The Courtyard Of Mango Memories

The Courtyard Of Mango Memories

As the "king" of fruits marks another annual season in India, a look at its influence beyond the plate and the senses — into the realm of art.

BY: Suryasarathi Bhattacharya May 15, 2024

It was an apple that Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden with, but a mango perhaps would have been the more fitting fruit. The apple's glossy and inviting exterior, the sinful associations of its red hue, give way to a far more contained interior. The apple's flesh is sweet and tart, but crisp and cool  —   it has no give. The mango, on the other hand, is decidedly carnal. It evokes visions of teeth sinking into soft, warm pulp... nectar dribbling down to stain the eater and their environs. You can't eat a mango without making a glorious mess.

As sensual as it is, the mango can also be playful and innocent: the focus of childhood games and greed, of pleasurable gluttony, of anticipation and fulfilment. When seen in that light, the mango becomes a symbol of something ephemeral and fleeting, rarely to be enjoyed in quite the same way again.

It has been a favourite of royalty and the commoner. Its various iterations have legions of acolytes ready to worship at a very specific altar, to the exclusion of all others. It is coveted in its natural form, both ripe and raw, in preparations that treat it with the merest hint of other ingredients and in those that subsume its bold, full-bodied flavour into myriad others. 

The mango is a shape-shifter. With a mango, there can be no half-measures.

As the "king" of fruits marks another annual season in India, we're tracing its influence beyond the plate and the senses — into the realm of art. Come join us as we gather these odes to aam.

Illustrations by: Gulal Salil | Curated by: Suryasarathi Bhattacharya


MIRZA GHALIB | dar sifat-e-ambah | در صفت انبہ

Mujhse poochho, tumhen khabar kya hai

ask me! for what do you know?

Aam ke aagey neyshakar kya hai

a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane…

Ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

perhaps from the great heights above

Baagh baanon ne baagh-e-jannat se

the gardeners of heaven’s orchards

Angabeen ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas

have sent, by the order of God

Bhar ke bheje hain sar ba mohar gilaas

wine filled in sealed glasses


AKBAR ALLAHABADI | aam-nama | आम-नामा | مزید دریافت کیجیے

नामा न कोई यार का पैग़ाम भेजिए 

O beloved do not send any messages

इस फ़स्ल में जो भेजिए बस आम भेजिए 

This season if you want to send just send mangoes

ऐसा ज़रूर हो कि उन्हें रख के खा सकूँ 

I should be able to keep them and eat

पुख़्ता अगरचे बीस तो दस ख़ाम भेजिए 

If twenty are ripe ten should be raw

मालूम ही है आप को बंदे का ऐडरेस 

You know the address of yours truly

सीधे इलाहाबाद मिरे नाम भेजिए 

Send them directly to my address at Allahabad

ऐसा न हो कि आप ये लिक्खें जवाब में 

It should not so happen that you reply

तामील होगी पहले मगर दाम भेजिए 

That you will follow my order but first I should send the money



One evening

I met the mango.

At first there were four or five of them

in a bowl.

They looked like stones you find

in the rivers of Pennsylvania

when the waters are low. 

That size, and almost round.

Mossy green.

But this was a rich house, and clever too.

After salmon and salads, 

mangoes for everyone appeared on blue plates,

each one cut in half and scored 

and shoved forward from its rind, like an orange flower,

cubist and juicy.

When I began to eat

things happened.

All through the sweetness I heard voices,

men and women talking about something —

another country, and trouble.

It wasn't my language, but I understood enough.

Jungles, and death. The ships

leaving the harbours, their holds

filled with mangoes.

Children, brushing the flies away

from their hot faces

as they worked in the fields.

Men, and guns.

The voices all ran together 

so that I tasted them in the taste of the mango,

a sharp gravel in the flesh. 

Later, in the kitchen, I saw the stones

like torn-out tongues

embedded in the honeyed centres. 

They were talking among themselves —

family news,

a few lines of a song

for a last comfort.

It was a long evening.

There was music.


Snapshots of China.

Things wound themselves together the way they always do —

health, art, profit. Where to travel 

for the best weather. Where to buy

the cheapest, the best and sweetest of anything.

Then we all said goodbye

and kissed, on the black lawn, like strangers.


RABINDRANATH TAGORE | Kaancha Aam (Green Mango) | কাঁচা আম

In the month of Chaitra

In the mellow morning sun

Below the tree on the ground

I saw three green mangoes lying.

