I am an orange. Not really, but in this season dedicated to singing the praises of mangoes, I wish to speak out on behalf of underprivileged fruits, specifically oranges. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as the anti-column. I am an orange. I belong to the citrus family and am known for my natural juiciness and loads of vitamin C. I have many virtues and many connections to India. My name, Orange, originates from the Sanskrit narang, or the Tamil narthai. I am low maintenance and loose-jacketed. Once stripped of my skin, I elicit an intoxicating fragrance and succumb to slurping lips with the ease of a Mallika Sherawat slipping out of her sheath. I offer taste and sustenance. Yet, what gets my goat is that in the fruit hierarchy, I am well below that so-called King of Fruits. I refer here to that masquerading coward, the mango. In fact, with the possible exception of the custard apple, I am treated with a disdain that is wholly uncalled for. Even an apple has a computer named after it. Even the common kiwi fruit has a people (the New Zealanders) named after it. Yet, I, the original ‘Chinese Apple’, as I was called by the Dutch, have nothing to my name.
At least I’m not a common drupe. Did you know that the mango was a drupe? I use it as a swear word when I sway in the wind towards a mango tree. “Hey, drupe, get off my back,” I hiss. But drupe is the botanical name to indicate a fruit with a hard seed in the middle. Coconuts are drupes, as are most of the prune family. And so is a mango. I, on the other hand, am not a drupe. Call me pomelo, call me a tangerine, but I am not a drupe.
A cousin of mine, the Meyer lemon, is annoyed because people use his name to denote things that are bad. “That car is a lemon,” they say to dismiss an underperforming car. My cousin and I blame it all on economist George Akerlof. It was he who published a paper on the marketing of lemons and how such quality problems will affect markets with what is called in the trade as, “asymmetrical formations”. Now, I have no idea what this term means, nor do I care. All I want to say is that Akerlof should have shared his Nobel Prize money with us—the orange and the lemon—who, after all, inspired his thesis. That would have raised our status in the world, not to mention in India—a country which celebrates the economics of moneymaking above all.
Here in India, we greet the arrival of mangoes with delirious glee. Boxes of Alphonsos are swaddled in hay, crated and sent to everyone from preferred customers to great-aunt Pimsy. Mangoes are potted, pickled, sliced, blended, diced and spiced. Come June and they become a national obsession, superseding cricket and Bollywood. South Indians start salivating after the Dussehri; North Indians crave the Banganapalli. And therein lies the rub. I am just as golden as a mango and I achieve orgasmic ripeness with far more regularity. Yet, who heeds me, the lowly orange? The only place where I am celebrated is Florida, which in itself is an infra dig, for this is a state that cannot count, as witnessed by the Gore-Bush election. But one thing I have made damn sure of: No good mango grows in my Florida backyard. To taste a good mango, you have to travel to India. That is where the 35 Mangifera species grow in all their glory. The Dussehri, the Ratnagiri, the Banganapalli, the Salem, the Alphonso, and other varieties, all flower in India. By contrast, the rest of the world is dominated by a cultivar known as the Tommy Atkins mango. Can you think of a sillier name than a Tommy Atkins mango? Contrast that with my own varieties—a Navel orange, so named because of a Brazilian mutation in which a second orange segment is attached to the navel of the larger fruit, or a Mandarin orange—how dignified that sounds. The Valencia orange from Spain, or the macabre-sounding, but sweet-tasting, blood orange?
OK. I see that you are not convinced. You are chewing on an unripe green mango as we speak, after all. Let me lay to rest all arguments once and for all about the superiority of an orange over a mango with one simple fact: the pickle. The mango is so inferior a fruit that it requires a pickle and a spice (amchoor) to redeem it. It lacks intrinsic taste. Therefore, it must be pickled into the Andhra avakaya, or the Tamil vadumangai, or the North Indian achaar. I, on the other hand, need no pickle to ascertain my status. The orange stands alone, sans pickle or spice to assert its taste and texture as a superior fruit. It exists merely on the strength of its peel and the sweetness of its juice. It doesn’t resort to subterfuge like the mango.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, let me just ask you to give me a chance. Say ‘No’ to mangoes. Try an orange instead. Try me. I offer sast, mast and tandurust.
Shoba Narayan detests mangoes. Well… not exactly. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org