As a kid, watching my grandpa slice a mango was the definite highlight of many a summer evening. Talk about simple times!
Back in the early 80's we lived with my grandparents in Bombay. My memories of that time are compartmentalised into special events; the colour of the candle on my 2nd birthday, watching my beaming mum wheel a red cycle through the building gate & slowly realising it was for me (I'm pretty slow that way), helping my grandma make vadaam for the year, the smell & colour of salt and chillies mixed with aavakaay in barani (porcelain) jars, the buzz around the house during Diwali and Avaniaatam...
It was a different life; one with games of chor-police, yellow plastic bat cricket, The World this Week on the telly and of course, mangoes in summer. My grandpa being the patriarch of our mob, would take on the very serious task of buying, cutting & distributing mangoes. A strict disciplinarian with generations of tam-brahmness behind him, he would approach the season in his own eclectic way. The event lasted as long as mangoes were available, starting with the tangy parrot-beak variety, shifting to the alphonso & culminating a few months later with another type which I don't remember anything about except the large size.
With all the grace & mystery of an extended tea ceremony session, my grandpa divided the process into clear stages; the extensive inspection of the fruit at the markets, Good-Bad-Ugly-esque calculated price bargaining and packing the raw mangoes in the rice drum till they ripened. I remember the numerous occasions I'd anxiously peep into the drum with a concern people usually reserve for newborns. When he deemed the mangoes ready, grandpa would take the ceremonial knife (or so I thought) and begin to sharpen it on a granite slab. If I were lucky, I'd get to help... and take my word for it, the rhythmic, rasping sound as steel brushed against stone was a lovely tone.
Post dinner, grandpa would seat himself in a corner of the room with a large steel plate, a couple of mangoes and the now-gleaming knife. The family would gather around, but pride of place (and the one closest to the action) was mine. Grandpa would pick up a mango, speculatively move it around in his hand for the best grip, take the knife, place it against the skin of the fruit and...
It was effortless. The yellow skin would come off in long, curling layers at remarkable speed. All the while, the fruit would be held perfectly - not a drop of juice would fall on the plate. Once completed, slices of yellow gold, in sizes and shapes alien to geometry, would begin to plop down on the plate, till there was only the seed left. The first piece was my grandpa's, but the second was always mine. The plate would get passed around till everyone took pity on me and gave it back; the carnage that followed would put hyenas to shame. 3 months of encore performances later, the season was over.
As long as I lived in that house, this was a summer ritual. Eventually, the family moved abroad for a while & then pitched the permanent tent in Pune. My fascination for mangoes & appreciation for grandpa's efforts began to fade.
Today, 20-odd summers on, I tried to skin a mango and failed to bring an iota of the finesse that my grandfather demonstrated all those years ago. I think about an 82 year old gentleman in Bombay who now suffers from Alzheimer's disease and hasn't cut a mango in years. I wonder about the many things life has given and taken away from us...
Thatha, I do not have your mango-cutting finesse. But I can write about it.
Song for the moment: Ajeeb dastaah hai yeh - Lata Mangeshkar (Dil apna aur preet parai)