I didn’t feel eager to collect them.

When I was sipping my tea it struck me

How there have been changes in the wind

That powers my sails.

The eastern point of the river crossing

Where I had boarded the ferry boat

Is gradually becoming indistinct.

There was a time

When such mangoes found by chance

Served me as a golden key

To the secret chamber of my whole day’s pleasure;

I don’t need a key now

The lock is no longer there.

Let me begin at the beginning.

At the time of my life

When from a different house

She came to this house as a new bride  

My mind was like a boat at anchor

Her arrival rocked that boat like a spring tide.

No longer serving me in a fixed miserly measure

My destiny became bounteous.

My surroundings lost their shabby mundane appearance.

For a few days the festive orchestra

Played without interruption

It changed the very language we daily use;

In lamps and chandeliers,

There was a riot of light in every room.

The familiar became mysterious.

And one who came that day bedecked in bridal dress

Let me understand she was not one who is common

She was exclusive, unique and incomparable.

As a boy for the first time I realised

There are things in this world

Which can be seen but not known.

The music stopped but its message remained -

The bride also remained

Covered in an unseen mysterious aura.

Whether she was friendly or cross

All her play was only with my young sisters.

Shyly I wanted to be close to her,

But her sari confounded my mind

And her frowns convinced me

I was not a girl but a boy

I was of a different kind.

We were more or less of the same age

But not made of the same material.

Presenting her something

I very much wanted to build a bridge between us.

One day poor me! I got a book of pictures

I thought that with that book I shall surprise her.

Laughing she said, ‘What shall I do with it?’

Such tragedies are ignored in history

None feels any sympathy!

The boy spends all his days bent in humiliation.

Is there no judge who will say

These books are really of some use?

Yet in the meantime, it became evident

Though she remained beyond my reach

At times she would step down from her high domain –

Marinating with herbs and chilli

She loves to eat green mangoes.

To a simpleton and a boy like me

To get some favour from her

There was only one door open.

But to scale a tree there was strict prohibition.

So as soon as the wind blew

I ran to the garden

If by chance I got a fruit!

From beyond my reach I would see

How green, shapely and beautiful it was,

It was one of nature’s most wonderful gifts.

Those who are greedy cut it and eat it

They cannot see its heavenly beauty.

One day in the midst of a hail storm

I had collected some mangoes.

‘Who asked you to bring them?’ she had told me

And I had said ‘None.’

All the mangoes of the basket I threw on the ground.

Another day I was stung by bees;

She told me, ‘You don’t have to take so much trouble for fruits.’

I kept quiet.

Gradually we grew up.

She had once presented me a gold ring;

Something lovely was engraved on it.

One day while bathing in the Ganges I lost it –

I searched but never got it back.

For years green mangoes are falling down under the tree.

She can no longer be found.


The Fruit of Wisdom | ஞானப்பழம்

One day, the Vedic sage Narada (famous in Hindu traditions as a musical storyteller) came with a mango fruit to Kailash, the abode of Shiva. The family was in a joyous mood where Parvati and Shiva were laughing at the naughty mischiefs of their little children Ganesh and Murugan or Kartikeya. Narada is known for always causing trouble which, however, eventually leads to something good. And this time too, he created a big nuisance by bringing only one mango.

Shiva and Parvati thought their sons wouldn’t mind sharing the fruit. But the mischievous Narada said, “This is the golden fruit of wisdom and whoever eats this mango will be granted eternal knowledge and wisdom”. “However, there is a condition to eating this fruit,” he warned. With a smirk on his face, Narada continued, “This fruit has to be eaten by only one person.” Shiva and his family were struggling to solve the problem. Shiva thought of an idea and decided that whoever first circles the world would get to have the fruit. Kartikeya was very happy and jumped onto his vehicle, a peacock, and was soon out of sight. Ganesh remained where he was with a thoughtful expression on his face.

He slowly made his way to his parents and bowed low before them. He then started circling his parents. Shiva and Parvati were perplexed. Ganesh replied, “You, my parents are my universe and my whole world. So if I circle you, it means that I have circled the entire world.” Saying this, he finished his third circle. The happy and proud parents gave the mango fruit to him.

When Murugan reached back, he was startled to look at the fruit in his brother’s hand. Feeling deceptive and angry, he left without a word and reached today’s Palani Hill, where his parents rushed to pacify him. They called him – ‘Gnana Pazham neeyappa’, which means that you yourself are a bundle of wisdom and that is the reason the hill is called Pazhani (Palani).

