In May, there’s a calm that sweeps across south India. The heat slows all living things down and the wind is thought of as a nurturing mother. Even flies get lethargic. Heat aside, sweat aside, the calm that this season brings is coupled with a childlike glee that arrives in the form of a fruit.
My first memory of eating a mango dates back to the ages of 3-5. Around this age, we spent summers in a tiny village known as Narsapur. My grandma had this wonderland of a yard that had mango and papaya trees. We, my brother,cousins, and I spent hours in this mini farm–climbing trees, plucking fruit, playing hide and seek. The mangoes from my grandmother’s yard were so juicy that as I ate them the juice would run down my arms all the way to my elbow like giant, yellow tears. I’m telling you there is nothing more satisfying than eating a mango that you just plucked off a tree. It is the one fruit I miss the most from my homeland.
My first mango season in the US, I was as excited as a child on the first day of summer vacation. My aunt bought a couple of boxes of mangoes home and we had to wait a few days for them to ripen–the most arduous wait of my 10 year old life. On Saturday, the mangoes were finally ready and we sliced them for dessert after church. The sweet familiar smell melted away the sadness that lived in my core that year from having left my life in India behind. The first bite, however, proved the sharp change that had been this move: leaving behind everything and everyone I know and settling into a country that felt so far away from who I was and what I knew. The taste was just not sweet enough, not powerful enough, I remember refusing to eat the rest of the portion on my plate. That afternoon, with too many mangoes on our plates, my parents, brother, and I shared our memories of eating the best fruit to ever exist. We laughed about the shameless large yellow stains that decorated all my shirts and dresses during mango season, the time Dad, Sam, and I planted a bunch of mango seeds in hopes of growing our own, and the gleeful aroma the wind spread during this season. It took me years to accept the imported western mangoes.
After lunch with my family a few Saturdays ago, my mom pulled out a box of mangoes and tried to hand them off to me. While I negotiated how many I can actually eat before they began to rot, the aroma of the mangoes swept me away to a time when refusing a mango was a sin. As a girl in India, I spent all Mango season eating mangoes. I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate them with chapatis, sliced, and drank their juice directly. This was a time when I relied on my parents for my food choices. This was a time when there were seasons for fruits and you could only eat certain fruits during certain seasons. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have this experience at the time because when mango season was over I mourned it for quite a while. It didn’t occur to me that if I got mangoes year round, it would come from far away and thus not taste as good. I always knew that if I returned to India it would be during mango season.
After a long negotiation with my loving, but pushy mom, I took three mangoes that I smelt and tested for firmness before making my decision. Each day that week I couldn’t wait to get home because I knew I would have a perfectly ripe mango waiting for me. My favorite part of a mango has always been eating the seed because you have to get dirty to eat it right. As I bit into the end of the mango seed, I was transported back to a time when I didn’t need to be there for others, a time when I didn’t have responsibilities, a time when I didn’t worry about being a bad friend, daughter, sister, teacher.
A week later after all three of my mangoes were consumed and I mourned their absence, the universe sent me a small gift: I had a friend make me a mango yogurt parfait that blew me away. It had layers of vanilla yogurt with layers of mango puree mixed with cinnamon, orange juice, and honey, and topped off with a Kiwi. Yes, it was more like dessert than breakfast. Each spoonful was a luxurious morsel of flavors and textures–flavors that had the power to heal a heavy heart or a tired soul. On my way home from breakfast, I got to thinking about how I couldn’t even remember the taste of an Indian mango.
This year, one of my close friends has gone through a big life change. Thus, our relationship is going through some changes. Initially, I was sad, angry, frustrated. I didn’t want to accept this new stage in our relationship and kept fighting for the old. When you have a taste of genuine love and support from a friend, it’s hard to let that go. So, yes everything changes–sometimes sharply, sometimes fluently, but I have been the type of person that pushes the plate away refusing to accept the new fruit in front of me. When I did this with the mangoes, it was I who didn’t get to eat and accept the subtle differences in flavor. It was I who didn’t get to experiment by adding mango to cereal or oatmeal.
Tonight I was watching Sister Wives (yes, I am a shameless fan who watches waiting for one of the wives to say they want monogamy). In this episode, one of the wives was struggling with acceptance and the other, older wife said things are so much easier when you begin to accept people as they are. This stuck with me because I have been sulking around, dwelling on how much I miss this friend and how different things are and how I have a hole in that place where she used to be in my life–I can be a bit melodramatic; I blame it on my early exposure to Bollywood films. The truth is once I accepted that I would have mangoes from India once in a while, and I still have these “American” mangoes that can be an ingredient in several dishes and not just fruit, this is when I began to really enjoy mangoes again. Today, although I may not remember the taste, I know it exists and whenever I visit in May, I can have an Indian mango in all it’s glory again. So both flavors exist and I have access to one more than the other, but this doesn’t mean that I will never have an Indian mango again.
Similarly, things are different right now in this relationship. This doesn’t mean that I will never experience the closeness we once had. Additionally, once I accept her for who she is today, I may be able to taste the calm, the glee, the support in a whole new way than before. Mango Season is here, I say bring on the soulfully sweet rivers of acceptance.