It was the summer of ‘91.
I am sure if I tried, I could come up with a score of reasons why the summer of ‘91 was momentous for the world at large. Maybe it was, maybe not. All I know was that it was momentous for me. In hindsight, the self- absorption of a young girl does appear repulsively unseemly. But that’s young people for you. Strange, I never really realized that the disease was equally virulent in me too. Funny how one misses seeing things, isn’t it?
I got married that summer.
I am stumped now. I can’t get on with the story until I talk about the disaster.
I don’t mean it was a disaster because of what happened later. The wedding was a disaster all by its ownsome. And that’s saying it all.
My ex met with an accident two days before the wedding. He broke his left collar bone and left cheekbone into three pieces each. I needn’t belabor the obvious. He must have suffered. My iron willed mum- in- law wouldn’t hear of postponing the wedding. Buttressed by pain killing injections and her love, he came to marry me. In retrospect, the sweltering heat of Delhi in mid-may must have added considerably to his agony. My doctor cousin had to give him pain killing injections twice while the pheras were going on. With his face swollen up, the wedding photos were a total loss as well. Did I exaggerate when I called the wedding a disaster?
I was not told of the extent of his injuries. When he delicately sipped a glass of tepid coffee instead of tucking into his wedding spread, I foolishly thought the heat putting him off food, like it had put me off too. I thought nothing of it. I knew the reason behind his refusal to eat when we were half- way to Ajmer from Delhi. Thankfully, I was too stupid to get upset.
When we reached my new home I became his nurse (his cuts and bruises had to be dressed), his cook (he could only take liquids), nanny (I gave him his baths) and best friend ( I took the brunt of his temper when he was in pain). I became his wife.
Two corrective surgeries and twenty days of honeymooning in hospitals later, I felt as if the stink of disinfectants had dissolved itself in my very blood. Even today the hospital stench can put me off food for days. We’d barely got done with the hospitals when he began insisting we go to Delhi and set up house. It was mid- June by then. I couldn’t postpone it any longer. I was in no hurry to return to Delhi because I knew he won’t be able to go to work for two more months. All alone in Delhi with a convalescing husband wasn’t a welcome prospect at all.
But I knew also that he had taken a loan just before the wedding. Its first instalment was falling due in the first week of July and he was broke. With no salary coming in until he joined his job back, it was up to me to manage. I didn’t think I was taking on more than what was fair. On the contrary, I thought it all rather a lark. But then, that’s young people for you. Too stupid to get scared.
There was a whirlwind of activity after we came to Delhi. I had an invalid husband, I needed to find a job… and that job had to be close to home. Thankfully I found one but it didn’t pay too well. I took up a second job. I remember almost nothing of those days. They went by in a blur. And high speed blurry things don’t get time to leave imprints behind.
I remember the way I would come running- literally- home to cook lunch, feed him, gulp a few hasty mouthfuls myself and go off at a dead run again. By the time I finished up my work day at the second job, it would be after 11 in the night. I neither the strength nor the inclination to cook, or eat. Though he would be hungry.
For almost two months, our dinner consisted of mangoes- only mangoes. While returning home, I would buy anywhere from two to three kilos of these luscious, aromatic, ambrosia filled magical marvels. Dusseri, Sindoori, Langda, Neelam, Baadam, Chausa… ah the names..! They etched their remembered flavors on my tongue with loving deliberation.
I would dump that day’s flavor under running water (chilled ganga water… the biggest bliss of living in east Delhi). The mangoes would be chilling out until I took a shower. And then… would you believe my mouth is watering as I write this..?
We’d put a sheet of newspaper between us and the mangoes and the knife. Cut and eat… cut and eat… no room in the mouth for words… no time to talk… no attention to spare to anything but the magic that is mango. I had no idea mango eating needed all five senses for full enjoyment. I still remember, it never took us both more than fifteen minutes to finish the pile. One day we astounded ourselves. We cleared out 3kilo 700gms of mangoes in twelve minutes flat. I bet we created a world record that day.
Towards July first week my parents-in-law came to visit us. I think my MIL was revolted by the cold-blooded absorption with which the two of us went at the two kilos of mangoes she had brought. They had fondly imagined they would last us a couple of day at least… and that they would get to eat some too. We would have offered…. really we would have… but by the time we thought of it… they were already finished! We realize later, ruefully, that eating mangoes had become a instinctive process for us. Even if we’d wanted to, we couldn’t have stopped until the delectable enemy was vanquished. It wasn’t personal you see, it was business. And when it is business, one doesn’t mess with it at all. No, Sir..! Duty and all that you know.
In all my life, before or since, I have never eaten more mangoes in one season than in the summer of 1991.
It was a mango flavored summer; the summer of ‘91.