Karaikal Ammaiyar | காரைக்கால் அம்மையார்

Long ago, during French rule, the sea-washed Karaikal was the prime port of the Bay of Bengal. A rich and pious merchant, Danadattan, in the city, was blessed with a female child. He named her Punithavathi. She imbibed the devotional atmosphere of her natal home in her very veins and even at play she built toy temples and recited Shiva's name. As she grew up into a lovely maiden, her marriage with Paramadattan, a young and rich merchant just like her Danadattan, was solemnised.

One day Paramadattan was visited by two merchants in the way of business at his workplace. They presented him with two ripe mangoes. He sent them home for his lunch. About this time a devotee of Shiva came to Punithavathi and asked for food. Business people were known for their hospitality to the Saivaite (Shiva) devotees. She fed him well and served him one of the mangoes also. The devotee was very much satisfied and went on his way.

Punithavathi was in a dilemma. On an impulse, she prayed to Shiva and immediately a mango fell in her hands. This she served to Paramadattan. When he tasted it he was flabbergasted."Well, I don't think there is a fruit as sweet as this in all three worlds. Are you sure this was the one given by the merchants? He asked his wife. Punithavathi was an image of sincerity and truth. She recounted how she had given away a mango to a hungry devotee. When Paramadattan had asked for it, she had simply gone into the kitchen and prayed to Shiva. His grace was flown into her hands as the ripe mango.

Paramadattan was a complete materialist and could not believe in miracles. He thought his wife must be weaving a tell-tale to hide some misdemeanour. “The Lord gave you the mango? If so, then prove it! Get me another magic mango!" he said without any thought. Faced with an unexpected ordeal, yet sure of her faith in Shiva's grace, Punithavathi began praying to the Lord. When did the Lord fail his true devotee? Sure enough, a third mango - fresh, ripe, uncut - appeared on Punithavathis's hands. Calmly she went forward and placed the fruit in Paramadattan's hands. As the mango touched his hands, it vanished. Paramadattan was frightened. He thought Punithavathi was a divine being and that he should not approach her. So he left home at once.

When the parents came to know what had happened, they took Punithavathi to where her husband was. As soon as he saw her, he fell at her feet saying that she was a divine woman and that he did not deserve her. Coming to know her husband’s plight, Punithavathi prayed to Shiva to rid her of the youthful and lovely body so that she could spend the rest of her life undisturbed worshipping him. Lord Shiva realised her well-meaning need in a world which generally tends to desecrate physical beauty, and thus granted her wish and soon she was transformed into a crone. But it was as if all her beauty was channelised into her devotional hymns, the verses certainly surpassing all forms of physical beauty.

She was the first Tamil devotional poet and composed beautiful hymns on Lord Shiva. She created a new genre called Andhadhi in Tamil where the last word in the first stanza is the first word in the second stanza. Her name and fame spread far and wide. Even now many temples in Tamil Nadu and South East Asia could be seen where her portraits are displayed. Tamils established a Hindu Empire in South East Asia 1800 years ago and Gangaikonda Chozapuram in Tamil Nadu has a beautiful, smiling Nataraja statue with Karaikal Ammaiyar praying to him.

The Conclusion

The first story about mango created one of the six famous abodes of Murugan or Kartikeya in Tamil Nadu. The place is filled with people from different places during festivals and festivities. The second story of the fruit created a new set of devotional poems called Panniru Thirumurai containing 18000 poems. After the Sangam period, a big devotional movement changed the picture of the entire Tamil Nadu starting from the days of Karaikal Ammaiyar. It is compared to the big Bhakti movements in Maharashtra with Nivrutti, Gnanadev, Sopana, Muktabhai, Eknath, Namdev, Tukaram and Samartha Ramdas.

NOTE: The above text was researched and written by a Milaap fellow in the summer of 2019, following an interaction with localities of a small district in Tamil Nadu, as part of the fellowship programme which was run by the organization between 2014 and 2019.


KRISHNA BASU | Aamer tulya koi? (Is there another fruit like mango?) | আমের তূল্য কই?

আমের তূল্য কই?

Is there another fruit like mango? 

আমের মতন রসাল  ফল  আর কোথায় আছে?

Where would you even find another fruit as juicy as mango?

