Friday, April 3, 2020

C is for Chaunsa #AtoZChallenge

When I was young and unfamiliar with calendars, the year moved from season to season through the food that was prepared in Beji's kitchen by her or by my mother. They were both great cooks. 

Autumn was waiting to enter the garden and summer was being its lazy, languorous self  that year. We'd had our fill of chaunsa mangoes but the heart was hankering for a few more.

Our food: fruit, vegetables, grains and pulses followed the rhythm of the seasons. Beji's kitchen was satvik.* Refrigeration was non existent and baasi khaana (pre-cooked food) was banned except when tandoori roti or makki ki roti was kept overnight for Papaji (more about it in a later post). As long as Beji was queen of her kitchen, only freshly prepared food was served and consumed all three times of the day. Yes, Beji's kitchen was her entire world. That and her temple.

Chaunsa may be a mere word to the uninitiated which when googled will tell you that it's a variety of mango found in Northern India and Pakistan. But to me and many like me whose childhoods were drenched in its juices, it's an experience.

The tap outside Beji's kitchen was fixed at such a height that my younger sister, Seema, and I could not reach it comfortably. We had to either ask an adult for help or stretch ourselves on the very tips of our toes. A grey cement rectangular ledge, knee-length high, was built around the tap so that water wouldn't splash outside it and wet the verandah. We would sometimes climb the ledge and turn the tooti (tap) if we were really, really desperate.

Summer dresses were considered too precious to be worn while indulging in the practice of mango eating so the two of us, at five and four years old, stood outside and around this cement ledge in our shameezes waiting for my father or Papaji to finish washing the peti or tokri (box or basket) of chaunsa.

And then the delicious drama unfolds.

You yank the top bit off with your teeth; the stubby green bit that smells more like mango trees and  mango leaves than like the mango it's attached to.

Chaunsa is never cut. It's always sucked through that little gap on top, slowly and languidly at first. As the nectar starts trickling down your throat, setting all the sitar strings of flavours tingling inside your soul, you end up sucking on the fruit hungrily, greedily, lest you miss any bit of the fibre-less pulp inside its greenish-golden sheath.

The juices of chaunsa, meanwhile, have found their way down to your elbows, trickling down your cheeks and throat in golden-orange and sticky rivulets. You are down on your knees by now, balancing your arms and elbows on the ledge so that you can carry on with the eating of mangoes without tiring your arms, quickly licking the drops of juice that lie suspended on the very tips of your elbows in the impatient gaps between finishing one mango and biting the stubby green top off of the next.

Who else was around us or who all partook in the bounty of that basket, I cannot recall. But Seema and I would be sticky with the mango juice from hair to toes. 

Supremely happy with our mango feasting, we'd be ushered under the tap sans shameezes to wash off the chaunsa. 

"Jee-ruj ke khao puttar." Eat to your heart's content is an old Punjabi saying my grandparents and parents used very often.

We always ate to our heart's content and despite polishing off boxes and baskets full of fruit in one go, from jamun to ber to mangoes depending on the season, no one in our family was obese. The food, in Beji's kitchen, was always prepared with patience and infused with love. This is the basic tenet of a satvik kitchen. 

Love has a way to nourish without side effects. Beji knew this instinctively. 

Greed, on the other hand, comes with an orchard full of side-effects. Too many mangoes eaten in the summer heat would sometimes result in boils and irritating eruptions but half a teaspoon of neem juice and a week's ban on mangoes would fix that.

Few years later, we will move out of Papaji's house. Our new address will be close to a mango grove called Maata waala baag. My friends and I will attempt to steal umbian (raw mangoes)  from the lush baag during our summer holidays. We will get caught and the maali (park keeper) will chase us off with juicy gaalis (abuses) and continue to blow his shrill whistle for a long time afterwards. Despite the first failed attempt, we will make plans to go back, but this time Mr. Maali will chase us off with a whistle and a big fat laathi (bamboo stick). His paan (beetle leaf) filled mouth will stop him from spewing out any abuses.

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What was your favourite fruit when you were five?


*satviksevakitchen.blogspot.com explains the concept in some detail and offers recipes if you're interested.

37 comments:

  1. I love mangoes, but don't know the Chaunsa one. My favorite fruits when I was 5 were cherries!
    C is for Colour

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    1. I love looking at cherry blossoms. Did you have a cherry tree growing near you Frederique?

