Among the downsides of living abroad is that one misses out on many delights that are seasonal staples back in the des. Piping hot samosas or vada pav had to the accompaniment of lashing rains. Divinely refreshing traditional thirst-quenchers like khus, lassi, shikanji or kairi sherbets that make sweltering days bearable. The innumerable pickles that become available as the respective ingredients come into season that add a wicked tang to any meal. These are just some of the things one hankers for in foreign lands. Of course, substitutes are available. And some of the more enterprising desis (like the Pataks, for instance) have struck it rich, catering to the cravings of the homesick NRI. But the substitutes, whether locally made or flown in from their origins, are never quite up to the mark.
Perhaps the one thing I miss most is the mango. Or rather, basketsful of the mangoes, to be precise! Born and raised in the Konkan (for Mumbai is, after all, in the Konkan), I am rather partial to the venerated alphonso. Despite its ridiculous price and the snobbery of its aficionados, it is a most succulently, sweetly, scentedly seductive fruit. Great as it is, the alphonso is just one member of a rather large royal family of fruit. Equally, but differently delicious are the rumali, the dussehri, the rajapuri, the langda, the chausa, the tothapalli, and the hundreds of other varieties that are quite easily available in India, come the mango season.
A week or so ago, a desi friend happened to be discussing fruits over lunch with some white Canadian colleagues. One of them mentioned that she was not so fond of mangoes, although they are commonly regarded as one the more delicious exotic fruits. Asked which mangoes she did not like, the lady was nonplussed. “What do you mean ‘which mangoes’? I just said I don’t like mangoes”. At this, my friend could not contain herself and explained that because most Indians know of the existence of hundreds of varieties of mangoes, the blanket statement, “I don’t like mangoes” makes little sense.
The enlightened Canadian now can’t wait for next vacation, which is to be in India. She wants to sample as many different types of mangoes as she can. Lucky woman. While she’ll have messy fingers and mango juice dribbling down her chin, ruining her blouse, I’ll have to choose between a shrivelled, sanitised, shrink-wrapped, stickered object or a clammy, chemical-rich compote in a can. For that is what usually masquerades as mango in these impoverished parts.