Despite all the romance about Indian summers, these are tough times. One day out in the sun and I realise I have transitioned from a village lad to a city boy. I was born and spent the initial years of my life in a thatched roof house in a village without any air coolers. In the humid coastal Odisha, they don’t work anyway. Those palm leaf handfans were all the respite that one got from the heat.
From that to trying to rush from one air conditioned space to another, life has taken a 180 degree turn. I will resist with all my might to keep that from becoming a full circle. So, that day in April when we set out on a bus to a village in UP to sample mangoes must have started from a moment of madness.
Sohail Hashmi sahib does the trip annually despite his monumental allergy to the sun. Goaded on by enthusiasm of friends, I had signed up. We set out from Mandi House in two air conditioned buses in which no one wanted a window seat.
We followed the Grand Trunk road, branched off into Outer ring road and then we realised how less of Delhi we have seen and how content we are without seeing the rest. We crossed Yamuna at Wazirabad with Wazirabad water treatment plant on one side and Sonia Vihar water treatment plant on the other side. Instructed by Sohail sir, we all sat up to notice a Yamuna full of water on one side and a barren riverbed on the other.
Bhajanpura – Khajuri Khas – Yamuna Vihar – Mandoli – Nand Nagri – Loni. Before we reached the UP border, we had done a dilli darshan like none before. Hats, sunglasses, constant sipping from chilled water bottles, peeping out at a sunburnt world from behind tinted glasses, pointing fingers at this and that – we felt like a tourists in our own city. How little do we have to venture to get a sense of travelling?
It was hard to know when Delhi ended and UP began. From urban conglomerate to suburbs to towns to rural villages, we had traversed a full spectrum in less than fifty kilometers. The markets became more crowded, the traffic became more unregulated, the color of the sarees brightened as we drove towards Rataul – the destination known for its mango orchards.
Every time we entered a village, we heaved in relief that we have reached. Every time Sohail sahib consoled it is only a little farther. Just before we reached Rataul, we drove through a five kilometer stretch of barren fields. It is tempting to give up that this earth could bear mangoes. And, then the orchards began – stretch of green as intense as the brown that preceded it. The sight of green mangoes laden on trees makes the young reach for the nearest stone but does quite different things to someone older – shapely young fruits hanging from long stems look like virgin beauty that needs to be preserved, plucking them would be an act of sin.
We deboarded at Rataul. Eighty people in a village of a few hundred more. It was a two way spectacle – the villagers stared us, we stared right back. Finally, we entered Zahoor Siddiqui sahib’s haveli. Inside, it looked as if arrangements for a marriage were on – tents on one side, chairs under a tree on another, village women had set up pickle stands for selling at the far corner, cooks had dug chullahs in the ground and they were sweating next to the burning firewood.
Next to a wall, were rows and rows of metal tubs and buckets, filled with ice chilled water and mangoes. Though many of us could dive right in, we were advised to have lunch first and have mangoes as dessert. Mangoes on empty stomach are an invitation to diarrhea, we were taught as children. So, we finished an interesting lunch and binged on an awesome sounding list of summer sins.
The mango names have all tales of their own and we loved the stories. Rataul ka dogla, sharbati bigren, dudhia gola, husn-aara, wazir pasand, anfas, fajri, ramswarup pasand, nayaab, dinga, temuriya, Benazir sandila and more.
After the binge, we headed to the orchards, stared at mangoes that we were not allowed to abuse in any way, trekked back to the school that Zahoor sahib runs and headed back to Delhi after short sit up siesta. Each of us carried a bag of 20 kilos of mangoes, were given tips on how to ripen the unripe ones. For the whole of next week, the house smelt of ripening mangoes. For the whole of the year I have been longing to go back.