Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mango Memories

Yesterday when I saw a mango vendor on a Chennai street my mind went back to childhood days in Olavipe and I decided to do this post.

Before starting to write today, out of curiosity I looked up the Web about mangoes and of course came across Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Climbing The Mango Trees – A Memoir Of A Childhood In India’. Then there was ‘Once Upon A Mango’, a nice article by Lavina Melwani in today’s Little India, which begins, “It was a love affair long before we knew what love was. They were golden, dripping with a heavenly juice, fleshy and aromatic.” That was on the banks of the Ganges. My love affair with mangoes started in Olavipe, my home in Kerala.

Basically, we had two types of mango trees – ‘nattu mavu’ (native mango tree) and ‘ottu mavu’ (budded or grafted mango tree). Nattu mavu came up spontaneously all over the place. My grandfather planted several verities of ottu mavu including Alfonso, Salem, Malgoba, Gudadad and Neelam. (Remember the saga ‘The House of Blue Mangoes’ by David Davidar? Read it if you haven’t done so yet.) Incidentally, Madhur Jafrey has dedicated her book mentioned above to ‘grandparents’.

Ottu manga was a table fruit, but that rule didn’t bind the children. For them any time was mango time. And there was no patience to wait for the fruit to be cut and served – just rip off the skin and go for the flesh.

“Almost every child growing up in India remembers climbing mango trees…” says Lavina Melvani in her article. Most of our ottu mavus were sprawling type and had low branches. It was on them that all the climbing and monkeying took place.

By contrast, nattu mavu were generally big, tall trees even though their mangoes were small in size. They were classified for different end uses. Fruits from certain trees were used exclusively for curries and chutneys. Some of the dishes made with mango, were delicious. Shrimp and mango curry, gravy fish with mango, and jackfruit nuts and mango curry were some of them. Another variety of nattu manga was for preserves like ‘salt mango’. The sweet, juicy type was mainly for making a sun-dried delicacy called ‘thera’, a kind of mango mat, which would stay till the next mango season provided they were kept well-hidden from the children.

The ottu mavus of grandfather are all gone. What we have today are the ones planted by the subsequent generations. Of these, the pride of place goes to a Prior mango tree planted by Appan (father). Today I found a Blog, ‘Underneath the Mango trees’ that rates Prior mango ‘the best of the best’!

Possibly, there is a connection between Prior and my family, Parayil. This view by some historians is based on a letter dated October 18, 1870 written to the sisters of a convent by Blessed Elias Chavara when he was the prior of a monastery. It reads (translated by me from Malayalam) “This mango was sent to me by Parayi. Out of the two types, the red ones are the best in India… Having known its taste, I am sending it for germination.” Perhaps, later, one of these two types of mangoes came to be called ‘Prior’.

It would appear that these wonderful fruits have only plus points. New research reportedly indicates that mangoes may be good for diabetes and cholesterol control and in resisting cancer.


Also see:

Mango trees: 'ottu mavu' and 'nattu mavu'

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