HOW AGGRESSIVE CAN YOU GET ABOUT YOUR MANGOES?
We are in the midst of summer and the mango season has begun and my friend H.Y. Sharada Prasad, like most of us, suffers from what he calls ‘The Golden Mango Syndrome’.
On April 23, his book of essays in Kannada—Ella Ballavarilla—was released in Basavanagudi, Bangalore. While returning home in Malleswaram, he peeped through the car window and spotted a man selling mangoes by the roadside.
He couldn’t resist the sight of his favourite fruit and started salivating as he got down from the vehicle to reach the vendor to buy his favourite Raspuris. Despite his poor health and the heat, he stood in the sun gleefully running his fingers on the fruit, smelt the fragrance before stuffing a dozen or so into his bag.
“What has enabled me to stand the rigours of Delhi’s summer is the mango,” says “Shourie” as we affectionately call Sharada Prasad.
He quotes (William) Blake who asked the tiger: “Did he who made the lamb make thee?”
“Did he who made Delhi’s summer so hot make thee?” Shourie asks the mango before sending up his heart-felt (rather belly-felt) to the king of fruits.
More than any other fruit mangoes are associated with abundance, joyousness and the carefree innocence of childhood. Which school boy can resist that well-aimed shot at the luscious mango dangling temptingly on the other side of the compound?
Don’t we remember our mango orgies at our grandparent’s homes, of our forays into a neighbour’s orchard? No other fruit evokes such universally enthusiastic response. All of us have our mango memories to recall.
The mango which has a 4,000-year-old history, is said to have originated in the North-East India / Myanmar belt and is now found all over the sub-continent and also in a succession of varieties that is mind-boggling.
In the North we have Sindoori, Siroli and the fully-sweet Safeda. The main and popular varieties are the juicy Dussehri that has a very thin, almost flat seed and the paler yellow and larger in size Chausa. Then we have the Langda that tastes like honey.
But none of these get passing marks from the Bengalis who swear by their Malda while the Maharashtrians assert that the Ratnagiri Apus (Alphonso) is the king among mangoes.
“Of all types of patriotism, mango patriotism is the most aggressive and vocal,” asserts Sharada Prasad who swears by Raspuri abundantly available in Karnataka, sidelining the Salem, Neelam and Totapuri. The favourite of the Andhras is Imam-Pasand and Cheruku-Rasaloo.
No other fruit is as much written about, sung about, praised and prized as the mango.
It has figured importantly in religion, history, art, the heritage of our handicrafts, jewellery and textiles and cuisine. If the Hindus regard the mango as an incarnation of Prajapati, Lord of all beings, the Buddhists consider it sacred. The Buddha is supposed to have lived under a mango tree. I have seen many mango groves in and around Bodh Gaya where the Buddha found Enlightenment.
Alexander is said to have relished the mangoes grown in the mango orchard associated with the Buddha in Sarnath. Later, the Macedonian conqueror probably died of malaria, thus getting the taste of two of India’s contributions to the world—the mosquito and the mango.
Akbar is said to have been a glutton for mangoes eating up to fifteen at one sitting. He planted in the Yakhi Bagh of Dharbhanga a hundred thousand trees and ordered that milk and honey be poured over them to make the fruit taste sweet!
It is said that the Battle of Plassey was fought in a mango grove.
Historians also mention that the great highways during the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka’s reign were lined with hundreds of spreading mango trees that presented a great sight when in full bloom.
In his unrivalled poem Meghaduta, Kalidasa mentions Amrakuta or the Mountain of Mangoes which is compared to a woman’s breast, its shape covered by the glow of ripening mangoes, and the ‘dark centre’ where the shadow of the rain cloud falls as it passes.
I have read about the mango hockey tournament that was held years ago in Cuttack. In a New Delhi 5-star hotel I once looked at the menu card and found a dish named Mango Fool. The steward told me that it was so named because they used only sour raw mangoes to make it. I found it deliciously sweet though and thought that it didn’t deserve the epithet ‘fool.’
In our own times we have seen mango diplomacy. During their State visits to countries around the world both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi carried baskets of our choicest Alphonsos from Ratnagiri to presidents and prime ministers. Talking about Indira Gandhi’s visit to Moscow, Sharada Prasad narrates the following amusing story:
“At a banquet that Indira Gandhi gave the Soviet leaders, mangoes were served for dessert. They created a sensation. Many of the top leaders asked whether they could take them home to show their grandchildren. It was a sight to see cabinet ministers and bemedalled generals slipping mangoes into their pockets like school boys taking away chocolates.”
Prasad writes about an editor he knew from Karnataka “who was well-known for his love of a particular variety of succulent mango. Once he asked his servant to buy two dozen mangoes which he sucked with his usual relish.
When he counted the seeds he found only twenty-three. He admonished the lad for allowing himself to be duped by the fruit seller. The boy insisted he had brought twenty-four and showed the master that there were twenty-four skins.