আকূল জিহ্বা  ঘুরে  বেড়ায় আমের  কাছে  কাছে। 

Eager tongues hover around the majestic mango

শ্রেষ্ঠ  ফলের   মান্যতা  দাও এই ফলকে তুমি।

One must recognise mango with the status of the Fruit Supremo

এই ফলই ঘিরে  আমার  বংগভুমি 

This fruit is the essence of my Bengal 

সুস্বাদু সুপেয়  আম হৃদয়ে  জুরে নাচে। 

Delicious, succulent mangoes make my heart skip a beat 

কই? ভুলি না  হৃদয়খানা আমের গন্ধের  কাছে।

I don't lose my heart to the intoxicating smell of mangoes

সব ফলেরই  শীরস  নাম, রাখো একে মাথায়।

The one bestowed with the highest honour among fruits, don't forget to remember this one.

আমের  আচার, আমের তেল, এর  তূলনা কেউ? 

Is there anything remotely comparable to mango pickle and mango oil?

আমের রসের বিভোর হ'য়ে  রই

I'm intoxicated by the smell and (juiciness) taste of mangoes 

বিশ্বে মানুশ ভোজন লোভী এই ফলকে চায়

Every food connoisseur around the world wants a piece of the King of Fruits

দেশজোড়া এই ফলের  খ্যাতি ভারত ছেড়ে যায়। 

Such is the greatness of mangoes, that's it is revered in countries far and wide

আমের  তূল্য   সুস্বাদু ফল কয়টা আছে বলো? 

How many fruits can be compared to this delicious fruit?

আমের  লোভে  ভিতর বাহির করছে  ছলছল।

The desire to devour mangoes thrills my entire being.


JOHN AGARD | English Girl Eats Her First Mango

If I did tell she

hold this gold

of sundizzy

tonguelicking juicy

mouthwater flow

ripe with love

from the tropics

she woulda tell me

trust you to be


so I just say

taste this mango

and I watch she hold

the smooth cheeks

of the mango

blushing yellow

and a glow

rush to she own cheeks

and she ask me

what do I know

just bite into it?

and I was tempted

to tell she

why not be a devil

and eat of the skin

of the original sin

but she woulda tell me

trust you to be


so I would just say

it’s up to you

if you want to peel it

and I watch she feels it

as something precious

then she smile and say

looks delicious

and I tell she

don’t waste sweet words

when she sweetness

in your hand

just bite it man

peel it with the teeth

that God gave you

or better yet

do like me mother

used to do

and squeeze 

till the flesh

turns syrup

nibble a hole

then suck the gold

like bubby

in child mouth

squeeze and tease out

every drop of spice

sounds nice

me friend tell me

and I remind she that ain’t

apple core

so don’t forget

the seed

suck that too

the sweetest part 

the juice does run

down to your heart

man if you see

the English rose

she face was bliss

down to the pink

of she toes

and when she finish

she smile

and turn to me

lend me your hanky

my fingers are all sticky

with mango juice

and I had to tell she

what hanky

you talking about

you don’t know

when you eat mango

you hanky

is you tongue

man just lick

your finger

you call that


unless you prefer

to call it


in reverse


VANDANA BHASIN | Mango: A Divinity

A ‘super fruit’, ‘king of the fruits’ or the ‘national fruit’

Whatever high honour you accord to this succulent drupe

No vanity or bitterness can touch its roots

For it’s the sweetest gift of the evergreen Mangifera indica

Five thousand years ago, grown in India

Oh what sugary ambrosial childhood memories

Plucking the divine fruit dangling enticingly from its branches

A small incision at the top and squeezing the fruit gently to suck its nectar, deliciously

What a heavenly feeling when the sweetness sanctifies your tongue

You even lick the juice that trickles down your wrist

Pieces cut in fine shape or blend it into a smoothie

Pickle, jam, juice, cakes, ice cream, desserts or lassi

Relish it in as many ways, to grow your culinary skills

There’s no dearth of mangoes on Earth,

There are more than a thousand varieties

Yes, a thousand; you heard me right

And when you’ll listen to the names, you’ll crave for a bite

Dasahari. Langra, Chausa, Alphonso

Kesar, Totapuri, Neelam, Amrapali

Ataulfo, Haden, Kent and Tommy Atkins - Oh, what a wide variety!