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  2. Apples! As kids we used to steal them from peoples gardens - it was called scrumping and most kids did it. I don't think they do today though!

    My A-Z tale!


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    1. I've learnt the word to describe what we used to do--scrumping. Thank you Keith. We used to steal jamun, berries, mangoes, litchi--lots of litchis. I even stole flowers if I could reach them but that is another story:)

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  3. Hari OM
    OOOOohhhhhhhh drooling now!!! I learned to love mangos in Africa... then Australia... but when I lived in India, they came extra special. The ashram had several different varieties - nearly all the trees on the compound were mangos! The Langurs and the brahmacharins would compete for the fruits as they ripened. I learned to suck, not cut... ohhhhh amraassssssss.... Another luscious post, Arti-ben!!! YAM xx

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    1. That image of langurs Vs brahmacharins is making my eyes water with mirth. Would love to hear more about your days in the ashram.
      Hugs to you Yamini.
      Hari Om.

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  4. Though I like mangoes, I am not familiar with Chaunsa!

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    1. Perhaps because it's a north Indian variety. It's called chausa too. It's name literally means 'sucker'.

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  5. Chaunsa - never guessed it as a variety of Mango. I have seen the variety of Pakistani Mangoes here in Doha and it is superb. Our summers or the Mango seasons were blessed with all the varieties each day, starting with those tiny green ones used for our famous tender mango pickle ( Vadumaanga) and slightly larger ones for Aavakai ( super hot andhra pickle) then the ripe variety Alphonso ke peti, Badami, Totapuri, Neelam, Rajapuri, Dasheri, Kesar & Banganapalli. A summer ritual post meals.
    But apart from excitement of eating these, my cousin and me used to play a silly game of counting the mango seeds.we had to count as many as we could see on the road, at home, in the market etc etc and we would tally our scores when we met.it was such a silly game that we both were winners many a times. As an award we had to save one mango seed which we have eaten, wash it well, dry it and draw funny faces with sketch pen on either side on the seed. it was a task to drill a hole and hang it on a jute thread. We gifted it to each other.
    One thing about this fruit is we could never lie that we have finished the last one. Its rich smell would give it away & we would be caught red handed. I can still smell those mangoes!Lovely Arti, i could easily imagine the flowing mango juice & your sticky elbow.

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    1. Ah! this is such a lovely story Vidya. So you and your family have crafting skills in your genes. I like the idea of seeds with faces hanging from windowsills. They would make fantastic friends in times of lockdowns:) Such a fun game.
      Yes, I miss the ritual of mangoes for dessert after lunch everyday.

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  6. Such a tale of sensory delights Arti. You have my mouth watering. The mangoes we have available here certainly pale in comparison.

    When I was five, my sister who was 10 years older, cut an apple for me horizontally in half so the star pattern of seeds was visible. I thought it was the most magical thing ever. I still cut apples that way to this day.

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    1. Love the star shapes in apples. Your sister sounds lovely. Such a blessing to be loved like that.
      Now that you've reminded me, I'll cut the apple I plan to eat in a bit, cut horizontally.
      thank you Deborah.

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  7. Another delightful tale that takes the reader back in time.
    The only fruit I can remember is peaches. Peaches only last for a few weeks so our family would harvest peaches one day and then all the women ( I got to help at 5) canned the peaches. I just wanted to eat them not put them in glass jars.
    Thanks for sharing - I love mangos and mango nectar!!!
    My Letter C

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    1. Thank you for visiting.
      I love your story of peach harvesting. Those peaches must've been divine.

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  8. It made me nostalgic reading this post... Reminded me off how as a child I used to enjoy eating the mango as it is ideally meant to be eaten... If u don't suck the mango from the top and let the juice flow till your elbow then you haven't ever enjoyed eating a mango is what the belief was... Wish I could do that again some time soon :)

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    1. You can do it Ira. Just go for it this summer. And tell me how it feels.

