It is summer. Yaniki, there are mangoes. This should be enough. But not for all. Mangoes are a matter of national pride for many, and conversations about which is the most superior mango become hot and bothered, or cold and contemptuous very fast.
As a kid, summer holidays meant Mumbai, so mangoes meant alphonso. So, mango meant alphonso, until I found others. Hapus fanatics will immediately say - why do you need any other mango anyway? Well, with mangoes I am polyamorous, finding joy in all. I think kesars are plump with steady delight - they look into your eyes and flirt. Even the safeda has a touchingly unpretentious, silent admirer quality about it. Langdas are boisterous, daseris are meditative, chausas are like afternoon naps. Bainganphallis and totapuris are playful and I could kiss them both. Imampasands fill a house with fragrance like the voluptuous reassurance of regular bliss. In the time it takes two Bengalis to do elocution on the merits of a Modhu Gulguli and Gulab Khaas, I will eat up two of each.
When it comes to battles of supremacy though, the goalpost is always moving. So, not only do people debate about varieties but they are also persnickety about, yes, mango cutting style. Their preferences are telling. My father almost never ate the mangoes I cut. "I can't eat them if they're not cut properly." Means what? I'd ask. "I have cut these neatly!" "Never mind," he'd say, "If you don't already understand you won't." There's an idealist! If I have to tell you what to do, such people feel, then it has become meaningless and unromantic.
Visiting a friend in Kolkata last week I dutifully carried some alphonsos. After lunch, I cut these and put them on the table. "Oh, you've cut them like this," said he, in a kyunki-saas-bhi-kabhi-chef-thi tone. "What! What's wrong with how I've cut them?" I asked aggressively.
"Nothing" he said, wrinkling his nose. "You've expressed yourself I suppose." ("bahu" he did not say but could have). Then he brought a knife and cut the mangoes into fingers, a first for me!"This way they won't get on your face," he informed. Okay, then.
Other people will eat a mango only if it is cubed, its sumptuous flesh made manageable. No contact with skin of mango. And no contact of mango with your skin. A form of mango cutting that refuses to accept overflow of desire and emotion and the implications of touch.
My grandfather had a decadent mango cutting technique. He would cut a horizontal ring around the centre of the mango, then twist it so that the seed came out in one half while the other half of the mango formed a perfect cup. This he would fill with cream and then eat in spoonfuls. Why stop at one pleasure when you can have three, says this approach.
Mango cutting fundamentalists try to provide a culinary logic for their choice. But in truth the mango is a war between humans and nature, of giving in to desire or taming it. As one who is perfectly happy to end up with mangoes on her fingers and face (all the better to lick you with, my dear), I accept that where there's love, there's some mess. I'm just grateful to have this in my life for the summer lovin'.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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