Why I don't get the fuss about mangoes
Amidst all the debates about the ‘best mango ever’, it is lonely to be indifferent to the king of fruits
Like the writer of our cover story last weekend, I was suddenly forced to pay attention to mangoes one morning last week by an illustrated guide to Indian mango varieties doing the rounds of Twitter, and the hot debate it had engendered.
People were hurt by the exclusion and non-representation of their favourite varieties, and some had started their own memes and threads protesting such injustice. “What is all this fuss about," I wondered aloud on Twitter, knowing full well that I was being deliberately provocative (or as a friend put it rather more inelegantly, “how bored are you that you’re trolling mango fans?").
But it’s true. I don’t get the fuss over mangoes. I can barely tell one variety from the other. I have no fondness for or even recollection of the langda mango from Bihar, which people tell me is vying for the top spot of best mango in the world, and which was consumed by the kilo by my family when I was growing up in my hometown in Bihar (now in Jharkhand). I want to root for it reflexively, but I don’t remember its taste or smell or colour; I just remember that it was very fibrous and I didn’t particularly care for it, unlike a cousin who kept a ledger of mangoes eaten over a summer, painstakingly recording details like the name of the variety consumed, numbers eaten at one sitting etc.
All the debates over ‘best mango ever’ leave me puzzled and indifferent, and I am definitely in a minority among passionate mango nerds, which is most of India.
Yes, I will eat a mango if it’s cut up nicely and put on a plate in front of me. I will have a mango mensakai, the Konkan sweet-tangy-spicy curry made of raw mangoes that inevitably shows up at a friend’s lunch table every summer. Don’t burn me for a heretic, but the form in which I most enjoy mangoes is an overpriced churan sold from temporary stands in malls (remember malls?).
I have decided that right now my favourite variety is the bainganpalli (because it’s the most widely available in Bengaluru, and often the cheapest) but this is a spurious position to take because I have no idea what other varieties taste like. The only thing about mangoes that excites me are some of the beautiful, evocative names (many of which I will admit I have only recently learnt): totapuri, imampasand, mallika, neelum, himsagar…unfortunately, the landga does not even share this distinction.
It is lonely to be mango-indifferent in a land of mango lovers. I can sometimes feel annoyed by all the brouhaha, and uncharitably decide that people are exaggerating their passion for the fruit to be interesting.
But even though the mango wars rage on social media every year, this time I have decided to be kinder. In a world where so many things are gone from our lives (I miss malls), people still have mangoes and mango wars. They represent a slice of normalcy in a topsy-turvy world. So when my apartment WhatsApp group buzzed with information about a farmer in distress selling his mango stock at dirt-cheap prices, I didn’t tune out. When the farmer’s van turned up a couple of days ago with crates and crates of alphonso, bainganpalli and imampasand, I lined up dutifully with my neighbours, bags in hand and masks on faces.
It was the first time I had seen that many people together in a long time.