Would you put up with the harsh summer heat if there were no mangoes in return? I wouldn't.
The mango is central to the Indian summer. It spills into the diet, culture and even literature. It is mentioned in Kalidasa's Ruthashastram and also in Ruskin Bond's prose. In 'The Crocodile and the Monkey' by Vikram Seth, the mango is central to the poem (one of my favorites)
In this poem, a monkey and crocodile are friends. The monkey lives in a tree along the Ganges river and throws mangoes to his friend the crocodile everyday. The crocodile, also a dutiful husband, takes back half the loot to his wife. One day, the crocodile's wife suggests that the monkey who eats the sweet delicious mangoes must also have a heart filled with the nectar of the mango. 'Imagine how sweet his heart and veins must be', she says. The crocodile resists initially but gives in. He goes to the monkey and invites him for lunch and to meet his wife. The monkey is touched by the hospitality. So he brings a handful of mangoes, sits on the crocodile's back and off they go to the crocodiles island. Halfway across, as a gesture of friendship, the crocodile gives the monkey two options 'death by drowning or death by slaughter' The monkey responds that he has unfortunately left his heart and liver in a tree and could they go fetch it before going for lunch. The crocodile swims back with the monkey to the trees and the monkey escapes back into the trees.
Why am I writing about mangoes in a blog about creativity? I ll say it in a short poem here.
In my grandmother's kitchen there were jars full of pickles.
Mostly mango, some sweet with fennel and some spicy with chilly.
'A different species for each item' her purse change would jiggle.
Peel it, chop it, dry it under the summer sun – step by step, reaching perfection nearly.
It wasn't just the pickles. It was also manga pachadi* with neem flowers.
That mixture of sour and bitter. A family favorite during a festive occasion.
From the fallen mango-lings to the over ripe yellow sours.
From seed to the almost spoiled we ate them all in equal revelation.
No part of the mango tree was left be.
Leaves? A sign of prosperity. The tree? A mango smelling shade for hot afternoons.
Did I mention aamras**,the nectar of the gods, irrefutably.
The Indian sub-continent really knows how to sing in mango tunes.
The way Indian culture uses mango is a great metaphor for design.
To take one idea/item and push it, stretch it and take it as far as it will go. 'How did someone even think of that' is a good indicator of this. One source yielding simple solutions to multiple problems is a win-win. This approach yeilds rich outcome, testing the idea, updating it and building on existing knowledge. A good example is George Nakashima, a furniture designer pushes wood to its limits. He has created objects that are beautiful, using wood in ways that were never thought of before.
My grandmother would never waver in the way she made her pickles. In order to create things, we need that – that unwavering practice and trust in the process. Do – fail - learn - make again is the only way to keep creating. Perfect the process, the outcome is pure pleasure.
There is no part of the mango tree that goes to waste. The peel, the leaf, the flower are all part of the household routine (not bound by religion or economics) Using the different stages of the mango's maturation to one's advantage means that people were attentive to the changes in nature. They responded to it, paid it due attention and best of all, used it. That is what sustainability should look like - to use every single aspect of a resource in as many meaningful ways as possible.
I come from a deeply thoughtful culture. Its flawed but as a designer, writer and artist I like to reflect the sensitivity of my culture it in my own work. At least I try to.
May this summer be a celebration of mangoes and more to come.
P.S. I need to go eat a mango now. Bye.
*Pachadi - a sweet pudding made with mango and jaggery
**aamras - mango pulp beaten and pureed to a creamy rich consistency