“Then don’t worry,” said our editor, gently rubbing his capacious paunch.
THE COP WHO STOPPED THE MAHARAJA
According to a recent report in The Telegraph, Calcutta, “a traffic policeman fined an Andhra Pradesh High Court judge for not wearing a seat belt in an act that won him appreciation from his boss but had the Judiciary smelling a rat.”
This story reminded me of my friend C.W. Kuttappa, the legendary traffic police officer of old Mysore in the 1950s who used to race around town looking for traffic offenders.
The very mention of his name would put terror into the hearts of drivers of overloaded vehicles, and ‘double-riding’ cyclists or pedalling without a lamp at night. They were all mercilessly hauled up and fined.
Old Mysoreans still remember how Kuttappa stopped Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar‘s car as His Highness’ driver had not switched on the lights despite the dark evening.
When the Maharaja curiously peeped out of the window to have a look at the policeman, Kuttappa stood to attention, saluted the Raja saying: “Excuse me, Mahaswami. It’s already getting dark and your driver has not switched on the lights. As a humble servant of your government, I am only following the traffic rules.”
The Maharaja expressed his regret before chastising the driver. And applauded Kuttappa for his sense of duty.
My friend, the science writer G.T. Narayana Rao, told me the story of his encounter with Kuttappa during the Dasara holidays in 1956.
As the in-charge Commander of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in the then State of Coorg (Kodagu), GTN had come from Mercara to Mysore to receive the cadets returning by train after their annual training camp at Bangalore.
All the cadets and the officer leading them boarded the waiting bus at the railway station.
The driver counted the number of passengers and exclaimed, “The official permit is for 49 passengers, but there is one extra person here. Kuttappa’s squad may catch us any moment.”
The officer said that he would meet the situation should it ever arise.
As expected, a few kilometres off the City, Kuttappa’s squad stopped the bus. A policeman started counting the number of heads, verified the licence and issued the official chargesheet to the driver.
“Yours is a case of transgression of rules,” said Kuttappa in a firm tone. The driver turned back at the officer.
The NCC officer, a three-starred Captain in uniform, got down from the bus to meet Kuttappa who gave him a smart salute. The Captain argued that the bus was carrying defence personnel and so the driver could not be punished for any traffic offence.
“Sorry, sir. The case is between the driver and the State Government. No exemption to anyone,” said Kuttappa.
The situation had become tight.
Says Narayana Rao: “As the Senior Officer, but in civilian attire, I got out of the bus, moved up to this embodiment of discipline and introduced myself as the extra passenger responsible for the offence. I told him, ‘Here is my identity card. Please book the case against me. I will face the Court and undergo the prescribed punishment. Kindly withdraw the case against the innocent driver’.”
Kuttappa threw a stern and piercing glance at Narayana Rao, took back the chargesheet from the driver and muttered: “Kuttappa too is human, sir. Go.”
BALDIES OF THE WORLD UNITE, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE…
Whenever I see a person with a shining bald pate, my mind goes back to my Delhi days and I remember some of my friends who were members of an elite association named Baldies International.
They had a wonderful time when they met at a five star hotel on the first and last Thursday of every month. The members who were all bald came from different walks of life and used to spend an evening together in supreme camaraderie, drinking cocktails and eating a sumptuous meal.
Whenever they needed intellectual stimulation, they used to invite an expert, preferably a baldie, to lecture to them. One of them was the former prime minister, Inder Kumar Gujral who was made an honorary member.
Baldies International was formed in 1971 by nineteen men who had gathered at the residence of a well-known lawyer who noticed that fifteen among them were bald.
The idea of an exclusive association was then mooted and soon started functioning with 150 members including lawyers, bureaucrats, company executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers and various other professionals.
The youngest member was fifty and the oldest, KG Khosla, who was 85, was chosen president of the club.
He used to tell me: “We discuss the merits of being bald. A person seeking admission must take pride in his baldness.”
One evening, eyebrows were raised when a Sikh gentleman dropped in at the meeting and asked that he be enrolled as member. He was requested to remove his turban to prove that he was bald.
As women were present, this exercise was quietly conducted in the bath room by some committee members. When the Sardarji emerged, there were bear-hugs of welcome.
A toast was drunk for his glistening pate and good health.
There used to be much bonding among the baldies of Delhi who enjoyed their evenings in a carefree atmosphere. They used to crack jokes at each other and mimicked politicians.
They and their wives revelled in reciting Urdu couplets and singing film songs. They had evocative nicknames like Moonshine, Will-Shine and Sunshine.
Their octogenarian president, KG Khosla, used to say that one’s character and personality could be ‘read’ by examining the shape and size of one’s bald head! “If you are bald in the front, you are a thinking man. If you are bald at the back, you come under the category of being sexy. Those who are bald on both sides think they are sexy.”
The members of the Baldies International traced their lineage to the greats of yesteryear: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, C. Rajagopalachari and Winston Churchill.Their role models today are T.N. Seshan, L.K. Advani and Anupam Kher.
