Memories of the Mango

As the rainy season approached a very old man was digging holes in the ground.

What are you doing? asked the neighbor.

Planting the seeds of mango trees, the old man said.

Think you can eat the fruit? the neighbor uttered contemptuously.

No, I will not live long enough to be able to eat its fruits, but the others would. The other day I thought, all my life, I have enjoyed mangoes planted by others. This is my way of showing them my gratitude. The old man said with a heart of joy.

It is an Indonesian fairy tale that I read by chance that opens the post this week.

It's such a disarming beauty that resides in the simplicity of the phrase "The other day I thought, all my life, I have enjoyed mangoes planted by others." It is a love affair long before I knew what love was. Known for its sweet smell, and even sweeter taste, mangoes are a perfect fruit for a romantic interlude. And there have been few other fruits that have captivated the hearts, minds and tongues of the majority of the world’s population.

The mango, dates back to about 4000 BC that spread from India to Africa, where it made the jump in the tenth century and then to America, in the seventeenth century by the Portuguese, who took it to Brazil.

The fruits bear sin and temptation, from the Apples in the Western world to the Grapes in the Arab World to the Mango in the Indian Subcontinent. But these delicacies also evoke things that are not gastronomic. The apple symbolizes original sin and purity and is both known for its sensuality and innocence. Arabia cannot celebrate wine, woman and song without a few bunches of grapes and mango permeates the art, emotions and culture of India.

Folk songs celebrate all the phases of the life of a mango from the tree in bloom to the first fruits to the green mango to the ripe fruit, full of sweetness. You can make juice, marinate it, dry it, eat it as it is, with the juice that runs down your fingers, or very delicately, diced and covered with milk.

The Tamils ​​call it 'mangay', the Chinese call it 'mangguo', the people of Bengal call it 'aam', those of Karnataka call it 'mavu' and those of Kerala as 'amra'. Summer in Bengal represents the freedom and kites flying in the wind, the buckets of delicious mangoes, the swings on the mango trees and the festival of Jamai Sasthi, the day when the mother-in-law pampers their son-in-laws with loads of mangoes and is also a time that brings the married women back to their parents' house.

In India, it is said, there are only two seasons the rainy season, which quenches the land, and the mango season, which satisfies the palate and the heart of men, where a beautiful gesture of friendship is considered to give a mango basket to who you love. There must be as many types of mangoes in India as there are languages from the perfumed Alphonso to the green Dashehari to the parrot beaked Totapuri to the orange beauty Banaganapalli to the succulent Chausa to the golden skinned Langada, gleaming in their jewel red, yellow and dark green tones with their own distinct aromas.

In India, it is not only a fruit but a symbol of fertility and abundance, love and devotion and some believe that the mango tree can even grant wishes. The tree is believed to be the abode of Kama, the god of love, and the leaves and flowers of the mango are also considered sacred. A string of mango leaves are tied across doorways, as an auspicious symbol on religious occasions, and are included into many of the associated rituals.

The warm color of the flesh becomes the ideal color for elegant silk saris, and the theme of fruit and flower are the recurring motifs in textiles and jewelry, in particular during a wedding feast. Jewelers design intricate ornaments and earrings or necklaces with mango designs. This fruit is very much a part of our festivals and the songs we sing.

During this same time, while cutting some sliced mangoes, I think of how my life is marked by memories associated with their smell and their taste. It's nostalgic reminiscing the good old days when as kids I tried to sneak in and steal the fruit trying to bring them down by throwing stones and climbing on the trunks to shake.

A visit to an orchard was a magical sight as after some time the trees laden with the fruit in vibrant shades of green and yellow was a sight to behold. As strong winds would start blowing we would run from one mango tree to the other collecting fresh mangoes that would keep falling all day. It was just like a mango shower.

Those were moments of priceless ecstasy when over those small and sweet green mangoes, I put a pinch of black salt and chilli powder and ate during my school vacations after stealing some from gardens. After taking a bite of the fruit I had left between the teeth, a few drops of juice would run down the chin and while the clothes would be soiled, I would suck the seeds to make them stay white and I threw the seed on my own garden as I loved to see the purple leaves coming out of the newborn mango tree. And finally, during the months long after the good season, I would taste it as pickles carefully prepared by mom.

Mangoes remind me every step of my life, but also any period that has recently gone through this land. As in a cycle of life that transcends the crisis, hardships, unfinished agendas, mangoes come again from the long and sharp ones to the large and fleshy ones. Despite all the stubbornness, mango is still here that marks our lives with her ​​great taste and makes every garden into a corner of prosperity, at least until the end of summer.

The scent of the mango flowers on the branches, the heightened humidity in the air, along with the sweltering summer heat unite in a symphony of flavours as myths, legends, fragrance and gratitude, is what we taste when we taste a mango.
Kalyan Panja