Although you hear me rave about Pepper Mushroom from Punjabi Dhaba on Mount Road, Paneer Tikka from Angeethi on Banjara Hills, Palak soup from Athiti in Ameerpet, and Gobi Manchurian from a hundred and one odd places, in my opinion these appetizers are mere soldiers in the mighty army. This invincible army, in the kingdom of food is solely ruled by a supreme master – His Highness Mango Pickle. The very thought of a plate filled with hot rice, ghee, and this spicy superstar tingles and lures my senses to the “jagrathavastha” with a demand to satisfy the needs of both, my stomach and my senses. I hereby declare “Mamidikaya Ooragaayi” as the outstanding appetizer, main course and the dessert (the mango piece of course ;-)).
My dad owned a mango groove, and when I was about 4 years old, one pleasant morning my cousins dragged me into it against my will and I had my first bee sting. My pain turned into anger and hatred for the fruit. As a kid, every summer my mother took me mango shopping. I forcefully accompanied her to the “older part of the town”, where the ideal mangoes could be found. The entire pain of walking through dirty lanes where auto drivers honked annoyingly, and waiting to have your mangoes chopped to the desired size, and the rehearsed ritual of buying new spices for the occasion of pickle making always seemed mysterious to me. What kind of sadistic pleasure did my mom and grand mom find in mercilessly preserving tiny mango pieces in loads of spices and salt? Why weren’t they gracious enough to let the pour souls ripen in a month or two and let us have the beautiful yellow fruit? This kind of negligence to “torturous bliss” probably developed because as kids we were denied the pleasure of having too much pickle. And, like they did us a great favor, the elders would graciously say, “Eat your food, I’ll wash the pickle piece and give it to you”. The unnecessary drama put up by my school teachers was unforgivable. We were practically not allowed to have even little pickle gravy until we turned into 5th graders. It made me ponder if Grade 5 stimulated taste buds to withstand spice. Huh!
For the very first time, this “aam fruit” caught my sincere attention in Grade 3. “Tall Vijju Ma’am”, our English teacher was reading out to us “The Man and The Mangoes” from the Gulmohar Graded English Course. After listening to a sad story about a poor old man’s owes in an attempt to sell his basket of mangoes, she decided to go ahead with dictation. This particular teacher used a very innovative approach towards teaching us how to spell words. For example, in Grade 3, spelling the word “together” correctly was a big deal for us 8 year olds. She asked us to write “to”, “get”, “her” as three different words and then write them together. So, on this drowsy day, she asked us to write “man” in our notebooks followed by a “goes” and join them “to get her” and we got a “MANGOES”. And, so it stuck. The beauty of this word, in my perspective makes you immensely happy for two reasons. One being the mango pickle itself, and the other being the optimistic joy you get when you hear that a “MAN goes”. 😛
Here is the extent of embarrassment that I went through just for a slice of mango pickle. Like I said earlier, we were served pickle only from Grade 5, always. This particular episode, however took place when I was in Grade 4. All the lucky stars of the 35 girls in my class, got together and were in a happy disco dance mood perhaps, our H.M Aunty ordered that we could be served pickle for lunch that day. Red pickle was always served to us from a small yellow bucket, this bucket seemed to me like a path to liberation or loose motion (I don’t care ;-)). My joy knew no bounds and after a true heart /stomach filling meal, I carefully took my very own pickle piece and washed it cautiously in the dining hall pantry, held it like precious gold (very close to my heart) and made a dash to the girls dormitory. I began nibbling the piece little by little, with loads of relish. Even before I was done we were sent to bed to take a short nap. Selfish that I was, I decided to keep half of the piece for the next day. Now this whole thing had to be done slyly as bringing food outside the dining room was considered a punishable offense. Thinking of many possible ways to hide my treasure, I sought the refuge of my pillow cover at last. My shelf wouldn’t be raided and I could escape with ease. And that is what exactly I did. It WORKED. The next night, when everyone was asleep I put my hand into the pillow cover and removed the half-eaten piece of mango pickle. Trust me, it was one of the most gorgeous thing I had ever tasted. Probably because of the extreme dryness, or the stale factor (I do not know), this tasted like immortal nectar that all the Asuras fight for. I chewed on it like it was gum for a while, and loved every bit of it before the swallowing part.
I only wish this was the end! That tiny piece had woken up in me, the devil of desire for a dry mango piece. I decided that it would be my protocol each time we were served mango pickle. Two months later, another festive occasion came by and our dear H.M bestowed upon us the boon so restricted to the “big sisters and brothers”. The same steps were followed. Everything went on smoothly until the party time. We had some sort of a quiz that night and I was one of the last ones to finish it before I headed upstairs to my bed. As I approached my bed, there were a group of people around staring at it. My classmate came running towards me and said, “It was weird, there were red ants all over your bed. I did not know what to do and began dusting it and there was a dried up pickle piece. Hey! And Geetha Ma’am wants to talk to you about this”. I went heart broken to meet my class teacher and the rest was history. The royal shouting and punishment was less painful that the pining over the lost piece.
As I grew up to be a “big sister”, we were legally served pickle at least once a week. Of course, we illegally had it about 2-3 times a week. The yellow bucket was always placed on a table at the teachers counter, and each time we were sent to sit on their side of the dining room we stole it, lots of it. Yes, I am a proud pickle steal-er. If mango people are not crazy about mango pickle, what else should they be crazy about. 😀