Kesar, alphonso, langda, dussehri, desi, rajapuri, totapuri… how does an urban family get used to living a charmed life in a village besides a mango orchard in Gujarat?
From providing essential vitamins to improving digestion, apart from the delicious taste, mangoes offer an array of health benefits.
Vedchhi (Tapi), Gujarat
For five years now, we as a family, have been contemplating moving to rural India, to a slow-paced life. In February this year, we finally moved to a small village on the edge of Gujarat.
The first time we visited what would become our future home in Vedchhi village of Tapi district, we saw a room full of mangoes. That was the summer of 2018. Kesar, alphonso, langda, dussehri, desi, rajapuri, totapuri … you name it, and it was there. The wild varieties, grafted ones and those that came out of compost pits, some having done their own breed selection, like the desi alphonso, were in plenty too.
There were other fruit trees too. Chiku, guava, tamarind, phalsa, jamun, ramphal (a variety of custard apple), banana and papaya, but the aam (mango) was the star attraction. This ‘abundance’ of nature was what made us sell most of our worldly belongings and land here, bags and kitchenware.
In the beginning of April this year, like a cheer amidst the otherwise gloomy scenario of COVID-19 cases rising in the country during the pandemic’s second wave, a gust of wind dropped down a raw mango. Greed was the first feeling, combined with the impatience as to when it would ripen.
My three children itched to climb the trees and pluck the raw mangoes. We had to cajole them to wait for some more days, but they had their way most days.
Growing up in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, still a small town 35 years ago, I had a similar itch too, and we children would group up and ransack the nearby aam ka bagh (mango orchard) every day during our summer vacation.
When the group met in the evening, we discussed the morning adventures of being caught by the orchard caretaker and our subsequent escapade, and huddled together to plan strategies and new escape routes for the next morning.
Looking back, organising a mango loot called for a great deal of planning and precision. ‘Stealing’ mangoes was not a crime, getting caught was never embarrassing, and nobody gave us a lecture on civility for this. But, things have changed now. Neither are there as many trees nor are there many unfettered kids around.
But we are blessed, or so we thought, to see our kids climbing trees like we did. One night, we woke up with a start to a loud noise — a desi mango had fallen on our baked mud tiled roof, locally called nadia. The next morning, I picked up a delicious smelling, ripe, organic mango from the courtyard, looked around to check if anybody was watching, and ate it by myself.
I remember this in such vivid detail because it was to become the new normal of our lives. We have many desi mango ‘blasts’ on the roof each night but they fail to wake us up now. So much so that when a section of the roof of a nearby house caved in, I waved it off as many rajapuris (a single rajapuri mango can weigh a kilo) dropping off the tree.
Collecting the night’s bounty has become a counting lesson for my five-year-old twins. Some days, we count up to a hundred. The mangoes have been ripening at a pace that all of us on campus, with our excellent mango eating faculties, cannot keep pace with.
We thought of sharing, not selling, our abundance with newly-made acquaintances in the village market, but realised rather foolishly, that in this village, people are already satiated with mangoes.
The matriarch who had nurtured the mango trees in their youth, and I feel sad when mangoes rot and are wasted. I saw her feverishly making pickles and jams to prevent this. It dawned on me, rather late, that we need to process the fruit. I unleashed my processing and culinary creativity.
First came the pickles with raw mango, Uttar Pradesh and Punjabi style (the Gujarati style had already been made by the matriarch), then raw mango with chickpeas and jackfruit, and then ripe mango pickle.
This was followed by a sweet preparation — the Gujarati chunda, grated raw mango with sugar/jaggery and spices, allowed to seep in the flavours under the sun for over 10-15 days, assimilating all the flavours of the spices and sunlight.
Every weekend, I still collect ripe mangoes that won’t last beyond Sunday and pulp them to make aam papad (sun-dried mango leather). Having made the year’s supply of aamchur (dried mango powder), it was the turn of a few bottles of aam panna concentrate, which also doubled up as paani puri ka paani (water used to flavour pani puri).
Every day, there is aamras for dessert and mango dolly in the refrigerator for kids. I experiment making a new savoury dish with ripe mangoes every two days — I’ve made ambyanche saasav, the Goan mango curry with coconut, the Mangalorean version of it with butter milk and the Gujarati mango kadhi with gram flour.
Jams, chutneys and murabbas are being made and consumed on an ‘as soon as you finish’ basis. God bless the children in the house! Mango barfi, cake and cookies are still on the cards, but they’d use up only a few mangoes. The alphonso and kesar pulp has been frozen in zip-lock bags for the days we will miss them.
Living near nature comes with its own set of rules. Summers are for hard work in the fields. So the first rule of staying in a fruit orchard is — during harvest season, everything else can wait.
The second is that if not plucked in time, the fruits will ripen on the tree and drop damaged, and you’d lose them to the numerous insects around.
The third is to keep children happy — they are your only saviour when you can’t climb a tree after years of living a sedentary life. And they will only climb as per their mood.
The most important rule is knowing that with an abundance of mangoes come an abundance of red ants. So, one has to apply a generous portion of wood ash on the limbs to keep the ants off while climbing a tree. One is tempted to make red ant chutney, but the urban self is still afraid of their sharp sting!