Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mangoes for sale

There are mangoes for sale just about everywhere! On this sunday morning, I begin to reminisce about the mangoes that needed no introduction and the ones that did. It was the summer of 1996. It was my first summer in Andhra and I was to spend many summers here. From now on, South India was to be my home. I had been born and brought up in Bombay. My parents had lived there since the 1947 partition when they had moved to India from Sind. I was now married and my husband’s family were Telugu Brahmins.

I had entered the kitchen on my first morning in my new home and had gone about exploring how it was going to be in a south indian household. Amongst the many things that surprised me, one of the first had been the really huge, high container filled with whole red chillis. “Are we going to be able to use all of this?!” I had asked. My mother-in-law had explained that those were for the pickles. After all, there were going to be hundreds of mangoes from our own trees and we would need the chillis. It was the season of pickles. The kitchen was filled with red chillis and the markets in the city were filled with sacks and sacks of red chilli. In our home in Bombay, we had always bought only a few hundred grams of red chilli powder at a time. These were whole red chillis and so many of them for one kitchen!

Over the years I have grown to like Andhra pickles. But, I do still miss the Alphonso mango very much. For all the mangoes that I had access to in our home in Andhra, summers were never the same again. It was the season of pickles and it was the Bangannapalli that was the ‘king of mangoes’. After 14 years of marriage, I have yet to win an argument with my husband that it is the Alphonso that is the sweeter mango or that it is the Alphonso that is ‘king of mangoes’.

Today, as I walked along the stalls that sold mangoes at Lalbaug gardens in Bangalore, I saw both the Alphonso and the Bangannapalli being sold. As we headed back home, we were taking back with us, a dozen of Alphonso and a few kilos of Bangannapalli. That is something I wondered about today. Some vendors prefer to give you the price of a dozen and some give you the price of a kilo. Anyways, it was important that we had picked up our mangoes. I now prefer not to discuss at the table which mango is sweeter. I like mango and if its summer, we must eat mango. That is all that matters!

This is the hottest time of the year. It is also the time of the year when every bazaar in every village, town or city has plentiful of mangoes. There are the ripe, sweet mangoes which you eat sometimes one mango per person at every meal. At least that is how it was at my in-laws place. There are the raw mangoes which come earlier, in end April, for making the several varieties of mango pickle for the entire family for the entire year. Its mostly women vendors who cut them for you at the marketplace itself. You carry back bagfuls of the cut mango and thereon starts the ritual of pickle-making.

At the Lalbaug gardens, as in the wholesale and retail markets of Bangalore, there are several varieties of mangoes for sale. At some stalls, the vendor was busily cutting slices off a mango for customers to taste. No one said ‘no’ to the tasting. After all, it was always nice to eat a piece of mango while you were still at the bazaar. I noticed that this generous vendor was selling only Alphonso mangoes. This is where we bought a box of the Ratnagiri fruit. As most of you would know, the best Alphonso comes from the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.

In the cities today, you get mangoes from all over the country. Through this season, you can find the Badam, the Alphonso, the Daseri, the Rumali, the Langda and so on or if you are a south indian, you will notice none of the above and then it’s the Bangannapalli, the Badami, the Mallika and the Raspuri. But, you do get mangoes of many kinds in marketplaces everywhere.

Just a week ago I was in Bombay and had strolled into the Crawford market near the Victoria Terminus station. This is the best place to buy any fruit. Its expensive though, but “export quality” as any vendor will tell you. The big players at Crawford market are really busy in summer time.

If you go further into the market a bit, beyond the main building, where the market extends to the areas shaded by the sheds, you see the back-end operations. There are groups of young men who are speedily packing mangoes in corrugated cardboard boxes and the litchis and apricots in clean plastic trays and wrapping it up with plastic cling film. These will be taken to the supermarkets all over the city.

At the front of the market, closer to the entrance are the lanes within this historic market building that almost become its elegant shopfront with the baskets of mangoes and dryfruits, often covered in red and yellow cellophane, the age-old packaging of Crawford market vendors that I find as alluring today as I found so many years ago! Memories of the summer bazaar come back to me from my childhood. It is the red and yellow cellophane that I remember. For us, in Bombay, summer was the season of aam-ras and it still is! In my mind, I still believe that the Alphonso is the King of Mangoes!

I wrote this blogpost after a fascinating 'Green Heritage walk' that we took at Lalbaug gardens. Here is a link to : Design Inspiration at Lalbaug gardens where I write more about the Nature walk.


radha said...

Your blog brought memories of the vegetable market. In the days we did not have the local supermarkets, it was common for us to go armed with huge cloth bags, long shopping lists to the market. Haggling, walking through hay, slush - with all the water sprinkled on the fresh produce - it was indeed an effort. We had to even fight for space with the occasional buffalo that strayed into the area. We would then come back home all satisfied. But now I cannot get myself to venture into these areas anymore. And someone from the land of Banganpalli, I think that variety is the best!

Anjali said...

Kiran I am visualizing the life of your family in Andhra, I was fascinated when you told about how they roasted and ground their own coffee beans every single day. Now about the chilies, mangoes etc. You do narrate so well wanting to experience it all.

Indian Bazaars said...

Radha: Yes, the cloth bags were good. And, some women carried the colourful hand-woven plastic bags. One does seem them being sold in a few marketplaces even today - in Tamil Nadu and Andhra too.

Anjali: I discovered that life outside Bombay was different and as many new experiences begin to fill your days, you find yourself walking away from the horizon of familiarity.