Mangoes: The Lost Glory of the King of Fruits

Monarchy is a thing of a bygone era. Even dukes and duchesses these days, Harry and Meghan for instance, do not flaunt their titles and believe in keeping a low profile. Along with the monarchy, epithets like ‘King of this’ and ‘Queen of that’ have also become truly unfashionable.

Mangoes, the erstwhile king of fruits, have also adapted with time.

Remember how the calm and composed household aam-panna and aam-ras gave way to flamboyant market-based mango shakes and mango ice creams? Mangoes know this is the age of selling, and if they sell well, they rule – in a way. Mangoes that once enjoyed feudal and royal treatment, adorning heavy brassware and silverware, now quietly, and maybe sulkily, share their compartment with other lesser fruits at a juice corner. I am not really an admirer of the epithets of princely culture, but one does shed a tear or two at the painful sight, depicting the regal downfall. There is no Ghalib (a well-known mango lover) in town to break his pen in the lost glory of mangoes, let alone their delicacy.

Here are we – mangoes and I – lost in the reverie of foregone summers. A summer being wasted in admiring the ‘revival’ of nature from a distance. Seeing a black kite and his family, take over the nameless tree opposite my house, who are teased by relentless house crows every evening – the battle is still on. I am in no luck for parakeets as there are no mango groves around. Mangoes and I have grown to make peace with the shrunken space, on the highly priced land as well as in the priceless heart. Loss of old habits is a necessary cost for moving on – with no disrespect to the hardship of migrants less fortunate than I, but the loss of homeland is common between us.

Mangoes were never just a seasonal fruit. They were a season themselves – aamon ka mausam – as we called them. We, in Eastern India, prepared ourselves with luscious litchis, that were always treated merely as a messenger announcing the arrival of the mango season, whose admirers always faced the justified disdain of mango lovers.

Even before, there was kaccha aam (which has several local names) for pickles and chutneys, and not to forget the aam panna. And it was the drink – and not one of the several options to slake the thirst of sultry summers. And that sight of seeing mojars-laden (blossoms) mango trees and that smell! The fear of untimely rainfall that could affect the output per tree or per orchard. There is no such fear anymore, only dumb delight at seeing the rainfall in April and May from the other side of glass pane.

Also read: Mango Sutra, and a Whiff of Nostalgia

Rituals have made way to routine. Who knew we will meet this fate? Going unnoticed in our own times! No eyes to differentiate between Langda, Chausa, Hapus, Safeda, Dasheri, Sukul, Bambaiya, and many others. If mangoes were the king of fruits, the debate on who is the king among mangoes is unsettled till date as there were as many kings as kingdoms.

At times, these debates ended in blood – such were the mango fanatics! Gone are the people who could smell and tell not just the name but also speak about whether the mango ripened on trees itself or the merchant subjected it to the powder of carbide to force its way to the market before the ‘right’ time. I can proudly say that my grandfather happened to be one of those and left the plate untouched when he sensed any such foul play.

And today no one even pauses to ask the name from the vendors in metropolises. To speak of the vendors here, they too just supply two varieties – maybe three. The same Safeda and fewer Dasheri and some Langda towards the end of June. Mangoes are carelessly picked up, weighed, put in the grocery bag to be put again in the refrigerator (maybe after cleaning), and meet the dreadful fate of being crushed in a mixer for a mango shake, or mango crush. Where is the chance of mango juice dripping down your chin and palms, and at times from elbows for amateurs and veterans alike.

I often wonder whether mangoes also share a part of the blame for their downfall. Or should it all be attributed to that invisible evil called time?

This couplet, a creation of Muztar Khairabadi that is often wrongly attributed to Bahadur Shah Zafar – another fallen king – is something mangoes could make use of:

“Mera waqt mujhse bichhad gaya mera rang-rup bigad gaya
jo khizan se baaġh ujad gaya main usi ki fasl-e-bahaar hun. 
(My time has left me, my looks and lustre are deformed
I am the remnant of a garden, ruined in the autumn past)”.

Tauseef Shahidi is more afraid of being the one he thinks he is not than not being the one he thinks he is.

Featured image credit: Bryan Kimura/Flickr