Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Memory and a Journey

Many decades ago, on a railway track en route to Chennai, our train slowed down and halted. Across us, on the next track was a goods train with endless bogeis. One of them was open and loads of baskets covered with gunny sacks had tumbled out. Men were lifting the baskets and trying to put them down back in the bogie, while we watched idly from our window. There is always a lot to see from a train window, sometimes even, when the train is not moving. One of the men looked in our direction and saw three children staring out of the window. He reached out for a large mango from one of the baskets which seemed to have fallen apart, and walked across the track to hand it to my brother, who gazed at it and after being given permission, accepted the mango. It was an enormous green mango, and we had not seen a mango fruit of this size before. At this point, our train began to move, and all that remained of this unexpected tableau was the outsize green mango that a small boy clutched with both hands.
On a recent visit to Guntur, in the hot month of May, I spotted mangoes similar to the basket of fruit we had seen from the window of the train. Vendors with smart carts sold them to passers by, cut into thick chunks. They were large in real life and their size fleshed out an old memory. I discovered that they were called "cobbara-mavadu." 'Cobbara', possibly from the tamil(copra) and malayalam(coppara) means coconut and this particular variety has the dimension of a tender green coconut. Mavadu is a term that describes tender young mangoes soaked in brine and red chilly water. The picture here of three cobbara mavadus, unfortunately, provides little scope for anyone to marvel at their size. The name suggests that this raw mango is rather like the coconut. When cut, the flesh is cream-coloured and crisp,pulpy and non fibrous. The raw fruit is delicious, and tastes of the summer. Since it is not sour, the cobbara-mavadu makes for a great salad accompaniment with celery, chopped onions, tomatoes and grated carrots. There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes in India. Most of us get by with identifying around ten or twelve varieties of the ripe fruit. The raw fruit varieties are far less known. The kili mooku or the parrot nosed green mango is another well known variety. This is sour and is a seaside favourite all over Tamil Nadu. It is much tastier when raw, and as the picture below shows, recalls the parrot or the kili from which it borrows its name.
The fruit, thanks to Safal is now found all over New Delhi at innumerable Mother Dairy outlets.However, the kili mooku is disappointing as a table fruit.In its more tart earthy avatar, with salt and red chilly powder, it is more tantalising. Naming a fruit and thereby fleshing out a memory is an enriching experience. It is also rooted in very culture specific practice. As a nation we seem to be moving in the direction of a nameless uniformity. Can diversity be sustained through such odds? The loss of fruit and vegetable names should concern us because the first obliteration, that of memory,subsequently allows for the loss of the fruit itself.