Defending Mangoland: a Personal Story
When I grew up in a village in Narail, Bangladesh, the mango season was a festival to us kids. Starting from the end of winter when the flower of mangoes bloom spreading smells and joy of anticipation everywhere. Next, there will be a rain or storm that will wipe out most of those flowers causing us collective mourning. But the storms would also come with an unexpected boon: tiny mangoes covering the tree bed for us to have the first taste.
A few days later when the mangoes grow a bit larger, we would pick unripe mangoes from trees (not always legally, ahem) and eat them with pocket knives. If a neighbor had a good yield of mangoes, we would play nearby and sometimes “accidentally” throw some bricks at their mango tree and get some unripe mangoes. You know what I mean 😉. Sometimes some other kids would steal our mangoes from our house; bloody thieves 😒. If you randomly searched one of us at this time, you would probably find tiny foldable knives and bottles of salt in our pocket, but trust me, the only citizens we were terrorizing were mangoes.
The riping season was a cat and mouse game. Or should I say, bat and human game? We had to be alert when the mangoes ripe and pick them up before the bats get them. Sometimes we would see a bunch of half-eaten mangoes below the tree in the morning. We would look at them as a fallen comrade at war, “we will avenge you, my friend.” In my house, we used to have a mango tree that was unimaginably delicious and sweet; our family called it the “heaven mangoes”. Very few times in my life I’ve had mangoes as delicious. But that had a caveat: the mangoes would not change color when they ripe. It made it very tricky to save them from bats. We had to install some kind of bell mechanism, and an electric light high up on the tree to drive the bats away.
After a few more days, the mango season would be full-on fire! All the mangoes would ripe together, and we would have more mangoes than we could eat. We would no longer worry about the bats, as there were more treats than we two species could share. I easily finished 10–20 mangoes every day. This time, we would climb the trees and eat the mangoes ON THE TREES by peeling them with our bare hands. We would also shake a branch of the tree, and a bunch of ripe mangoes would fall below. We would rarely use knives and forks to eat mangoes. Peeling a juicy ripe mango with the bare hands, and biting it while it drips on your clothes — required a delicate skillset, and the mangoes tasted significantly more delicious this way. You could eat the mango seed for hours if you wanted to; the taste would diminish, but never go away. When the mango season was wrapping up, some mango seeds that we threw away earlier would start sprouting. We kids would make a kind of flute — kind of horn with the sprouted mango seeds.
The mango season remained one of my most favorite things to do every year. When I moved out to the cities and visited home this time of the year, my mom would keep a basket full of mangoes for me, and I would finish ’em all. Yesterday, I bought a kilo of mango from a street vendor in Dhaka, and I realized how different this experience is. I never liked how mangoes are consumed in the cities: artificial mango breeds designed to have small seeds and thin skin, cut with a knife, served on a plate, to be eaten with a fork. It strips away the intimacy, the festivity, and the culture with mangoes. To me, it’s like a poorly made movie adaptation of a favorite book — it has all the highlights, none of the subtleties.
In a few months, I will be moving out of my home country, and that last tie with mangoes would be broken. The next mango I will have would probably be frozen and shipped from overseas. When I will think about Bangladesh, I probably won’t think about the liberation war, Grameen Bank, or the booming garments industry. To me, it’s the mangoland. The subtlety, not the highlights. And I will defend this mangoland in my heart.