Where the Koel Sings…

 I see the solitary green mango stare at me from across a crowded aisle in the rundown Asian supermarket near my place. It stands alone and proud, untouched by the chaos and the mess from the overflowing shelves all around it – the sole occupant of a now empty cardboard carton. I pick it up on an impulse and bring it back to the counter to pay for it. “$4”, the lady behind the counter tells me. $4 it is then, for a slice of firm and unripe tartness. My head is agog with ideas even as I balance it precariously on the top of all my other shopping and bring it back home. A sole green mango in a season of downpours and biting winds offers a host of endless opportunities – for an unripe mango in the winter is a harbinger of sultry summers now relegated to dusty memories.

 

A summer evening long ago – a shimmer of silk, a pile of sandals and shoes outside a neighbouring house as we sat crossed legged on the floor inside, the ladies and the girls of the neighbourhood feasting on the ambe-dal – soaked and cooked horse gram piquantly seasoned with grated raw mango and a smattering of red chillies- handed to us in leaf cups; downing the gossip, the giggles and occasional sharp bite of the chilli as the hostess passed around the ‘panha’ (the juice of unripe mangoes flavoured with jaggery and cardamom) in small steel tumblers.

 

A small hand held securely in a weather beaten one, even as we waited to cross the road, with our goodies of more ambe dal to eat later, packed securely in those green leaf cups. “Hold my hand tightly, don’t let go – we are near the main road now”, “I can’t, I am trying to eat the dal with one hand”, “Can’t you wait till we get home?”. Ah, but you couldn’t wait really, the first lesson that summer taught you was that the seasons race you by; if you waited for too long, summer was gone in the blink of an eye and you were left with an empty longing for the geriatric mango trees to blossom again.

 

Long summer afternoons, stupor in a never-ending siesta around the winding roads of the dusty town, as the whirr of the ceiling fans was occasionally punctuated by a koel’s cry in a far away mango tree. “Ah, the first messenger that the monsoons have arrived on the outskirts of the town”, the old octogenarian neighbour would say.  Sudden storms, angry, dark skies lashing out at a parched earth. Green mangoes raining on the tin roofs of the washing sheds around the neighbourhood. Teeth clamped together in a moment of pure delight as the mangoes and the chilli powder overpowered your senses. The rain, threateningly close now – on your doorstep almost. “Come in, come in now”, the mothers and the aunts and the grandmothers would shout in unison even as giant surges of powerful moonson winds lured the half dried clothing away from the clothes-lines.

 

Then there were the summer holidays in a place away from home but as good as home. Anticipation looming large in the confines of the shaded drawing room where the gaggle of cousins lay sprawled, half asleep and half awake waiting for the clock to strike four o’clock. For four o’clock was official tea time. The time when the aunts and the uncles gathered around the old, rickety dining table and downed hot tea as the hot afternoon stood sullenly outside, and ruffled our hair and humoured our requests for ice-cream and bhel and panipuri at the promenade around the now dried-up lake. “Look at the heat outside”, they would laugh, “why don’t we wait till the sun sets? How will you eat your ice-creams if the sun melts them before you can eat them?” “The poor bhel wallah”, my aunt would say, admonishing us mildly at this point, “is probably having his afternoon rest at this time. Let us wait, shall we, till he can step out for the evening and start making bhel?”

 

Late evening walks along the crowded lakeside. Bhel with raw mangoes, icecream in tiny cones that left sticky, happy tattoes of summer on your arms and elbows. The delighted squeals of children from somewhere over the lake. Crowded rickshaw rides back home to comforting meals eaten on the terrace, even as the day started to cool down. The first stars of the night, the sharp smells of mango blossoms wafting over the terraces and the balconies where summer holidays were being enacted in all their mirth. Falling asleep to the tune of All India Radio even as sleep claimed the last of the grown up cousins who had dared everyone that he would stay awake all night.

 

The king of all fruit – the Alphonso, being brought home royally in rickety wooden crates, covered with layers of soft hay. A quick glimpse before the Alphonso was relegated to the dark, cool interiors of the house, usually beneath an old bed, even as the fruit was brought out every couple of days for an aamras feast. Chins, hands and plates being covered in a golden hue as the sweet, rich tones of the mango became the subject of a summer slumber.

