Mango Mania

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

The torrid summer makes me go mad but the mango mania somehow sustains me one hot summer after another. Why should I sing paens about mango? Is it simply because it is praised as the King of Fruits? Who cares! I am an addict of mangoes since childhood not knowing if it was King of Fruits or Pauper of Fruits.

The word “mango” has its roots in Tamil. Mango is the corrupt form of the Tamil word “maangaai”. In Tamil culture maangaai is hailed as one of the three celebrated fruits, the other two being plantain and jack. While plantain is available almost throughout the year, mango and jack are seasonal fruits available only during summer.  Again, while it is very easy to eat a banana … just peel it and bite into it … jack fruit is a complicated one; you need much patience, but you are rewarded at the end. As regards mango, to wash it or not before biting into it is one’s choice.

Mango is a divine fruit associated with Lord Karthik. To cut the long story short, it was caused due to division of property. The ever-mischievous Sage Naradha once gave a single sacred mango to the all-knowing Lord Shiva. Goddess Parvathi, the mother She was, wanted to apportion the fruit equally among their  two sons, Ganesh and Karthik. You see, Lord Shiva had adopted the small family norm then itself! Hope the Sangh Parivar would catch my point and tom-tom the fact that trillions of years ago itself the Hindu gods had adopted the small family norm. But Shiva and Naradha felt otherwise. So Shivji  told his kids that whoever returns first after circling the universe would be awarded the mango in full. Karthik immediately mounted his vahan the peacock and flew off.  The portly Ganesh was smarter; may be he thought his vahan the mouse would not be able to carry him around as fast as his younger brother's peacock would. Ganesh is after all the God of Knowledge. So he thought of an ingenious plan – to circumambulate his parents which would equal circumambulating the universe itself. When Karthik returned after a hard flight and with jetlag, he could not literally ‘digest’ the mango having been awarded to Ganesh. In anger, little Karthik took up sanyas and came down to a hill in Tamil Nadu. Later, he was pacified there and was told that it was one of Shiva’s leelas. Since then Karthik and that hill are known as Pazham Nee (You are the Fruit) / Palani.

Let us come down to earthly affairs. My favourite dish in summer is just this -  cooked rice soaked in water overnight  in earthenware by adding a dash of salt to taste. The next morning you separate the soaked rice by  squeezing out the water; add thick curd  and enjoy the curd rice with a ripe mango ….. this is nectar to me. This is later wahsed down with the squeezed out water (neer aahar). A simple but divine recipe that is good for your helath also.

Compared to these days, during my childhood days the mango variety was limited to neelam (with its thick and slightly bitter skin), pathiri, salem (from a district of the same name), ottu (hybrid), malgova, nameless local varieties, rumani (with very thin skin), Alphonso, sendhura (red-skinned) etc. Never heard of imam pasand or banganapally varieties which are so popular and much preferred these days.

Said to be the King of Fruits, mango plays a significant role in political strategies; Heads of India and Pakistan used to exchange baskets of  lucious mangoes. To help bridge the North-South divide, I hope Modiji would send me baskets of succulent varieties from his home State of Gujarat (Kesar variety) and from his Varanasi constituency (Dasheri & Imam pasand).

As a kid I always desired the middle portion with seed. As we are three siblings, each mango was always cut into three vertical portions by our mother and I always demanded and got the seed portion without any competition. My two elder sisters were happy with the pulpy portion. I will go into a trance sucking the seed for more than an hour or so, to the irritation of my sisters who would have finished within a few minutes. Looking back, I wonder if I were a fool; is that what you are called a ‘maangaai madayan’ (mango idiot), I wonder now! Well, what ultimately matters to me is the pure enjoyment. Oh, please, do not reveal this childhood stupidity of mine to my b(i)etter-half who would only be too happy to calll me maangaai madayan.

I can’t help smacking my lips when I recall the weddings of those days, say some 50 years back, when all the guests were served a full ripe mango on their banana leaf platter. Well, those were leisurely times, people were not queueing up behind those at the dining table.One could enjoy the feast as well as the whole mango. Why, you could even ask for another mango!