They concede that their wives are responsible for their baldness, while the wives retort saying that they are responsible for the success of their husbands.
For centuries mankind has been fighting a losing battle against baldness. A friend of mine in Delhi has a standard reply for his loss of hair. “I have ridden a scooter for so long that the wind has blown away all my hair!”
But, one should beware of hair-restoring remedies and clinics to regain lost hair, he cautions. According to science, hair doesn’t just fall out. It cycles down and baldness runs parallel with age.
A 30-year-old person loses 30 per cent of hair; a 50-year-old loses 50 per cent. And so it goes on and on over the years, saving one the money spent on hair oils and the dreary routine of looking into a mirror daily to comb one’s hair.
The only losers are barbers.
Many years ago, at about the same time when the baldies formed their club in Delhi, Americans tested a hair-growing drug called monoxide without much success. “It is only thin fuzz that was not cosmetically significant. They wasted a lot of money on a useless experiment,” remarked the secretary of Baldies International.
According to medical science, the human scalp has some about 2,000 strands of hair that multiplies at a tremendous rate and that’s what the barbers need. If, by a miracle, one doesn’t lose hair until one gets old, one produces some 15 pounds of hair very year. By normal combing, brushing and shampooing, one loses hair daily.
While the loss of hair in the younger people is replaced pretty fast, once they are thirty, the rate of their hair loss exceeds the rate of growth and gradually baldness becomes visible.
Women also seem to follow a balding pattern. “After equal rights and equal pay, this has to come,” my friend Lakshman Tandon (now no more), used to joke. He used to be the advertising manager of the Times of India and was a founder-member of the Delhi club.
Doctors say that young women who frequent beauty parlours to get their hair done, discarding ancient time-tested grandmother remedies for glossy hair and abundant growth, are wasting their money and time. They add that mechanical stress inflicted by beauticians gradually loosens one’s hair roots. Prolonged traction can also cause hair loss resulting in permanent baldness. I know of some women who wear wigs.
One shouldn’t get worked up or worry bout the loss of one’s hair. One should also avoid a tensed lifestyle. Nervousness and worry are enemies of good hair growth.
Despite all this, if you become bald, celebrate your baldness by starting a club wherever you live.
ONCE UPON A TIME, EARLY IN THE MORNING…
Like an unhurried hiker, I walked through the streets of Mysore which had been washed by a light rain the previous night.
My eyes feasted on the enchanting carpets of fallen flowers–the yellow tabebuia, purple jacaranda, pink and white acacia, besides other blooms.
The air was rich with the fragrance of floral bounty, accentuated by the aroma of jasmine and ‘sampige’ wafting from homes which also had bushes of croton, a guava tree and a coconut palm.
I could hear girls playing on the harmonium as they practised their music lessons while their mothers were busy washing the house-fronts with cow dung and decorating them with eye-catching rangoli designs.
Breakfast was already cooking in some homes and I could smell the oggarane––a seasoning of dried chilli and mustard seeds fried in oil, an essential ingredient of Mysore cuisine.
Small groups of people, some wearing the traditional Mysore turban, were enjoying their morning walk. I followed one which was heading for my favourite restaurant in town.
For many decades, its proprietor refrained from naming his establishment which became better known as ‘Nameless’, whose speciality continued to be the “set” which I ordered for myself.
The “set” served on a banana leaf was a pile of four soft dosas, free from oil and topped by coconut chutney, potatoes and two small pats of butter.
Some ‘Nameless’ regulars who were butter-addicts brought in their own larger stock from a nearby shop. They would splash the butter with ferocious fervour on the warm ‘sets’ whose softness seemed to resist the probe of their fingers.
All of us washed down our ‘sets’ by drinking the celebrated Mysore brew––the steaming filtered coffee.
To those with a low appetite or a lean purse, or wanting to share the “sets” and coffee, the restaurant ungrudgingly offered “one-by-two” and even one-by-three” service which is something very special to Mysore: Your right to eat the quantity you needed or to share it with another was recognised by the owner.
Mysore then was free from the impact of the broad gauge train and the jet plane.
It was famous not only for its cuisine but also for agarbathis (scented incense sticks), areca, betel, silk and sandal. One was struck by the vast variety and abundance of flowers in the markets and their regular use by every one in town. Jasmine––mallige–-was the people’s favourite.
Right opposite the restaurant where I ate, I saw many girls and women buying arm lengths of jasmine to adorn their plaits. The most popular book of modern Kannada poetry by K.S. Narasimha Swamy is named after the jasmine––Mysooru Mallige.
I returned home in an auto rickshaw which was also filled with jasmine scent. In front of the driver was a framed picture of Hanuman decorated with strings of mallige.
I complimented him on his good taste only to be told that he had to eat only half a ‘set’ at the restaurant so that he could buy the flowers.
Did not Saadi say that if he had two loaves, he would sell one and buy a narcissus?