The best father in the world is the best father in the world because he will start his search for mangoes for us in February, and not stop looking till September. That's at least two months on either side of the actual "season", which makes me suspicious about his source and guilty about how much he must have to pay for them. But I don't ask, he doesn't tell, and no one else in the house really understands the joy of a good huddle when new stock comes home.
As a kid, every morning before school, my father would have a tall glass of mango milkshake ready for me to spill all over my pinafore before he raced me to the bus stop (and then to school, because we always missed the bus) — I'd get all the pulp, he'd get what he could from the seed, like the sort of martyr Coldplay would approve of. Over time, much like sprinting in the opposite direction when I see him coming to ask me if I've filed my taxes, eating the first mango of the season together has become tradition. Now, as adults battling insomnia, we frequently bump into each other in the kitchen at 3 a.m. looking sheepish and stupid because Katrina Kaif is lying — there's no elegant way to eat the damn thing, especially if it's an act of stealth in the middle of the night.
Not that it needs any more reinforcing, but mangoes are my favourite thing in the world to eat. Well, and Andhra gunpowder. And butter chicken, if you really want to get into it, but now I'm just getting hungry. (Oh, and biscuits with jam in the middle. That stuff makes me CRAZY.) Because I live in Delhi, and not Bombay, I know that there's a whole world of mangoes outside the mighty bully that Alphonso is — the very yellow Chausa, the rather green but always sweet Dasheri; the fibrous Langra, the unnecessary Totapuri, the usually rewarding Safeda, the tangy Bombay Green, the fragrant Kesar, and the 100 kg mixed bag that a friend always brings me from her grandfather's farm in Jabalpur. But there's something about that bloody Alphonso that has me weak in the knees. Incidentally, this is also when I lose points with my father — it's like we were cool for as long as we both loved all mangoes just the same, but the minute I put "Happus" on a pedestal, he had to crie — I should have just left her in boarding school, the disappointment scrunched on his face will scream, my own daughter is such a fool.
This year, however, things seem out of whack. While everyone I know took to delighting in the surprise rain and hailstorms that we suddenly got pelted with in February and March, I was experiencing what experts call "full blown panic". Sure, that's my default setting anyway, but the rain situation was serious. Things are only funny for as long as they're happening to someone else. Here, a key part of what makes my summer so free of complaint despite the heinous heat — the mango crop — was getting all sorts of messed up. It's not just that prices are soaring; only one in about eight mangoes is actually worth getting your hands dirty for — the others are either rotten through, or have that weird cloying taste only something more repugnant like wheatgrass can wipe out.
Do mango aficionados — and the very fact that there exists such a thing — seem like the sort of people you can win over with a goddamn guava?
Instead of focussing on solutions to a problem we suddenly cannot blame on the government or Salman Khan, everyone's just dealing with this badly — from tantrums and sulks to walk-outs, we're doing everything we can to be unhelpful. Farmers in Gujarat seem to have shut shop and gone on extended leave, thanks to the rain completely uprooting mango trees in their orchards over five times this year already, causing (so far) an 80% loss in overall production, and pretty much marking the end of Kesar for us this season. You'd think someone would give them some morale-boosting monetary compensation...but turns out the State has 99 problems and a mango-grower ain't one.
A news report from Visakhapatnam announced that the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) has decided to simply not focus on mangoes any more — they're now looking at coffee, pepper and apples instead. LOL, whut? Are they kidding? Does no one else see how pointless apples are? Does anyone care about them outside Himachal?
Further up, almost 30% of the mango crop in Uttar Pradesh has reportedly been destroyed by the rain — to put that in some perspective, mango orchards in the state are sprawled across some insane 8,00,000 acres with an annual output of about 38-40 lakh tonnes of mangoes — so 30% of that is a lot of wasted potential. Lucknow's panicked Plan B, it turns out, was to drop its export-quality Malihabadi-famed mangoes altogether this year, and instead distract everyone with the "Lucknow-49", which is... wait for it... a guava! Do mango aficionados — and the very fact that there exists such a thing — seem like the sort of people you can win over with a goddamn guava? To add salt to what should have been a raw mango, but is now just an open wound, some needlessly interfering World Bank-funded thing called the "Diversified Agriculture Support Project" is urging farmers in the region to grow turmeric, ginger and peas in the mango orchards. Yeah. We really need more mattar, guys, good call.
All out of options, my grandmother has started making do with tetrapacked juice, my brother has taken to ordering kale chips from the grocery story because gluten-free, joyless superfood, bro, and my mother's just been rolling her eyes at me and my father looking despairing and desperate.
Far away in a corner of Gujarat's Tukwada village, a faceless group seems to be the only one on the right track — despite all the recently installed security cameras and a 24-hour vigil, over 30 incidents of mango theft have been reported over the last month, with "mango gangs" having escaped with a cool 35,000 kg of different kinds of mangoes. My new superheroes? Most definitely. My father and I want in.