Reminiscences And Regrets - Poem by Tan Pratonix
The smell of crushed mango leaves
Takes me back to more than forty years ago,
To early schooldays,
When little boys in khaki shorts stand
Eating tangy, raw mango slices,
Cut long and cross-wise,
Dipped in salt and chili powder –
Purchased from the push-cart vendor
Outside the huge iron school gate.
Mangoes bluish-green, tinged with purple-yellow,
Hanging from thin stems in large leafy trees;
Mangoes plucked fresh from branches,
Tasting like coconut,
Crunchy and just-sweet.
I remember baskets of dark-green mangoes
(Raw, and hard as little cannon-balls)
Purchased in lots in summer markets,
Chopped into pieces to prepare
Avakaaya – a red, hot, spicy pickle
Arriving in April in native households;
Eaten with fresh ghee and rice,
Is ambrosia for the taste-buds.
Nothing can beat the lusciously sweet, thick
Juicy slices of the golden Benisha,
A plump and lovely drupe.
(Other famous varieties found in the north –
Totapuri, Chausa, Dussehri –
Are no match for this buxom beauty,
This darling of all tropical fruit –
Save the Alphonso,
Grown in Konkan gardens.)
I’ve eaten plums, apples, cherries, grapes
(But Western fruit are no comparison really):
Loose-jacketed Nagpur mandarin
Oranges, known as Santraas,
And varieties of sugary bananas,
Besides ripe jack-fruit
(Whose flavour and texture –
Delectable it is true –
Cannot match the taste of a juicy Rasaalu)
And sticky-sweet pineapple rings, cut with a sickle,
Purchased at Ponda in the foothills of Goa.
I remember bunches of lychees in the Siliguri market,
Peeling off the hard red rind and then plopping
The smooth wet flesh, translucent white, dripping sweet,
Into my mouth, my fingers all sticky,
And then spitting out the big black seed.
These are memories from early days,
Sparked by the mild crackling scent of
Crushed mango leaves.
And now observing the evil of recent years,
In city streets, where bright yellow fruit,
Ripened with chemicals, wreck unwary consumers,
(And debilitated, they die)
While municipal authorities, their pockets
Full of bribes, turn a blind eye:
I’ve decided to reduce consumption
Of this noble fruit, thanks to the lax
Food laws of a grossly insensitive nation.
(I call this ‘mango desecration’!)
There’s a scent of Mango Leaf,
Described as ‘reminiscent of a lazy
Summer afternoon, a lushly bright, cheerful
Composition’, but I can give it a miss!
I’m not prepared for this:
Toxic fruit and genetically-modified
Gourds, brinjals and tomatoes,
Products of mad scientists,
Adding to various fears and woes.
So, with great regret, it’s
‘Goodbye, Mangoes! ’
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