I have just returned to work from the heady aamras- poli (or phulka, to be politically correct) lunch. For the uninitiated, aam = mango, ras = juice, poli/phulka = Indian flatbread. Now why am I writing about mangoes, when the rest of the folks back home are celebrating monsoon (or the lack thereof) with bhajias, pakoras and adrak-wali chai? Because here in Taiwan, my dear readers, we are celebrating summer. Oh, glorious, glorious summer. Early morning sunrises, clear, blue blue skies, hot, humid temperatures, cooler nights, rain free days (for now), longer daylight, plenty of sunshine, general happiness all around – an all’s-right-with-the-world kinda feeling. Because of the mangoes. Let me explain..
The other day I spotted this peti at the Yongchun evening market. And promptly lapped it up. This was all the confirmation I needed that summer was well and truly here.
For summer always meant mangoes. It also meant school vacations, lounging around reading books, and eating aamras poli for lunch, and barely eating any veggies/curries, dal–rice or such non-mango items. With the exception, perhaps,of dahi bhat or chilled buttermilk.
The first mango would be bought for Akshay Tritiya, and promptly offered to God first. This date generally fell somewhere in April. The hapoos would still be quite expensive then (Rs 700-800 a dozen). So the steady stream of mangoes started arriving only after May (This was also the best time to really enjoy the fruit, as the results of the past academic year, and the tension leading up to the D-day was over and dealt with by 1st May). These were typically the Devgad or Ratnagiri hapoos (the Valsaad hapoos would arrive later in May). First came a few loose dozens. Then when the time was right, Ashok, our Topiwala Market fruitseller deemed it fit to pass on the peti of 5-6 dozen.
The mangoes for the peti would be carefully selected by Ashok himself, so the bottom-most layers were full of green unripe kairis (raw mangoes). The second layer from the top had more greenish-yellow mangoes. And the topmost layer was full of yellowish-green ones. He would dispatch this peti with one of the shop boys to our home. That was when we knew our aambyacha-ras-poli days have begun.
After a couple of days, the topmost layers turned golden yellow. That was the time to open out the full peti, check all the mangoes by airing them on newspapers for one full day, and refill the basket with straw and hay lining the unripe mangoes for a few more days. The practice Ashok followed was Eat Now, Pay Later. So these petis would be paid for mostly after July, as Ashok would meticulously note down the details of everyone’s purchases and the paltry advances paid for them. Of course he was one rich man, once June-July arrived. (Now as I write this, there is a niggling thought at the back of my mind that we ate all those mangoes on udhaari (without paying). But as Ashok would say then, I am not running away anywhere, and neither are you. So eat the fruit when it is best, think about the money later).
Throughout May then, this would constitute our lunch. My mom had, by then, realised the futility of cooking anything else, and gave in to our insatiable mango appetites. This was the only time, when polis would be made by the dozen in our primary rice-eating-and-loving household.
Because hapoos was thought to be ushna or heat inducing, the carefully selected mangoes from the peti would be soaked in cold water for 3-4 hours. We would wake up to mom setting aside the ripe, wrinkly ones selected for the day. For making the ras, the mangoes would be kneaded and softened, to loosen up and wring out the flesh. The top black part of the mango would be plucked off and the mango juice would be emptied out in a big vessel. The skins then would be overturned and pulp would be extracted out. The same followed for the koy or seed. We were given these skins and seeds later on to lick clean. Since dad was far to accomplished in making the ras, there would be hardly any fleshy bits left on the skin or seeds, and we would be thoroughly disappointed. We preferred then if mom made the ambyacha ras.
Now some households would treat the skin and seeds in water and then milk to extract all the precious and glorious meat of the hapoos, but we never did that. Nor did we add black pepper or dry ginger as some were wont to, or extra sugar to make it sweet. It was just plain and pure mango. Our ras would never be diluted by milk or churned through the mixer for even-ness. We delighted in finding the chunks of the mango meat in our ras, and savoured these bits in the end. This would be accompanied by hot polis or phulkas doused liberally in ghee, just off the hot tawa. The ghee would be added by spoonfuls to the ras as well, and then what followed was a brahmanandi taali (mango heaven). Two-three watis of the ras thus slurped down, and we would head towards our favourite nooks to sleep off the sugar-induced drowsiness. For me, it meant curling up with my favourite book, and escaping into a faraway land.
Mango back then, also meant only hapoos (alfonso). While I grudgingly gave in to at least a paayri, or a kesar, my brother would turn up his nose at any other mango variety. So hapoos it was. Until we moved to Hyderabad. That meant having to embrace benishaan and peddarassal – but not for the snob my brother was. For a long time, and till the advent of online grocery shopping, that was my mango-world. After seven long years of hapoos-less hapless existence, my joy knew no bounds when I ordered first hapoos online and it was promptly delivered in a week. The sone pe suhaga, was the surprise delivery, when some customer ordered hapoos online and gave a wrong address, and the vendor unable to trace him and instead of taking the shipment back decided to send it my way. That was one happy year.
Summer vacations did not mean any trips to any of the grandfather’s home. While we did visit a maushi in Dombivli, the summer and mango routine there was more or less the same. In fact, we ate mango for breakfast, lunch and dinner there. We hardly visited Hyderabad in summers, as it was too hot for us Mumbai folks. Summer in Hyderabad meant you had to eat the peddarassal ambyacha ras, which just didn’t make the cut. It was too watery for one. Mama, tujha ambyala dorya aahet (Uncle, your mango has too many threads), I would whine. So it suited me just fine to while away my vacations in amchi Mumbai.
I did not myself know about my love affair with the mango till…One such summer took me to Ratnagiri. My school friend had invited me to spend a week with her in their Ratnagiri . I had gone with the firm resolution to come back with the orginial Ratnagiri hapoos – a resolve that meant I had to haul back nearly 10 dozen of the fruit, which my greedy self had picked up there. If my dear friend felt that was excessive, she never mentioned it to this day (a tactful Taurus that she is). And has remained a steadfast one, my gluttony not withstanding.
The Scientist, however, was not so kind. He saw me making a fool of myself over the mangoes in Philippines on the vacation and pointed it out. I had proceeded to make a lunch of the fruit at one stop on the way to El Nido, and polished off the fruit the Indian style – politely refusing the spoon that was given to eat it with. Of course I was met with shocked gazes of foreigners, but locals’ heartily approved (and that’s more important), is the point to be noted, milord.
Cut to the present. After I have eaten my lunch alone, I get a call from the bewildered Scientist, wondering what to eat for lunch. One must note here, that the lunch menu has been relayed an hour before to him on What’s App, and he had declined. Come home to aamras-poli, I suggest, and proceed to make some more phulkas. And that is how I extract my sweet revenge.