The Alfonso has arrived. For lovers of the fruit, who are well aware of the fleeting season, this is the perfect time to suck on a mango. Or slice it, dice it, shake it into a lassi or simply inhale the sweet yet warm aroma that has filled the fruit section of every supermarket and vegetable shop in town. Since March, I have watched the slow trickle of Indian mangoes make their way into people's hands. There has been the added pleasure of the green, unripe, sour mango eaten in a variety of ways, including with a dash of cayenne and salt or with cumin, salt and green chillies. However, I digress.
This weekend, I found myself hovering over my kitchen sink with one of two ripe Alfonso mangoes I had bought earlier in the week. The Alfonso is easily considered the king of the mango varietals. It is also the most expensive kind, with the most export appeal. When the US lifted its ban on the import of the fruit after more than 18 years in 2007, major North American media followed the journey of the first crate that arrived on the American shores. (The ban was lifted once India installed irradiation machines that were able to kill weevils without damage to the fruit.)
However, a debate about which among the hundreds of other varieties is the best is a war of words can erupt regularly anywhere - from posh dinner parties to early-morning market walks - from the months of March to May, when the best of the juicy mangoes finally come into their own. By June, the desperation sets in enough to want to cling to the last of the seasonal offerings and people tend to buy whatever is still on offer. All of which is to say that Indians (whether abroad or in India) are keenly aware of the comings and goings of the mango season.
After I came to the realisation that I was still cupping a chilled mango above my sink waiting for it to reach room temperature, I decided it was time. If entertaining, I would've sliced the mango in three, with the skin intact and the pit in the middle and then diced it like an avocado. That would mean sacrificing a lot, including a good portion of the thick, delicious juices that start flowing at the mere touch of anything. So I dug in. I peeled the skin with my fingers and exposed the juice-laden pulp that I sunk my teeth into and then watched with fascination as juice collected in my teeth marks. Then I did the unthinkable. I slurped my fingers and wrists in order to manage every bit of the trickle and thought of the British adage, that, indeed, there is no polite way to enjoy a mango.