They are called Marathon mangoes for a reason perhaps. They are so sweet that one would want to extend the pleasure and eat them out slowly, savoring each finger licking moment!
I was at my kitchen counter, peeling mangoes on a hot early summer afternoon. Ripe and succulent, as I was peeling the skin away, thick mango juice dribbled over my fingers turning them yellow and making me stop every split second to smack the irresistible juicy channels that I believed shouldn’t be wasted a wee bit.
The Marathon box of mangoes came all the way from Mexico. The other day, I picked up the august Alphonso from Subzi Mandi. No second thoughts. As a Malayalee who grew up on Mangoes, relishing mangoes tantamount to one of my perceived birthrights.
When summer came down harshly upon Kerala, winter had already given way to spring here in New Jersey, US. Facebook pages of my friends were awash with pictures of mango tree climbing scenes, freshly plucked mangoes, mango pudding, mango soufflés and what not. I patiently waited for the mango batches to make their way through the cold storage chains all the way to Edison. It did. Ceremoniously and majestically, the way it merits a real King. Masses thronged at the stores to get a peek at the boxes. At the Indian stores, Mangoes are displayed right at the very entrance to the store (as if they needed a strategic position!) Given the weight of the mangoes and the space it would occupy in the shopping cart, shoppers prefer to pick up their boxes after their shopping, just before securing a place in the queue at the billing till. There was near pandemonium at the mango section. Talk about a sharp olfactory sense! I saw half the crowd smelling the mangoes and am sure it gave at least some of them a high; just by inhaling the nostalgic smell.
At my kitchen counter here, before even I peeled a full mango, I was home in Kerala. Blissful moments of mango picking and eating intermingled with images of the Mango tree’s transformation to the seasonal vicissitudes.
At Alappuzha where I grew up, we had five mango trees at one point in time. As the season lifted its veils, the leaves turned tender. To me they looked vulnerable. Standing under a mango tree then, I felt one with its youthfulness; brimming out of its boundaries. To nurture and bring forth the pulsating life within, the tree grew far and wide with tenderness ruling roost in its leaves that they almost melted and shrunk in the heat of my palms. In its urge to get itself ripe to bear fruit, the leaves even changed colour from the darkest of greens to light lavender mixed with shades of crimson, pink and lighter hues of emerald and malachite. During this season in Kerala, even in purely urban settings in the thick of city life, it isn’t difficult to spot such a mango tree- as our homes are so incomplete without at least one mango tree greeting us right in the front yards of our homes! Early mornings, stepping into the delicate canopy of the mango tree was like walking on a soft bed of feathers. Cleaning the courtyard posed a challenge though, with the leaves turning heavy after the dew from the wee hours of the morning settled on them.
(pic courtesy: thisislata.blogspot.com)
Later on, the tree shed all its tenderness. The leaves turned green again, but a totally different, bold and confident green that filled me with happiness and a sense of prosperity. And then, one fine day the leaves made way for the mango flowers. They reminded me of creamy white pearls floating in a light shade of green. Walking towards my home from the road, the Mango tree in my frontyard looked like a huge bridal bouquet, with the whites and creams bursting out while the leaves were confined to the minimum, jutting out here and there as the spiky flowerets celebrated life. Not that all the tiny flowers bore fruit. The tree willingly shed at least half of its flowers to the whims and fancies of the summer sun that was round the corner.
(pic courtesy: muaaz.org)
Looking closer, I saw tiny mangoes. Too small to even make their presence felt. But, together, they painted a new picture. The whites and the creams gave way to the green. When I thought the tree would bear a zillion mangoes, it cast off so many tiny fruits, every day for days on end. And then for a few days, the famous ‘Kannimaanga’ ruled over my life. They became part of my midmornings and laid-back summer afternoons. Adding spice to chutneys, they walked all the way up to the pickle factories.
By the time I had enough of the ‘Kannimaanga’ days, the fruits that decided to stay put started gaining ground. The tree, humbled by its own bounty, lowered its branches just for us to feel their presence in our lives; closer. The mangoes started to change their colour. Diffusing their dark green hue, they borrowed a flaming orange tint from the summer sun that was by then making its presence felt. Soon it was Mango season!
As the mangoes started to ripen, the trees in my courtyard attracted a lot of birds. On and off, I saw a parrot here and there, but mostly it was the ravens, the bats and the squirrels that shared from the season’s booty. Being the early bird, I visited the trees at the crack of dawn. The first few days after the ripe mango season began; I found fruits; some half pecked and half eaten, some fully eaten with just the naked mango seed tossed around. But I was always lucky to find a handful fully ripened fruits hidden inside the many bushes in the courtyard that escaped the birds’ attention. As more fruits ripened, there was enough and more for all of us. During summer holidays, at times after playing in the scorching sun, a siesta was in order. Upon waking up I headed out to the trees. With the fruits collected, I walked up to the backyard where I relished them sitting on the steps overlooking a dozen other trees.
(pic courtesy: readersdigest.com.au)
There are many more memories about mango picking - racing with my brothers, cousins and at times neighbourhood friends to reach the tree during windy days to stake my claim to the maximum number of fruits, and giving a hand to grand mom while she made mango-thera on ‘panampu’ (bamboo mats) or on ‘muram’ (the winnowing pallet).
Not that we don’t get to buy mangoes here. Here we are spoilt for choice. Mangoes make their way from various tropical climates to the grocers here. (Adding to the carbon footprints, and thus to our guilt too!) But, nothing beats the joy of watching the metamorphosis a mango tree undergoes as it transforms itself from a leaf filled tree to a fruit filled one! And eating the fruits from one’s own courtyard on lazy summer afternoons is a pleasure incomparable!
First published in Vibrant Keralam, July issue.
First published in Vibrant Keralam, July issue.