More from my email inbox (this time only two days out of date):
It’s been a long time since the last missive, mostly due to some combination of business and personal travel, and the fact that once mango season begins, there really isn’t anything for anyone to do but gorge on the fruit. I’m no stranger to the mango’s delights, but it had been nearly six years since I’d had any of the sub-continental varieties. And I guess I’d never really focused on the post-modern ambiguities of the mango, the extremely “localized” nature of various mango narratives and mythologies that all but ensure that two amateur mangophiles are often unsure as to whether or not they are talking about the same varieties. Thus, the Sunehra of North India is the dense and almost sour Kesari in Bombay parlance (isn’t it?); the Banganapalli of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu is the Badaami from Gujarat and up north (or is it?); but what of the large yellow ones I feasted on over the course of a June weekend in Bhopal – simply the best mangos I’ve had so far this season, not yet pulpy and over-ripe, no longer hard yet sustained by the firmness I prize above all else when it comes to mangos (flavor? Of course the fruit needs flavor, but the best mangos are as much marvels of texture as taste; and if you’re one of those who prefers to suck your mangos rather than bite into them, you should simply stop reading this, as you’ve clearly never grown up) – referred to as Badaami by this Bombay-born Bhopali; Safaidy by another; and Baynishaan by a Hyderabadi visitor? I instinctively sided with the expansive promise of the last: Badami would do for the more generic mangos of that ilk that I’d been having in Bombay and Delhi; and Banganapalli (or my family’s own variant, the Baingan Palli) seemed to require a more intimate (or at least a Southern) setting. For mangos this perfect, “Baynishaan” promised matchlessness.
But mango consumption is post-modern not just because the names promise no stability, but also because of the structure of deferral this fruit seems to thrive in. The sensational Langda I discovered in Noida, delicate and floral to the tongue but also as fibrous as the Chaunsa I knew quite well from childhood trips to Karachi, was surely the last word on the variety? Ah, the company guest-house’s caretaker Rajinderji told me, real Langdas begin to arrive a few weeks later. The sickly sweet little Dussehris, so lauded by U.P.-waalas and so disappointing that I asked several times if I really was eating one of the 46 mango varieties mentioned in Ghalib’s letters? No no, everyone said, the good Dussehris aren’t available until after the rains. Fair enough, but at least I’d get to try Hyderabad’s legendary Himayath when I’d visit my aunt in that city later in the summer? – but it’s too late, my cousin murmured, the Himayath is an early¬-season mango. Ah, I see. So not much to do but to stay put in Bombay, every year in the grip of Alphonso-mania, the little mangos flourishing during a brief pre-monsoon season and at the center of a fanatical cult, the core precept of which requires adherents to regard anyone who prefers mangos other than ones named for Portugese monarchs with contempt and pity. And no question, they were very good – but but but, more than one colleague told me, this year the harvest in Ratnagiri hasn’t been very good, the Alphonsos are simply not as good as they usually are. Too early, or too late, and never quite the right time.
There is the small matter of accommodation: I have found a place to stay since I last wrote to all of you. After seeing dozens of apartments all over the central and northern suburbs, I fell for one in the very suburb my broker had advised me to go for on the first day of my quest. What can I say, he was right: it isn’t just the fact that in Bandra (West), no-one seemed to care whether I was a bachelor, a non-veg, or a Muslim; or even that I’m a five minute walk from the sea at Carter road in one direction, and leafy Pali Hill in the other. No, it’s the fact that in contrast to the scores of Dubai-style apartment buildings that seem to be cropping up all over the city, old Bandra has charm by the bucketloads – in its quiet side-streets, its fading (few remaining) Christian cottages and villas, in the crosses that one stumbles upon walking around – some with “J.N.R.J.” or even the odd “J.N.R.I.”, but others with greater fidelity to the Latin, hence “I.N.R.I.” – in the gulmohar tree outside my window that startled me red one morning, changing color from dull green virtually overnight and transforming my rather pedestrian bedroom view into something magical. The downside to this charm? A weeks-long hassle getting a cooking gas cylinder, and don’t even get me started on the ancient electrical and bathroom fixtures I need to replace. In the meantime, the place has become home: the gym is a 15 minute walk away,* and the books, posters, and computer I’d had shipped from New York (and without which the place was simply an apartment) arrived none the worse for wear.
*[A follow-up to my story about the free gym associated with the Powai guest-house? I thought you’d never ask. Suffice it to say, at the end of the torturous road I’d laid out in my last letter, and still some time away from moving to Bandra, I had my form, my documentation, but more importantly I had hope. I filled it out, until I got to the point where I needed the apartment owner’s signature. Undaunted, I took the form to work to hand in to the Admin department. And heard nothing for a couple of days, until a sheepish colleague from that department materialized in my office. The guest-house lease will be up in a couple of months, he told me. And? We were in the middle of tough negotiations with the landlord as far as the rent was concerned. I see. He lives in London. Of course. All of which could only mean one thing. Sir, I don’t think he’ll sign until we resolve the issue. Simple, really. It isn’t that I was beaten, it’s just that one cannot fight fate, and it was my fate to be denied access to the free gym at Hiranandani Gardens. I moved out shortly thereafter, and now pay for my work-outs. Moral of the story: the cheap stay flabby.
No, that’s lazy, I was right the first time: in the face of malignant fate, there is no moral. A month or two after I moved out, another expat, a new hire, arrived. When last heard, she was merrily using the Hiranandani gym.]