Memories of Mangoes


Each time I gaze at a mango tree
it revives some exquisite memory
or some forgotten longing
beautiful, joyful, slushy
and sentimental like the fruit
both sweet and sour
and I lose myself for hours
remembering childhood spent in gardens
filled with the beloved
green scented presence

Simply love mango trees that were a very common presence during my childhood in Bangalore, and they remind me of several incidents and occasions. We had plenty in our garden and campus, and many huge old ones in Lalbagh – our favorite weekend destination. But there was absolutely nothing “common” or mundane about these trees and they’ve always had uncommon effects on my emotions.

Whenever I spot one, I stop to stare and depending on the season, the thoughts follow. If its spring and the tree is covered with white and cream blossoms – they remind me of the countless hours spent gazing out of classrooms, impatiently waiting for the summer holidays to begin 🙂 🙂

If it’s a tree with green fruits – reminds me of numerous pickle-making summer afternoons. Back then, making “Avakai” – a popular Andhra mango pickle, was something of a sacred ritual. Even we kids would participate in it wholeheartedly and do our bit by helping in whatever way we could. Most times, it was a coordinated neighborhood activity with all the mothers and aunties deciding to undertake it on a fixed weekend, therefore it used to be great fun to watch all the frenzy, and hear all the discussions and gossip during that time. We would even give up our playtime to be part of it!!

Preparations would start with buying the “perfect” green mangoes – the right size, at the right stage (not too soft or too hard), the right variety, and of course – at the perfect price. Next, the best quality chilly powder – with the perfect heat, the perfect red tint, and the perfect flavor had to be procured. Likewise, all the other ingredients had to be purchased and stocked in advance – salt, mustard, fenugreek seeds, garlic, Bengal gram, turmeric and sesame oil.

Watching the mangoes being chopped at breakneck speed and then mixed with all these interesting ingredients on D-day was a sight not to be missed. One waited all year to watch it!

The next step was piling the mixed mango mass into “jaadis” (porcelain jars) and sealing them. These jars were prized family heirlooms that were brought out only on these special occasions, and passed on from generation to generation!

Once the pickle was prepared, we waited impatiently for the next 48 hours to pass – the minimum incubation time required before we could start tasting it. During these two days, the mango pieces softened in the salt and gave out their precious juices. The wait for this to happen always seemed never-ending and was generally very painful 🙁  We used to exhaust our mothers by constant and repetitive questioning – “Amma, is it ready? Can we taste it now? Would the juice have come out?” And we would refuse to touch the “old Avakai” (last years’ pickle) which had tasted fine till a day ago, making faces, saying that “it tastes too old”.

Once those painful and anticipation filled two days were over – joyful gluttony would start. We would receive numerous “samples” of “new Avakai” from different neighbors, for feedback on whether they were too salty/too sour/too spicy/too oily and the required adjustments. All meals and talk would revolve only around the different metrics and the quality of the pickles from different households, and we would decide winners and losers for that year.

This conversation continued for many days and we never tired of it. Some mango outcomes would become legends and get talked about for years to come! Meanwhile, other neighbors who didn’t prepare their Avakai for some reason or other that year, would stop by to inquire regarding our results and leave happily with a sample bottle.

Being from Andhra – I can go on and on about pickles 🙂 🙂 Avakai is only the tip of the iceberg – there is “Maagai” (dried mango pickle); “Thurumu pachadi” (grated mango pickle); and many different variations you can make with them by adding different ingredients like dal, jaggery etc. etc.

Apart from pickles, green mangoes also bring back memories of comfort food like mango rice, mango dal, and fresh mango chutney. And needless to say, they all taste better when prepared from stolen mangoes 😉 🙂

Ripe fruit laden mango trees are relatively rare to come by, but whenever I do spot them – they remind me of my favorite sweet variety – Banganapalli mangoes – the most heavenly tasting ones! One summer we spent our holidays with family friends in Madanapalle and those days are filled with delicious recollections…of munching several sweet, ripe and beautiful mangoes….

That same holiday in Madanapalle also reminds me of a very poetic and priceless hour spent languidly under a mango tree in a field. I had wandered off in the mid-morning from the house to loiter in the surrounding fields. It was a beautiful day with perfect weather as I sat under this old tree to soak in the scenery around me. It was incredibly earthy and delightful, there were hardly any people around except a lone farmer ploughing his fields in the distance. The earth was divided into alternate green and brown patches and there was a cool breeze.

An incredible peace and calm overcame me after some time and I felt transported to another fantasy world. The feeling was so delicious that I never wanted to rise and leave. The entire scene, the scents and the sensations of that day are still vivid in my memories even today…..

PS: Photo of “Five kids and a blossomed mango tree” by Ved Mall.

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