The heady Ambemohor – Baur – Mango blossom is capable of evoking the strongest sense of nostalgia for me! My childhood home shared a common boundary with a very prolific aamrai (mango grove) and our bedroom windows looked out over the old, gnarled mango trees laden with the “mohor” or the blossoms. The delicate pink, golden blooms brought the trees to life and hung heavy in the warm air till little baby mangoes started taking shape from those flowers and brought the spring season upon us in its full glory around mid-February!
This distinct, heavy, heady fragrance also lends its name to the most popular and most-cultivated variety of rice in Konkan – the Ambemohor. As the rice cooks, the whole house is filled with that lovely fragrance and actually reminds one of mangoes long after the mango season is over! No one can pass up an offer to have this sticky, soft, “pahilya wafecha” ( steaming hot, right off the flame) Bhat, with a ladle of ghee, some varan ( plain, untempered daal) and a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime! Women crave for exotic foods during pregnancy, I craved and survived on this varan-Bhat during both of mine!!
But going back to mango blossom – the fragrance also brought promises of mangoes, warm spring days to be followed by the long, hot summer ones and the blissful vacations! But vacations and mangoes were yet some time away! Before that though, the gorging on grapes! Practically every meal and in-between would be accompanied by grapes; there were no diet tips back then on how much sugar they had or that having fruits after meals was bad for the gut! One’s gut feeling left one salivating at the thought of that sweet, cooling juice trickling down the throats after a long, hot bicycle ride home from school; and that gut feeling was more trusted that any other thoughts of damage to the gut!
The beginning of March brought in the first harvest of those much-awaited raw, green mangoes. The first batch home from the market would be consumed just like that – washed, cut and devoured greedily with a generous sprinkling of salt and chilli powder! Blissful!! Then followed panha or panna ( a cooling drink made of cooked mango pulp, mashed and blended with jaggery, salt and water.) If desired, a little cardomom powder for added flavour and a touch of saffron to enhance the already gorgeous golden colour!
The children in the family would be bathed after applying the cooked, mashed pulp all over their bodies like a pack. This was said to keep the typical summer illnesses caused by the summer heat at bay.
At least once a week in the evenings mom would make “Kairichi daal” – chana (gram) daal soaked in water for a few hours and then coarsely ground – to this add grated raw mango, salt and sugar to taste, a tempering of oil and mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida and green chilli and a garnish of green chopped coriander! Seventh Heaven!! I’m now already drooling at the mere thought!
I also remember mom leaving out buckets of water in the morning sun and adding a few neem leaves to them. The sun would warm the water by the time we were ready to have a bath ( which would usually be pretty late during the vacations) and this naturally warmed water with neem in it was again said to have anti-bacterial properties and keep summer skin ailments away.
The keeper of the aamrai was a friendly chap and would let us children pick baby mangoes from the trees occasionally. The only rule was nobody was to climb up onto the trees. We were good with that. The trees used to be laden right upto the lowermost branches and a few of us also possessed good aiming skills. In no time, we would be home with a few baby mangoes, exhilarated faces and hearts brimful of joy that only such outings can cause! None of the beautifully packaged, customised vacations can create this kind of joy!
Summer evenings meant ice creams at a nearby parlour and long bicycle rides around the house. We lived in the suburbs which at that time were sparsely populated and there were still huge tracts of land with fields and mango groves. The parents never had to worry about our safety. Traffic was low and everyone knew each other and watched out for the kids. Which also meant that there were fewer amenities, but we kids were okay with that because we had lots of space to roam around. Fancy summer camps or workshops “to keep the kids occupied” were not the norm then – kids kept themselves occupied. Parents paid for swimming lessons or bookings at the badminton courts, but we were more or less left to figure out the logistics on our own. Take a bus, walk or cycle – your choice!! The remaining time was just unstructured play time – cards, carrom and books ruled the roost!
Several evenings during the summer we had dinner on the terrace. It would be fun helping mom carry all the food and dishes upstairs and then back down. There would be a cool breeze in the evening and under the stars dinner would be a pleasant affair. As a special treat, once in a while, we would cook up there itself – on a kerosene stove – and the menu would be lip smacking batatawadas and cooling curd rice or bhel/misal and a mango milkshake. We also slept on the terrace during summers, but had to have blankets covering us, it would get so cold in the night! And friends would also be invited over often for these sleep outs – there would be eating, chatting and games well into the night till we dozed off into la la land one by one!
Early morning trips to Parvati ( a small hill bang in the middle of the city with a temple built by the Peshwas on the top and a bird’s eye view of the city) were mandatory. On the way back there would be that inevitable stop at the Amritatulya ( tea shops – a specialty of Pune) to down the hot, sweet cuppa before proceeding home. All over the city, at this time of the year, the gulmohors and jackarandas would be in full bloom – the former, a flaming red or orange; the latter a beautiful, soothing lavender; both very striking against the bright blue summer skies.
On coming home ( the parents would’ve left by then for work), but not before leaving a large bowl of ruby red watermelon cubes or tall glasses of buttermilk for us in the fridge, to be had after we got home. Small things brought so much happiness in that innocent age!
And lunch would be – daal, roti, subzi, rice and AAMRAS ( mango pulp) – no matter what the meal, the largest, most important and of course most enjoyed part of it would be the AAMRAS. To be eaten with roti and by itself, we never ran out of it, right from the first week of April till the first showers of the monsoons, in June! Bliss!!
Mango blossoms are making the air heady with their fragrance all over the city once again and the jasmine bushes are also flowering prolifically! Together they create the best sensory cocktail ever! Soon the kitchen will have the earthen red or black pot ( maath, matka) to store and cool water and a sprig of Khus added to it will add another dimension to the fragrance of spring/summer. The warm soups, rich gravies and heavy gulabjamuns of winter will make way for the lightly spiced and mildly flavoured meals and cooling drinks of summer. And thus the cycle will continue, and we will rejoice with every turn of nature’s cycle and get ready to celebrate every season with equal anticipation! Long live the glory of the seasons – for they are the ones that nurture, nourish and sustain us on this earth!