You can divide people into two groups—those who love mangoes and those who don’t. Those who do, have their ‘mango memories’. Memories of the sunshine liquid oozing from the skin as you squeeze the fruit! My mango-memory is of collecting the storm-felled fruit beneath the giant and sprawling mango tree standing beside the monsoon river in my father’s ancestral village, Debipur, in Howrah district of West Bengal, which we visited during our summer vacations.
The memories of those sunny, wonderful, summer days of never-ending fun and digging into juicy mangoes are still evergreen. The pre-monsoon storm, known as kal baiskahi in Bangla generally struck in the evening. More so when it was dark around, the moon cruising gently behind the clouds and stray lightening illumining the horizon krrakk, krrakk and krrakk. The wind singing shaeen, shaeen as we jumped out of the palm thatched hut running like a pack of wolves towards the lone mango tree, which I was told has been around since Pulin Bihari, my grandfather was just knee-high. Which meant that the tree had witnessed some sixty summers. Standing beneath the tree we couldn’t see much but heard the occasional thud, thud as the mangoes came down loosened by the wind and fell all around us. With battery torches in our hands we rushed to the source of the sound and picked the lime-green fruit. At times the fruits fell like a shower. Our makeshift bags and towels heavy with the fruit we rushed back home as the wind quieted.
Next morning we would feast on our ‘catch’ squatting on mud floor. The unbridled pleasure of sinking one’s teeth into the succulent flesh, the juice dribbling down our chins, hands and arms, and licking one’s fingers in delight is still etched in my memory. As we returned, our 15-day long vacation over, and resumed our schools those kal baishaki evenings were forgotten overtaken with immediate worries of homework—school—homework. As we grew up our annual summer visits became lesser and lesser and my ‘mango memories’ rested somewhere in the recesses of the mind.
Few years’ back I learnt that my uncle, father’s elder brother, who looked after our landed property had sold off the mango tree. The new buyer had chopped the tree down and made a good sum selling its timber. That was the day I felt as the throat of my mango memory has been slit. The stump of the tree still stands testimony to those days and tells the river when it flows that once here stood a mango tree which gave fruits to the world and underneath whom young foots came to play.
Then, mangoes were just a summer fruit to be gathered from under the tree and enjoyed during summer vacations in our ancestral home. As I grew up and work took me to different places in the country I was introduced to the pleasures of fruit with exotic names like Dussheri, Langda, Totapuri, Alphonso, Kesar, Banganapalli, Fazli, Chausa and others and realized they each had a distinct taste and flavour.
A year back I was introduced to Malgoba, thanks to a colleague. Grown in villages of Valsad, South Gujarat, the fruit which is harvested during May end is relished for its thick curd-like juice. Britain’s pickle king Lakhubhai Pathak sourced raw mangoes from Valsad namely Payeri, Rajapuri and Malgoba.
In fact, the so-called alphonso juice which you buy year-round from your neighbourhood sweetmeat shop is nothing but the juice of Malgoba with alphonso essence.
Now a resident of Mumbai, the colleague hails from village Umarasadi in Killa Pardi taluka and tells me that the locals consume Malogoba juice like they are having water! Once the juice is ready a spoon of ghee, powdered dry ginger and cumin seeds and salt is added before downing it.
“My father who is around 80 still consumes nearly two litres of mango juice in one sitting,” he says.