Exotic and delectable with hues of yellow, orange and green

The luscious fruit incited even Lord Buddha under its tree

Rich in vitamins- A, B, C, K, potassium and Folate

The curvaceous figure ‘aam’, as called in Hindi

An antioxidant that lowers cholesterol and boosts immunity

The royal fruit allured emperors and kings

And even inspired the great bards of poetry

When legendary poet Mirza Ghalib,

Wrote dar sifat-e-ambaah, to glorify its allure

And called mango, a delicious wine from heaven above

Ah! My wait for mangoes is over, as summer is finally here

And yes, mango is sacred; don’t disgrace it by throwing it at someone!


SAGHAR KHAYYAMI | aamon ka sehra | आमों का सेहरा

जो आम में है वो लब ए शीरीं में नहीं रस

What is in mango, isn't in the lips of the beloved

रेशों में हैं जो शेख की दाढ़ी से मुक़द्दस

Its silken threads are purer than a saint's beard, 

आते हैं नज़र आम, तो जाते हैं बदन कस

When mangoes catch the eye, bodies tense and clasp, 

लंगड़े भी चले जाते हैं, खाने को बनारस

Even the limping find strength, to Benaras they amass.

होटों में हसीनों के जो, अमरस का मज़ा है

In the lips of beauties, lies the joy of ambrosia's delight,

ये फल किसी आशिक की, मोहब्बत का सिला है

This fruit is the reward of a lover's affectionate ties.

आमद से दसहरी की है, मंडी में दस्हेरा

With the arrival of Dasahari, the festival's flair does soar,

हर आम नज़र आता है, माशूक़ का चेहरा

Every mango reflects the visage of the beloved, for sure.

एक रंग में हल्का है, तो एक रंग में गहरा

Some are light in hue, while some are deeply tinted,

कह डाला क़सीदे के एवज़, आम का सेहरा

Reciting an ode, the mango's charm is thus presented.

खालिक को है मक़सूद, के मख्लूक़ मज़ा ले

The Creator's intention is that creation should delight,

वो चीज़ बना दी है के बुड्ढा भी चबा ले

Something has been created that even the old should savour.

फल कोई ज़माने में नहीं, आम से बेहतर

No fruit is superior to the mango in this world's domain,

करता है सना आम की, ग़ालिब सा सुखनवर

Even as eloquent as Ghalib, its praise they proclaim.

इकबाल का एक शेर, कसीदे के बराबर

A verse by Iqbal, a treasure beyond measure,

छिलकों पा भिनक लेते हैं , साग़र से फटीचर

While a worthless Saghar, marvels at mango peel's simple pleasure.

वो लोग जो आमों का मज़ा, पाए हुए हैं

Those who have savored the delight of mangoes,

बौर आने से पहले ही, वो बौराए हुए हैं

Are already intoxicated, even before the madness sets in.

नफरत है जिसे आम से वो शख्स है बीमार

The one who dislikes mangoes is indeed unwell,

लेते है शकर आम से अक्सर लब ओ रुखसार

Yet the beautiful often borrow their lips' sweetness from mango's spell.

आमों की बनावट में है, मुज़मर तेरा दीदार

In the mango's form, I find a reflection of your grace so fair,

बाजू वो दसहरी से, वो केरी से लब ए यार

Your arms akin to Dasahari, lips like Keri, beyond compare.

हैं जाम ओ सुबू खुम कहाँ आँखों से मुशाबे

Where are the goblet and the cup, compared to your eyes so bright,

आँखें तो हैं बस आम की फांकों से मुशाबे

Eyes that are but slices of mango, in their radiant light.

क्या बात है आमों की हों देसी या विदेसी

What a marvel are mangoes, whether native or foreign they hail,

सुर्खे हों सरौली हों की तुख्मी हों की कलमी

Be they Surkhi or Sarauli, Tukhmi or Kalmi,

चौसे हों सफैदे हों की खजरी हों की फजरी

Chaunsa or Safeda, Khajri or Fajri,

एक तरफ़ा क़यामत है मगर आम दसहरी

But among them all, sits on the throne the ethereal Dasahari.

फिरदौस में गंदुम के एवज़ आम जो खाते

In Paradise, had Adam consumed mangoes instead of wheat as his fare,

आदम कभी जन्नत से निकाले नहीं जाते

Expulsion from heavens might have been a fate he wouldn't bear.

- Munawwar Rana

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But even when you can get your hands on all the ingredients, some bartenders are reticent to push the Aviation, and it might just be down to the unusual flavour profile.