Being fruity and sporty
Since I ended my last blog post with the mango, I thought I'd begin this one with it. Not because I am obsessed with the fruit but because I'm really not.
Growing up in India, I had my share of mango stories. But it was never my favourite fruit, and I've always been cynical about clichéd representations of mangoes in contemporary Indian fiction. These days, I seem to spot articles on the mango everywhere. Makes me wonder what it is about this fruit that drives Indians crazy. I confess it's fragrant and juicy and at its best very delicious. Its fairly brief seasonal span makes it special. But the same can be said of several other tropical fruit that I used to look forward to each year when I lived here. Here's a list.
There's the sugar-apple or aata with its custardy flesh. It makes a right mess too, almost as bad as the mango (for purists who prefer eating it with their fingers, not sliced daintily for the fork) when you try to suck the flesh off each black seed individually. It may be the sweetest fruit I've ever eaten, which explains its name.
There's the guava, which ranges in colour from whitish yellow to dark green and texture (usually the darker the colour the tougher the flesh). Some just melt sweetly in your mouth while others can take a tooth off with their tangy crunch. Those are best eaten with a bit of salt, which is how they are often served roadside. Guava trees are as much a part of the Indian heartland as mangoes, and usually far less pricey, and used equally effectively by writers for exotic appeal.
How about the chikoo or sapota? Another ridiculously sweet chocolate-coloured fruit that tastes really good in kulfi (like the mango kulfi, is sometimes served in the fruit itself.) Which reminds me, I haven't eaten a chikoo in over a decade, must remedy that immediately.
Recently I went to a vegan potluck in Grand Rapids where the theme was jackfruit - the Indian meat. I asked my mother for the traditional Bengali recipe to make jackfruit curry (Echorer dalna) from canned jackfruit. The ripe version of this fruit is excessively sweet and has a very strong scent that isn't for the lighthearted. It's a popular summer fruit in Bengal. I've seen monkeys nibble at ripe jackfruit that's fallen from trees in parts of North Bengal.
I'm going to end this with my favourite fruit, the lychee. Of the above, this is the one I've sometimes purchased in the US, once from Chinatown in New York, and a couple of times from the local grocery store. Exported from Asia, it loses much of its fresh juiciness by the time it gets consumed and the result was a little disappointing. I've been eating quite a few of them every day since I got to Gurgaon last week. The purplish-pink berry-like lychees are, once again, nicely messy and sticky to peel. The milky white, soft flesh smells a little like roses and tastes a little like honey.
So why all this fuss over the mango? I guess it's a combination of things. The mango is native to India (and its national fruit), has been around thousands of years, used in religious worship, and has drawn praises from Kalidasa to Ghalib to Tagore. Mangoes resemble breasts, which makes them even more ripe for metaphor. They are rather like Monsoons in their exotic (and erotic) appeal. And, most of all, despite scepticism, the foodie in me can certainly appreciate the wide variety of culinary possibility with mangoes. Beginning from chutneys and pickles made with sour, unripe mangoes, to desserts and drinks - pretty much every course in a meal can use a mango.
The stereotypical identification of India with mangoes in pop culture has long irked me. And yet, like it or not, this fruit has been and will continue to be a visible and mythic symbol of Indian culture. Here's an excellent link to the significance of mangoes in myth and lit: http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/mango-in-myth-and-literature
Enough fruitiness. Let's move on to one of my favourite subjects. Sport. One of the things I like best about being in India at this time of year is the opportunity to watch - largely uninterrupted - some of my beloved sports, without having to pay extra for special TV channels. This summer, in particular, is a treat. The French Open, Euro 2012, Wimbledon and the London Olympics. I did miss the IPL by a hair which is a bummer because I'm so very cricket-deprived and how can any Indian experience be complete without it? (Here's a link to my thoughts on watching the World Cup as an expat last year --http://cric.lk/blogs/read.php?bl_id=39&bl_language=en, But I'm so glad to get to watch extended coverage of tennis, soccer, and the Olympics, none of which gets adequate attention in the US.
I've never really understood the American insistence on calling their all-American sporting events by names like the World Series. This is one of my biggest grievances against America. That most of them, and as a result the media, refuse to take global sports such as tennis and soccer very seriously. Despite spending 10 years there, I haven't been able to develop interest in football (despite my 2 years at the University of Florida with their obsession with the Gators), or baseball. I have minimal interest in basketball, whose rules at least I understand. But for someone who's as passionate about sport as me, this seems strange. (I mean, I used to watch all four days of the golf majors when I was in high school.)
My lack of enthusiasm about American sport is probably due to a lack of rooting interest. I have no hometown there, and don't care about any of the city teams much. College sport, which is so big there, doesn't seem significant enough to me.
And so I pay for the Sports Package over and above the rest of digital cable, just so I can get Tennis Channel which is the only channel that broadcasts most tennis matches. Soccer is even harder to keep track of unless you go online, and there are just a handful of people I can actually discuss the sport with.
In contrast, the half-hourly TV commercials here on the Euro Cup, while a bit silly, are reassuring. India's chronic interest in sports and events in which there are no Indian teams or players is, to me, delightful. Despite its mediocre record in international sport, Indians get fanatical about it. This is perhaps another indication of India's historic tendency to look outward, to other countries and cultures, often at the cost of its own, and America's tendency to look inward and shut off the rest of the world.
In any case, I'm super excited about this summer of sport. Heck, I think I'll even say football instead of soccer until I get back.
And, speaking of countries and rooting interests, it will be interesting to watch the Olympics in India for the first time since the 2000 Games in Sydney. Like most people know, sport is one of the most foolproof ways of learning where your heart really belongs.