It was when the first lady of the market forgot her name that everyone knew that the mangoes had arrived. For weeks the market sweat, stank and perspired through the long days and slept deliriously through the night. As the days got warmer and the stench of jasmine stank unbearably, and banana blossoms wilted and fell off, the wait increased for the mangoes. And finally one day, the mangoes came. But nobody forgot their name, or the smell of jasmine and therefore they were declared not real mangoes. Then the green ones came, plump and tight, raw and pert. They went ‘click’ against the tongue and made cheeks shudder and hence, they were pressed into service: shredded thin and floating in oil and chilly; sliced thick with lumps of jaggery, diced into geometrical cubes and served fresh with just so much salt. And they were pickled by the hundreds. The rough knives of the butchers cut no meat that month; they only thwacked raw mangoes by the tens, by the hundreds. Every household brought them. Salted them, chillied them, oiled them and stored them in huge jars. The whole city urgently made pickles and the mangoes kept coming. One day they lost their tartness. One mango came, just a little sweeter, then a little more and then some more until they could no longer be pickled. But the city’s wives were smart; they curried them. Beat them into yogurt curries, disciplined them into mildly sweet sambars and enterprising rasams.
One day the markets’ first lady forgot her name. She was there before anyone else sat down to sell; she was there before anyone was there to buy, first in the morning before the fishes came, before the flowers came. She sold ginger and coriander, curry leaves and mint and she knew everyone who went into the colossal building and everyone who came out. And at the end of the day she spoke to the mice and cats and dogs, the names of people who had remained in the market, rotting amidst leftover mogras and champas, aralis and mullais, roses and daisies. She forgot her name because she came late that morning, after sunrise and the mangoes had preceded her. She, who came before everything and everyone, lost that day. In her place sat fat yellow mangoes oozing suppurating mango pus, soft and sweet. Other subtle mangoes, yielding neither in flesh nor in color but with madness in their taste. Others too, shamelessly yellow and curvy, delicately tipping towards a perfect finish.
The wives of the city hurried past her, trampling over her and stomping her ginger and sneezing her mint. They rushed to the mangoes, some wrapped in red gelatine paper, some in cardboard boxes with more hay than mangoes, some rolling on the floor in old cabbage peels. The mangoes were touched and prodded, pinched and pressed, smelt and sneezed upon, thrown, tossed and bruised, worried, fought and haggled over, purchased, brought, bought. Some stolen.
And in the homes of the city the mangoes finally died their deaths. In discarded peels and sucked out seeds. Blue mangoes and red ones, Alphonsoes and inferior Devgads, fat Banganapallis and nostalgic Benishas. Hindi Payris, Gujrati Kesars and Bihari Dussheris.