 

The places, the moments, the people are no longer around. They are now sepia memories in old albums, reiterating the lesson that summer taught us long ago that the seasons do waltz by, that a moment ends for a memory to be born. Those that roamed the streets with you hunting for summer’s bounty have now moved away. The streets have changed; the trees are no longer there. The loved one that held your hand as you waited in line for ice-cream is now a black and white photograph on your dressing table. Summer has long since disappeared, leaving a trail of muted and distant sounds behind.

 

The heart follows its own seasons though, and for that we should be thankful. Because sometimes a raw green mango in a lone cardboard carton in a land far away from home, takes you down memory lane again. Like an errant summer shower, a memory arrives and leaves you less parched in its wake. Because in some remote recess of the heart, the koel sings eternally of her songs of a distant land and the monsoons are always waiting on the outskirts of the town.

  

 

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Altoid
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 11:42:22

    Sigh…summer days from a bygone era in a faraway land indeed!

    Reply

  2. Maria
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 11:43:23

    Scarlet,

    Lovely lines…I liked the following a lot:

    “The heart follows its own seasons though, and for that we should be thankful. Because sometimes a raw green mango in a lone cardboard carton in a land far away from home, takes you down memory lane again. Like an errant summer shower, a memory arrives and leaves you less parched in its wake. Because in some remote recess of the heart, the koel sings eternally of her songs of a distant land and the monsoons are always waiting on the outskirts of the town.”

    Mangoes…certainly trigger memories…sometimes bittersweet:) I suppose- even when we make a small nest for ourselves somewhere in the world…a small part of us resides somewhere..with the places we left behind!

    Do keep writing!
    Maria

    Reply

  3. bilbo
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 16:21:21

    The places, the moments, the people are no longer around. They are now sepia memories in old albums, reiterating the lesson that summer taught us long ago that the seasons do waltz by, that a moment ends for a memory to be born. Those that roamed the streets with you hunting for summer’s bounty have now moved away. The streets have changed; the trees are no longer there. The loved one that held your hand as you waited in line for ice-cream is now a black and white photograph on your dressing table. Summer has long since disappeared, leaving a trail of muted and distant sounds behind.

    Loved this para totally and absolutely. Though I must admit, its hard and totally unfair to even chose any one thing out of the whole. its all very beautiful

    Reply

  4. priyamvada
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 19:11:21

    “Because in some remote recess of the heart, the koel sings eternally of her songs of a distant land and the monsoons are always waiting on the outskirts of the town.”

    Scarlett….You just made me cry….your words are as profound as they are poetic.

    Priya.

    Reply

  5. ardra
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 05:03:04

    reading this post somehow reawakened a yearning that i had forcefully sedated and put to slumber…all the inevitable changes wroght by time…one makes a bold attempt to accept in apparent nonchalance…but words soaked in such feelings rudely reminds one that the longing is still smouldering beneath the sleeping memories…
    the koel keeps singing, but remains invisible…

    and i love the words, the images you weave scarlett,sometimes just soaking in the beauty of writing , feels good…

    Reply

  6. IW
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 09:41:55

    All the nice things have already been said by the mahila-mandal members 😉 So i would steer clear from praising you. Instead I am curious to know if this fascination of “Kairi” is by and large a female obsession ? I for one, don’t quite fancy the unripe green mango.. give me the yellow ripe variety anyday. And I haven’t seen many guys drooling over the mention of Kairi.. Have you ?

    p.s. : I do know that this post was more about reminiscing over the bygone era.. rather than just mangoes and summers. Nahi tar tu mhansheel, me lihely kaai .. ani haa ved-patt vichar toh kaai ?

    Reply

  7. Scarlett
    Jul 20, 2008 @ 04:46:18

    Altoid, yeah – bygone era and faraway land, the right combo for some nostalgia.

    Maria, thanks for your words. We are a sum of parts arent we, the parts we leave behind as well as the parts we take with us 🙂

    Billy, my lady, how have you been? Always good to see you here 🙂 How goeth the cooking these-a-days? Liked your new blog btw, will update the blogroll link here soon.

    Priya, tears are like the monsoons, arent they? Sometimes they help the parched corners of our heart.

    Ardra, thank you so much. Sometime we need to rise from the supressed dormancy I suppose and allow the bygone seasons to wash over us again. Please keep dropping by 🙂

    IW, my dear bro, how have you been? How are the mangoes in ol Singapore? Maybe there is a “kairi-female psyche” thing – cannot think of any of my male friends/cousins et al oohing over ambe dal at all. My Dad categorically refuses to eat the stuff in fact.

