Deep in the recesses of my memories is a child, a pre-pubescent girl dressed in a blue pinafore with white shirt and hair styled in pigtails. She has an itch. The itch grows more and more as the school bell rings alerting her that it is home time and home time meant checking the ravines in her pockets to muster up a few coins. Two would do. Two is enough. With her green plastic woven basket in one hand and the chillar in the other she makes her way to the gate. The itch has festered and is beckoning her hands to have a go at it. The gate is shut and looks bigger and scarier than it ever has before. Two minutes. Just two minutes more. She begins to count down backwards from 60, twice. Saying the numbers too fast sometimes, rectifying it and saying it too slow the next. Other children her age, younger, and older stand adjacent in anticipation. What a surreal moment it is when the metal barricade moves.

‘Mango Man!’

An emaciated man with tan skin riddled with wrinkles from smile and frown lines stands in an affirmative manner beside his cart. The wooden cart is lined with a white tarpaulin cover and atop them are mangoes. Not the kind that is juicy. Not the kind that offers refreshment. Hard, immature and sour mangoes sit pretty with newspapers cut to size and salt-chilli condiment right beside them. She must choose which mango the Mango Man will slice into. A daunting task for the one she chooses will be the one that others behind her will also consume.

Pacha Manga, the name alone is sufficient to draw the saliva out of her taste buds and make her tongue respond with a clicking sound. Her eyes scan the candidates, judging them by the greenness of their green, firmness of the exterior, and the length, of course. Many say that there is no such thing as a bad mango. To her, there is. The mango that is about to ripen is neither here nor there and therefore must be eaten before or after but never during.  

Kaccha is always accha…

A quick deliberation is made and the coins are handed over. With the pointing of her finger, Mango Man swoops up the greenest, firmest and longest mango like a baby and begins carving. Swift lines are marked vertically and the pieces come undone. He tears the piece from the parent mango and places it onto the newspaper. “Kaara?” to which she replies in Hinglish “Haan Uncle, bohoth dalo”. He usually garnishes the pieces with his perfectly mixed salt and chilli powder, but her answer prompts him to dip the white flesh into the bowl instead. She is now delighted but the itch becomes unbearable.

He carefully hands her the mango cocooned in paper and the itch begins to subside. She can taste it already. The slits he has embedded onto it give her an indication of where to bite. The first crunch is followed by a snap from her teeth yanking it towards her. The tissue is marinated and what the white part lacks the green delivers. The perfect taste. Enough to drive your palate into a frenzy. And so, it did. She stood under the trees for shade and devoured every morsel. At a distance she could hear a familiar honk, this could only belong to one person. She crushes the newspaper in her palms, shoves it into her pocket and runs to her father. It is home time, after all.

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Sushmita Nayak

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