I must start with a confession. Till I was almost a teenager, I thought Alphonso’s were the only Mangoes there were. I mean when you grow up in Bombay and feast on Hapoos (the local name for the Alphonso Mango), why would you want to eat, or know otherwise?
Summer’s meant school holidays and the Mango season. Back in the day, we got fruit that was grown right, allowed to ripen on trees, and plucked right. This is why it was only by the end of May or early June that baskets and ‘Peti’s’ (roughly hewn crates) with dry hay peeking out from it reached our home. These were kept away to ripen naturally and when they did, and the Mangoes let the entire house know they were ready by spreading their delicious fragrance all around.
Eating the 1st of the Mangoes was no ordinary affair, mind you. A Sunday was chosen, buckets of the house were lined up and ice slabs were ordered. The Mangoes were dunked in a large tub of water and given a good wash, post which they were put into the lined up buckets along with clean water and chunks of ice. While the mangoes cooled, we relished our Sunday special meal of Rajma, Chawal, and Boondi Raita. Once done, all of us (5 Uncles, 3 Aunts, my parents, my sister, me and the house helps) headed to the compound.
My Uncles sat topless, each with a bucket of Mangoes in front of them. A Mango at a time was rescued from the icy water and gently pinched and squeezed all around till all the flesh turned into pulp. They were thus passed around till everyone had one. Only slurping sounds could be heard post that, and the juice trickled down our chins (now you know why my uncles went topless)
Then the Gutli (seed) was pulled out triumphantly and similarly devoured. This was the 1st round. Many more rounds followed post that. On average, my uncles would eat anything between 6-8 Mangoes each.
We had a regular Mango supplier called ‘Daagi’ (named so as his face was riddled by pockmarks) Daagi had a lisp and supplied the best Alphonso Mangoes. He was fiercely possessive of our household and was known to have shooed other Mango sellers away. If Daagi was around he joined us on our Mango Sunday. Daagi’s confidence in his Mangoes was so intense that he left Peti’s of Mangoes without taking the payment. ‘Pay me after you taste the mangoes, they come to me straight from the orchards of Ratnagiri’, he boasted.
One Summer Daagi couldn’t make it back from his village in time, and a new Mango seller came to our door. Though we were reluctant to shift loyalties, his wares of plump Golden Mangoes tempted us and we bought a couple of kilos.
As soon as Daagi got back a week later, he found out through his seller’s network that another guy had poached us. He was furious and cursed Billi (the other mango seller had green eyes, and was named ‘Cat’ because of it) to hell.
A proper verbal duel was played out by both in our compound when Daagi confronted Billi. Words like honesty, deceit, and honor were tossed between the two, till Dad intervened and reassured Daagi that he would always be the one we bought Mangoes from each year. Billi refused to relent and emotionally blackmailed Dad. An uneasy truce was agreed upon and Daagi was our chief Mango supplier with Billi being the secondary one.
We needed a lot of mangoes you see, and when I say a lot I mean a lot. I remember Mom using 6-7 kgs of Mangoes at a go to make pure Aamras (Mango Juice) No milk was added to it and it was so thick that we needed to eat it with a spoon. Glasses of this were glugged down and more was demanded, by everyone at home.
Last week we ordered a couple of dozen Mangoes Online. They came neatly packed in a cardboard box, there was no Daagi or Billi to deliver them. Over the years, I have lost 2 Uncles and 2 Aunts, and eating the 1st Mangoes is no longer the elaborate affair it used to be. Mom still makes the same Aamras, but uses just about 2 kilos to make it.
Eating my Hapoos never tasted the same. Eating one makes me miss the sun beating down on my back and warming my hair, and the flaming Gulmohar tree swaying in the breeze. The banter between my Uncles and laughter renting the air. The Maali being cajoled into washing the compound clean after we were all done eating, and then rewarded with a dozen Mangoes ‘for his family ‘ as a reward.
Each time I sit down to eat the first Mango of the Season, a Banganapalli is my choice now, served to me neatly peeled and cubed, with a fork to eat it with, I can’t help but think of the Mango Sundays I was fortunate to have grown up experiencing year after year.