Summer is heating up, despite all the talk about the sun being puzzlingly cooler than usual. While the monsoon won’t be here for another month or so, it’s the time of the year, especially in Pakistan, when several fruits make their appearance on the scene. The Mango trees are revving up for the season and already, we’ve got unripe mangoes, which are called “kairi” or “kairiyaan” (plural) in Urdu, that are used to prepare a sweet ‘n sour dessert. Having lived in Saudi Arabia all my childhood with only occasional visits to Pakistan, the hype and hoopla surrounding this fruit was something I learned while I was probably still a toddler. It’s not an exaggeration, really! I’ve got picture of me as a toddler next to a metal bucket full of mangoes, and mango pulp on my face and clothes – the madness!
The mango holds a very central position – scratch that – a very royal rank in South Asia, being irrefutably referred to as the “King of Fruits”. Now, while I dispute that for my own reasons, I wouldn’t go and announce that to a group of ‘mango mad’ South Asians for fear of a good berating in return. As soon as mangoes hit the market, they will be all that you’ll see, hear and possibly eat for dessert (after lunch and dinner) for a couple of months. There are innumerable varieties, they follow each other as the season progresses and never will you find people passing up the latest variety because they’ve “had enough mango” – it’s just not possible!
The older generations, especially those like my father who spent their childhood years running about in the mango farms in India, reminisce about all the different natural (‘tukhmi’ mangoes) varities they had and how they’d have huge mango festivals. On the other hand we, who have been raised in the cities with sparse exposure to village life, can relate more to mango dices, milkshakes, curries (yes, curries!), pickles, juices, sorbets, souffles and of course – ice creams! That’s really how versatile mangoes are – you could keep coming up with ways to have them and in the end, they’d still taste yummy even if you had they as they are.
Mangoes can make people react in all sorts of ways, as I mentioned earlier. Criticise the status of the mango as the “King of Fruits” and you’re in for a bashing. The politiking that goes on during a mango session after meals is also very interesting. Some people meticulously prepare their plate or bowl of mango to their taste and if you happen to nick a teensy bit, be ready to face the consequences. Also, if one person has prepared a plate of sliced mangoes and another person’s interested in having one or two, it’s not a ‘gift’ most of the time… it’s a deal! Yes, so if I take two slices from my sister’s plate, it need not be said that when I slice up my own mango, she has a rightful share in mine. While this might seem quite obvious, the live scene will put it into perspective and show just how mango makes some peoples’ behavior go ga-ga.
And of course, there are the amiable mango parties where there are baskets and buckets full of mangoes soaking away in ice and water, plentiful in number so that no-one’s in a hurry and a jolly mood prevails. A very popular poem by an Urdu poet, Akbar Illabadi, is much quoted on such occassions (and in my father’s case, after every meal)…
“Aisay zaroor hoan jinnhain rakh kar kha sakoon
Pukhta agar ho bees tou das khaam bhaijiyyay”
The poet is writing to his friend in another city to send him some mangoes and says,
“Do send some which I can save for later
If you send ten ripe ones then ten unripe ones please!”
Now, for a very unfitting end to this discussion but one, which I am sure, many Non-South Asians or those South Asians who were raised abroad would relate to. Mangoes are certainly a blessing from Allah(swt), a wonderous delight and beautifully versatile. However, to name a fruit the “King of Fruits” pushes it a little, especially to a person like me who loves so many fruits. It’s safe to say that mangoes, like all fruits, hold a special honor in the hearts of South Asians who feel (and rightly so) that they have the best varieities in the world. So, as a Pakistani, I’m all for the next mango party but do get me a basket full of watermelons, figs, grapes, bananas, peaches, plums and cherries from my home town in Saudi Arabia and that‘s when I’ll go slightly ga-ga!