    Thanks people,
    Scarlett

    Reply

  8. bilbo
    Jul 20, 2008 @ 14:11:42

    hmmm , maybe I can join lalou in having a quirky dad. Give him raw mangoes in any form throughout the summers and he is a happy camper. Mom and I are bored stiff with the kairi thingie and his dil mange more .

    Scary, cooking not really going since I got my mom holding the fort. I do make the salads but those are consumed before they can see cheese.

    thanks for your words about the site. For a dormant thing it matters.

    Reply

  9. Aria
    Jul 20, 2008 @ 19:18:10

    After a long hiatus.. finally the Koel sings. .as in Scarlett writes..
    perhaps I should thank that raw green mango..
    redundant to say .. loved it..

    Reply

  10. priyamvada
    Jul 20, 2008 @ 20:53:55

    Scarlett,
    I still cannot read your last sentence without crying. Amazing, amazing writing.

    The heart does follow its own seasons – and I suppose, as I read somewhere, “I am so thankful to have something that’s hard to say goodbye to”.

    Hugs,
    Priya.

    Reply

  11. Scarlett
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 07:57:37

    Billy, my Dad is all for the aamras, I think he puts up with the kairis only because he knows that the Alphonso season is around the corner. Hey, I liked the layout of your blog (I should probably blog hop and say this on your blog instead 🙂 ) and the black background.

    Aria, as always, getting your comments here is a pleasure and a delight. Thanks muchly 🙂 I was lying dormant too, the green mango helped.

    Priya, thank you so much. The poignance of memories reduces me to tears too. It is not always easy accepting that the heart’s seasons follow their own rhythm but I am sure you will agree with me that we would have it no other way. You are so right, we need to be thankful for the things that refuse to budge after the seasons have passed.

    Hugs,
    Scarlett

    Reply

  12. IW
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 09:41:51

    >> how have you been? How are the mangoes in ol Singapore?

    I dunno how to answer the first part of your question.. So i will give it a pass.. About the mangoes.. well we do get air-flown mangoes from India.. and last time I had gone to Mustafa ( i guess Mustafa doesn’t need introduction for those who have come to Sg) , I could only eye the box containing Alphonso Mangoes.. from a distance. There were a bunch of 7 to 8 ladies.. (all Maharashtrians btw) who had literally gheraoed the box mangoes.. and were hell bent on picking and choosing the juiciest of the lot. I waited patiently for 10 mins for my turn, but they refused to budge.. So I just muttered under my breath and walked away.. I had to settle for Banganpalli mangoes sold at a neighbourhood “Cold Storage” shop, where luckily i didn’t run into any fellow ghaatis..

    Reply

  13. Scarlett
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 10:41:06

    IW mere bhai, you should have battled those women for the mangoes. That is what the aam aadmi would have done 😛 (yes I know it was a horrible pun and no, I couldnt resist it).

    You should answer the first part of the question too 😛

    Cheers,
    Scarlett

    Reply

  14. asuph
    Aug 04, 2008 @ 05:26:23

    scarlett,

    with your blogs, it’s always like this — i read them long after the dust has settled, so to say. just as i watch super duper hit movies when everyone has watched them, said everything that could be said.

    agree with iw. cairi is an exlusively female obsession, if there was one (apart from shopping – but this one males seem to have picked up lately). i like cairi in my bhel, and i like achaars, but that ambadaal i refuse to eat too.

    this has your usual touch, no doubt. “that a moment ends for a memory to be born” — that’s so you! still it left me a bit dry, untouched, unlike most of your pieces. Some nitpicks: octogenarian! that’s a bit too much, no? also mixing aam with horse gram doesn’t go well, imo. stick to italicized marathi/hindi words throughout.

    and how have you been?

    cheers,
    asuph

    Reply

  15. ano
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 18:39:34

    Scarlett, an award awaits you!

    Reply

  16. Scarlett
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 05:07:59

    Asuph,
    Thank you as always 🙂 I spent mucho time deliberating on how I wanted the words to shape up – with a distinct parochial twinge or something more wide reaching and in the end I kept both options 😛
    Superhit movie hey? Name these movies – I havent seen a decent movie in ages 🙂

    Reply

  17. Scarlett
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 05:09:06

    Anoooooooooo,
    Thanks a zillion. I am very much honoured and more so. because I got the award from you – a writer whose words have always awed and charmed me. Thank you. 🙂

    A very thrilled Scary

    Reply

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