year.

The tree was humongous and its canopy spread across three houses; you could hardly see the fruit, but Sriram, his brother Shankar and I knew there were plenty. The residential quarters had asbestos sheets for roofs, and when a Malgova decided to make a break for it, we’d hear a thud, and quickly run to see how it survived the flight. The compound wall would be splattered yellow in places, and the air would be ripe with the aroma of a mango that deserved to be on a plate.

Memories tinted yellow

Once summer peaked, mangoes would be brought down and distributed among families living in the British-built quarters, a precursor to today’s gated communities. My mother or grandmother would place the semi-ripe mangoes in a vessel with rice, and once it turned soft to touch, take out a curved slicing board, expertly slice off the skin and begin cutting the fruit. The two big cheeks were reserved for the elders; I got the narrow sides and the seed, if my grandmother was in a generous mood.

The Malgova had flesh the colour of sunlight, and even today, while other mangoes have sped past in my list of favourites, this stays in the top five, helped by a fine patina of nostalgia.

Memories tinted yellow

Holidays also meant endless playtime, most of which were spent on trees. Beginning with the guava tree in my house, which was raided well before the fruit turned anywhere ripe, we would choose the best trees to sit on and chomp down on something to snack. The Malgova would be looked at fondly; the tallest ladder in the world seemed too short for its magnificence.

A favourite haunt was the mango tree at the Padmanabhans, the penultimate house in that row. It was next door to my friend Lescut’s home, and that provided easy access to the roof and the tree’s bounty. This was a local variety from Palakkad, slightly resinous to taste, and full of fibre, but never sour. The skin would be a tad oily, and the semi-ripe fruit tasted great with salt and chilli powder; the ripe fruit could be squeezed and the pulpy juice drunk straight. We would sit on the roof, a bunch of human monkeys, without a care in the world, juice dribbling down our summer clothes.

Summer also meant trips to Velur, my mother’s native village in Tamil Nadu, and a month with my grandparents. My grandfather would bring home the Naduchalai, whose skin was tinged yellow and green, with a blush of red, and later the Neelam, after which a favourite book got its name; David Davidar’s The House Of Blue Mangoes. Mango eating here was more formal; no tearing away at the fruit was permitted. My grandmother would sit with two or three fruits after dinner, cut them into long slices and carefully apportion them. The seed was prized unless it was a Neelam, and a black bug came tumbling out. The orange-yellow fruit was a treat after a dinner of curd rice, and disappeared in a trice.

Years later, during six years in Delhi, my husband and I discovered it was possible to eat a full mango. The Dussehri, especially one that a fond colleague Suhail brought to work one day, stole my heart. I’ve been loyal to it since. While the sight of the Imampasand, and spoon after spoon of its cloying pale yellow sweetness might tempt, the Dussehri stays on its throne, unmoved.

Pretty on a plate

Another fine mango memory has to do with the innocuous aam ka kulfi in Chandni Chowk, in more genteel times. The shopkeeper peeled the frozen mango without fuss; they had a heart of kulfi, were chopped up and drizzled with mango syrup.

Two decades later, the king of fruits still takes over my summers. The fruit is cut and eaten fresh, turned into puddings or jam, or spiced up into a gojju. Mango season and air rich with the fragrance of ripe fruit is enough to take me back in time to when Alphonsos were a pipe dream, and Sriram, Shankar and I fondly hoped the Malgova would be benevolent that summer.

To a childhood where a group of children shared their fears and joys over a sticky mango, waiting for the day when they would get the cheek of the mango and not the sides!

Five rare varieties
  • The Konkan coast is rich in mangoes unheard of in the rest of the country, says Milind Manerikar of Sankalp Farms, Ratnagiri
  • Mankuraad: Endemic to Goa, this is a mango slightly on the sweeter side. It has a higher fibre content.
  • Manghilaar: A late variety endemic to Goa that ripens by June end or early July. It matures in the rain, and has a tangy flavour with juicy, pale yellow flesh.
  • Fernandin: These late maturing elongated fruits with green skin from Goa are on the sweet side, and the flavour profile is similar to Uttar Pradesh’s famed Langda.
  • Kaala Ishad: A variety found in Karwar region of Karnataka, almost unknown outside. They are round in shape and have a distinct fragrance.
  • Musarat (Monserrate): A Goan varietal as huge as the Rajapuri, this is suitable to make jams.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 6:52:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/memories-tinted-yellow/article27148339.ece

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