What are we, but memories – of places visited, people met, and times relished or languished- of laughter shared or sneaked, tears shed or swallowed- of sunshine and rain and fog. Memories provide the muscle and tendon that holds together the bare bones of our existence.
Each season brings back its own unique sweet and sour reminiscences. My favorite summer memories are of Indian mangoes and rooh-afza.
Mangoes were a big deal in summer – starting from buying to devouring.There was a plethora of choices to pick from – langda,dussehri,chausa,totapari and their smell was the best indicator of how sweet and delicious they would be.Then, there was the timing of the day you hit the fruit-mandi to buy them – if you go toward the end of the day, the vendors slashed the prices on the residual stock, so you got more for your money.
The mangoes had to be soaked in a bucket of water to wash away any chemicals used to ripen them.I’m not sure if its a myth or fact but eating mangoes without soaking them in water would cause boils and blisters on skin,which were rampant in summer.
Then, came the crucial decision-how you want to eat them.The options were – to slice it with a knife or to just suck the flesh and juice in it by taking off its top.Each of them was a totally different experience- the civilized way was of picking each slice and scrape away all the flesh with the teeth.Cleaning the center pit was another enjoyable task, you had to consume every trace of the flesh by combing the hair of the seed carefully with your teeth.Could not afford to waste the tiniest bit of it!!The other option involved sucking the mango top by turning the mango round and round with your hands till the pulp was loosened from the skin and then devour the heavenly juice mixed with pulp.
Also the summer storms and the hot afternoon winds would shake the trees in the neighborhood causing them to magnanimously shed the ripe/raw mangoes and the kids would go around collecting the booty, looking under the bushes and leaves- a truly rewarding scavenger hunt. Seriously, who ever cared or even thought about the slaps of hot wind , dust,sweat, sunburns, UV rays or skin cancer??
The raw mangoes had their own charm and usage.They could be ground into chutney or cooked with daal or vegetables or slaughtered to make the annual pickle aam-ka-achaar in big jars which would last one whole year.And oh the aroma of that variety of achaars – the regular achaar, the hing achaar and the sweet one with vinegar!
Rooh-afza means something that refreshes the soul and it was the only cold drink known at that time, besides lassi and lemonade.The Coca-Cola/Thumbs-ups were too expensive and arrogant and involved returning the glass bottles after consuming the content.So, that was strictly on a very special occasion or a very special guest basis.
Roof afza is the dark red sugary syrup concentrate that you can add to ice and water to make a refreshing drink.Or you could add it to cold milk and ice to make a pretty pink sweaty glass of bliss. But you had to be careful keeping the outside of the bottle clean for the ants loved to cling to it and savor the tiniest drop hanging under the lid.
Then, ice was a prized possession too!There were no ice-makers in the fridge,we just had two aluminium ice trays with slots in them to form ice cubes.Those trays had to be refilled with water each time the ice was consumed.So, what if we just used the ice and the next batch is in the process of freezing and a guest rings the doorbell?There was no way a guest could leave without having roof-afza!!So, we the kids, used to run to the neighbors to borrow a tray of ice and the beauty of it was that the neighbors were always expected to be home, any time of the day.Where would they go anyway?
After a few years, the drink rasna was introduced and the fridge ice trays were made in plastic instead of aluminium and after several years, Pepsi/cokes were available in plastic bottles, which you didn’t have to return to the shopkeeper.
But ,a cold beverage still means rooh-afza as a hot beverage means tea to millions of Indians. It provides relief and succor to the parched soul of India.