Aah, the mango. Has there ever been such a sublime fruit?
Mangoes are my absolute favourite. They are so versatile. You can have kachha mangoes with salt and chilli that make your face scrunch up all squinty-eyed - or scoop out the sweet parts of the side pieces with a spoon - or cut them into long, elegant slices - or abandon all elegance and make a little hole at the top, and squeeze the pulp out straight into your mouth like a happy little monkey.
On the weekend, I was walking with my husband to the market (how domestic), and we came across a dilapidated fruit shop with boxes of alphonso mangoes and a 'For Sale- Mangoes' sign. How ultimately delightful, I thought - I was just in the mood for mangoes, having recovered from a bad stomach infection that had made everything taste like cardboard.
We approached the shop hopefully, and started picking up fruit randomly. I asked the price of the mangoes, and the man muttered something that sounded like 'thousand rupees'. I nodded wisely and waited for my ears to clear up and asked again. But he repeated 'thousand rupees'. I examined the box. It had a dozen pieces in it. I clarified 'A thousand?'. He nodded. I said 'For a dozen?'. He said yes. I said 'Achha' and wilted.
Vijay had been on the phone during this exchange, and he got off it and said 'What about the mangoes?' in a businesslike fashion. I whispered to him 'The man is saying one thousand'. Vijay sprang backwards and said 'What?' in the manner of the outraged consumer. He turned towards the man 'Bhaiyya? Ek hazaar?'. The man said yes. ' Ek hazaar, ek durzon ke liye?' The man nodded. Vijay bubbled over with indignation and sputtered 'Sone ka bana hai kya'? The man's lips tightened into a fake smile at my husband's razor sharp wit. However, he refused to lower the price, so we left disappointed.
We soon chanced upon an even smaller, more dilapidated shop where the rate was Rs.600 for a dozen. Vijay immediately blurted to this new man 'But that shop over there is charging Rs.1000'. The new man swallowed his emotion and shrugged non-commitally. I looked aghast at Vijay wondering what kind of new bargaining style this was. After some dillying followed by some dallying, we decided to try our luck and asked for just two pieces. The new man protested loudly but eventually, he grudgingly parted with two for a hundred. We walked back with our booty, Vijay holding all the other fruit ( melons, bananas, apples, oranges, etc) in bulging large packets, while I carried just the two small mangoes gingerly.
In the evening after dinner, I cut the mangoes into small pieces, careful not to waste even a bit of the pulp, and we ate them (okay, I ate most of them) with vanilla ice cream. And Oh, they were Heavenly! They were dark yellow, with a melt-in-the-mouth sweetness beyond description. The most perfect dessert ever, and worth every paise, according to me. I went to bed happy that day.
But the mangoes were over.
The next day, we found ourselves outside the second, smaller shop again. Vijay jauntily asked the man 'Aaj kya rate hai, bhaiyya?'. The man replied equally jauntily 'Aaj to sasta hai. 600 rupaiye durzon'. Vijay did a double take ' par yeh hi to kal ka rate tha...'. The man also did a double take, and recoiled as he recognized us 'Oh. Aap! Haan, ek din mein kaisa girega, saab?' He turned his attention to me as I gazed longingly at the mangoes 'Par meetha tha na, Madam?'. I blushed and muttered yes ( I really don't know why I am so coy about mangoes, it's really inexplicably weird). He continued hopefully 'Pack kar du aur?' I nodded assent and he said 'Ek pethi ya doh?'. I said 'Doh'. He beamed for an instant but I clarified quickly 'Doh piece'. He was aghast 'Doh piece? Phirse?'. But then, he noted the steely determination in our eyes and said weakly 'Teen to leh lo'. We took pity on him and bought three for Rs. 150.
The next day, Zareena ruined one of the precious three by cutting it up for us and leaving it in the fridge the whole day and it got all brown and rotty-looking. But in the evening, I salvaged the remaining two with the vanilla ice cream and we enjoyed the sweet sublime perfection again.
If I had known that I would feel this way about mangoes at this point of time, I would have eaten a lot more in those summer days of my childhood. I would have climbed more mango trees. Would have picked more mangoes from those trees. And maybe, would have thrown fewer at my brother and sister, too.
The thing is, I don't know how long I can keep doing this fake-nonchalant 'doh piece dena, bhaiyya' thing - I really hope the prices come down soon. But I have now made up my mind, and I intend to eat a LOT of mangoes this summer season. It just strikes me as one of those things that make this life worth living.
The prices will come down soon.
And I will be waiting.