The Story of our Mango Tree
by Sujaya Mohan
It was a crisp morning and Sitabai was in the garden, plucking flowers. She couldn’t hide the gleam of pride that was radiating from her face. She was visiting her daughter’s new home for the first time, a beautiful bungalow nestled amidst landscaped gardens. She was enjoying her stay thoroughly. The landscape was dotted with several trees bearing different kinds of flowers and fruits. The highlight of her day was to walk around the garden early in the morning, pluck flowers and make garlands out of it. She would later use them to adorn the idols of worship at home, clip them on to her grand-daughters’ braids and distribute them to the nearby temples and to the neighbors.
Her son-in-law Bapurao, being a doctor by profession, was also an avid gardener. This particular morning, he was working in the garden as well. All of a sudden, she noticed a tiny sapling growing amidst a bush full of weeds. She also saw her son-in-law keenly cutting away the weeds and loosening the soil. She realized that if she did not do anything about this, it would be gone away in no time. She was unable to muster the courage and speak to him directly, as she considered it disrespectful. She quietly hurried inside and alerted her daughter, saying, “Shanta, there is a tiny mango sapling growing amidst some weeds in the backyard, so it is almost unnoticeable. Your husband is trimming the garden and if you don’t alert him, the sapling will be cut away. I am not sure about the quality or the variety, but if you let it grow, it will bear mangoes which we can at least use for preparing pickles. It also will spare you the trouble of searching for mango leaves in the neighborhood during festivals. Can you please go and stop him?” Her daughter took heed of her mother’s words and almost ran to stop her husband.
The sapling was indeed a very tiny one, to be seen only if someone noticed it keenly. It was all glossy with reddish shoots and a tinge of green here and there. In fact, they were not even sure whether this was indeed a mango sapling, but they let it grow. Under careful supervision from his mother-in-law, Bapu Rao, carefully cut the weeds around it, loosened the soil, put some manure and watered it, and thus began the story of life, a life well lived and served.
This has been the story of our Mango tree that has grown gloriously in our backyard for the past 5 decades and spanning across 5 generations, right from Sitabai who happened to be my maternal great grandmother to my 4 year old daughter Swasti. Though I haven’t had the privilege of meeting my great grandmother, not a summer goes by without me thinking about her and thanking her enough.
Every year, the tree starts its preparation for the upcoming season as early as Jan- Feb. Our entire garden gets engulfed by the sweet fragrance of its flowers, which is also an indication that the summer is just round the corner. Come March, and the tree is ready with the babies. It is such a delight to walk around the garden and find some cute little mangoes fallen off the tree here and there. As a child, this always delighted me as these heralded the arrival of so many exciting things. It is only by mid-April that the mangoes grow to their usual size, all plump and green and ready to be plucked.
It was then the time for helpers, who skillfully climbed the trees, perched on to branches, all set for mango plucking. How they used to maneuver a long stick with a hook, with a big bag tied beneath the hook! With a nudge, a push & a shout, every mango that they plucked fell directly in to the bag, almost as if it’s magic!
My grandparents kept a watch from below, with their hands shielding their eyes from the blazing sun and their chests swelling with immeasurable pride. The helpers too beamed with joy as the bags kept getting heavier. They neither owned the garden, nor the tree, but still showed so much of love and pride. The tree too reciprocated by enabling them hold onto its far stretched branches.
as they ensured that every matured mango was plucked, they slowly climbed down the tree and poured out the bags to count them. There would be around 400-500 mangoes in every batch, that would be placed in a neat row and left to ripen. The helpers got paid partly in cash and mangoes and they all promised to return the next month to pluck the next batch.
Every morning after that, my grandfather would identify the ripened mangoes. Unlike the mangoes of other varieties, the mangoes from our garden do not change their colors’ after ripening. They still remain green with tiny specks of orange/red/yellow here and there. You have to smell them, at the crown to know if they are ripened. During summer, not a single day went by, without us eating the mangoes in one way or the other.
Just as the mangoes began to ripe, the distribution ceremony also used to begin. Dozens of mangoes would be distributed to our relatives, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, colleagues, patients, even reaching out to a few more relatives staying in distant lands. The mangoes would be followed by exchange (and sometimes an overdose) of jams, chutneys, pickles, aamras and other delicacies from our houses to neighbors’ and vice versa.
After almost five decades, this tradition still lives, albeit with new additions such as ice creams and my most recent culinary experiment-the mango Cheese cake! The leaves too have been used to adorn not just our home, but several other homes in our neighborhood.
Last year, we had a visit from our neighbor. He complained that one of the branches of our mango tree had grown over his water tank. The branch had got infested with insects and due to this, the water in his tank was full of dirt and insects. He asked if he could cut this branch and we obliged. The next morning when we woke up, we found almost half of the tree chopped off. We were of course disappointed, but could not express it because of the cordial relation that we shared. Though we moved on, we somehow could not get it out of our hearts as cutting half a tree meant a huge loss to us.
After several months, I was at my terrace checking the water levels in the water tank and I suddenly noticed something. It was a tiny green sprig that had sprouted on the part of the tree that was cut off several months ago. My heart leapt with joy seeing this sign of growth.
Through all these years, this tree has seen it all, a mix of good and bad weather. In spite of bearing it all, it still stands tall in all its green glory. Whenever I look at this tree, I always feel that it beckons to me saying, “Hail or storm can come near me, but tall and strong I shall always be”.
When Sitabai planned to use the mangoes for pickles and the leaves for adornment of our home, little did she know that tree would grow and outdo itself? Unfortunately, she was no longer around to taste the first batch of mangoes borne by her tree, but what a legacy of rich foliage she left behind!
Here, in my hometown, you will find at least one mango tree in every household. Hence, it was of no real significance to me until one day my little cousin (who has now grown up to be a responsible young man), expressed his shock on seeing the mangoes growing on a tree. He hailed from a concrete jungle and was so accustomed to seeing mangoes being bought in boxes that he thought the entire life cycle of the mango transpired in a box!!
It has almost become a ritual now that every year the first fruit is offered to God. We send a little note of thanks up there for the abundance and seek his blessings to enrich our home with nature’s bounty. As we bite into the rich juicy orange flesh, the first thought from our heart goes to our great grandmother. If it hadn’t been for her keen eyes, our family would never have enjoyed the juicy mangoes for all these generations. And yes of course, if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be writing this article either! ***