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  9. I grew up in the city. The only fruit that grew in my grandparents yard was an apple tree. The apples were often wormy and we never just ate them. My grandmother made the best applesauce every fall. I have never been able to really duplicate it. My mother used to buy peaches in September, but we weren't able to eat and eat and eat them like you did the mangos! One fall when I was grown with a family of my own, my husband worked for the highway dept. They were going to build a new highway and had taken orchards and other land for the highway. This one year they had not cut down the trees yet and started work and my whole family, me, my husband and our 5 children would go out and pick and eat and pick all different kinds of cherries - black, yellow, red. It was the only time I got to eat as many cherries as I wanted and all for free. By the next year, all the trees were gone. Sad.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your memories Kristin. There's something magical about food prepared by grandmothers. I have tried some of my grandmother's recipes too but I can never recreate that taste. It's the love they infused the food I think. That was their secret ingredient.
      It's sad to hear about the sacrifice of trees for the sake of progress.
      The garden I so fondly remember met a similar fate, too.

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  10. C for cricket... Your narrative about the juicy Chausa and Matawala baagh reminded of the cricket matches I played in that garden during the summer vacations. Maalis out there kept a very sharp eye on all of us as someone or the other used to try out our luck on managing few mangoes or a bunch of litchis from the garden for the team mates. Another masterpiece Arti, loved it...

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    1. Cheers Himanshu.
      I didn't know you played in maata waala bagh!
      And those Litchis...haye...wish I could teleport myself to 1979 now!

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  11. My grandparents started spending winters in Florida when I was in Middle School. It was before you could easily buy off-season fruit in the grocery store. When they would come back in the spring they would bring bags of oranges. The smell of oranges still triggers a multitude of childhood memories for me. Weekends In Maine

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    1. I can just imagine the Florida warmth filling you with love and oranges every spring. Such joy!

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  12. Wow! Freshly prepared food, three times a day. Imagine the effort she must have taken. Your family sounds wonderful. Just reading your posts has got me craving for mangoes. I have not had Chaunsa but there's this mango tree in my grandparent's yard that has the most delicious mangoes. This post brought back many fond memories.

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    1. Thank you for visiting Shweta. Yes, childhood memories can be very tasty:)
      My Beji's focus was food and her kitchen. We were very lucky.

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  13. I always thought Katrina kaif for Aamras was a torture to watch for all mango lovers .. ur description surpassed it .. I want a mango right now .. 🤤

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    2. I'm not familiar with Katrina's Aamras...will google it.
      I want a mango right now too. :)
      Hugs.xx

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  14. Thanks to your lush recall, I can smell the Alphonso from our own childhood. no doubt being able to help yourself to unlimited helpings of this fruit picked the same morning with bountiful local access means you never forgot this amrut from the local Gods!

    Unfortunately, brought us as we were through our pwn childhood in urban Bombay, this Fruit Fit for Kings, was a rare and rationed delicacy, sought by one and all. As we grew older, it became clear that much of this beautiful fruit grown in the Ratnagiri District of the Western Indian state of Maharashtra and harvested just for a period of just about nine weeks before the first of the monsoon rains - which always arrived promptly in the first week of June - was always going to be on limited offering. Made it all the sweeter for sure! My other favourite fruits growing up - and undiminished still in ardour by the passage of years - were figs, guavas, lychees and tomatoes (fruit or veg? Who, who cares as long as it is juicy and sweet)!

    Thanks for another delicious offering dear Arti, keep 'em coming now you are on a roll ...

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    1. Thank you for visiting Raj and for your comments.
      Ah! figs. I love figs. Luckily, our fig tree has given us some sweet fruit this year.

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  15. My favorite fruit was/is mangoes, super delicious mangoes. I loved Dasheri, Chaunsa and Langra, and used to eat them whole, cut or Aamras. Even now I wait for the mango season, its right the corner, now we bring the Pakistanis mangoes, they too are super delicious.
    Always love reading your posts, your words flow out from an artist's mind, vivid descriptions. Love and regards Nisha

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    1. Thank you for visiting Nisha. I am yet to do Kapaalbhati practice:)

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  16. After reading the tale i am literally having the taste of mango. Such a lovely story Aarti !!
    This is how the children behave when it comes to their favourite delights .
    On the contrary i never liked mango so much but from past two year it has become my favourite one perhaps my pregnency period changed my taste towards it .

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    1. I'm happy to find out that you love mangoes now:)
      Thank you for reading dear Simmi.

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  17. Thanks for sharing with me !!!

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    1. Love to share --especially when it's a sweet mango;)

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  18. What a 'rasbhari' story! And I love it how it has triggered so many happy memories in so many people.🙂

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