More than a year back it was suggested that I explore the concept of ageing in a story about mangoes. The suggestion came from my uncle T.S. Ananthu, a founding member of Navadarshanam Trust in Tamil Nadu, India. Navadarshanam was started in the 1990s to experiment with the Gandhian approach to technological progress that is predicated on the principle of nature as nurturer.
The possibilities in the suggestion were evident to me, so I left the thought alone till it evolved.
A little sub-text that I must add is that thoughts don’t just enter the mind and vanish; once in, they appear again and again shaping our imagination and influencing our perceptions. Since this realisation, I have become increasingly selective about the thoughts that I am willing to receive. It’s merely a sanity-preservation mechanism. The thoughts of T.S Ananthu or Ananthu Chacha are more than welcome, because they are a product of a beautiful, non-violent disposition, born of commitment that has been lived.
Perfect as is: The story about beauty, ageing, and a gender-neutral mango
Mangifera Indica, the botanical identifier for mango would have been the name of our protagonist had I not found out about its distaste for the human habit of categorising everything: from kingdom, to phylum or division, to class, all the way to species.
I opened up the matter for discussion: ‘What’s wrong with adopting the name of your species for the story,’ I asked. ‘But that’s not where it stops, does it? You humans have varieties within a species; look at your own—Black, Brown, White, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian. You don’t go around calling yourselves Homo Sapiens. Why then call me by the name of my species?’ countered mango. ‘Good point,’ I murmured. ‘If only you humans would try and restrict yourselves to simple categorisations, such as living and non-living, edible and non-edible, and natural and human-made, you wouldn’t need so many names. You could then simply call me fruit,’ added mango. I thought this was a sensible view of the matter, but I stayed quiet. ‘Oh, well,’ went on mango, ‘You humans can keep busy with categorisations, but you are not going to tell me what name I should choose to be known by.’ I relented.
It disagreed vehemently with Alphonso Mango, said it’s a strange name for a fruit, as unappealing as Mangifera Indica that sounded clever merely because it was a mouthful. ‘If I must have a name for your story to begin, then Hapus is what I shall be known by; it’s native, easy, and gender-neutral,’ it stated resolutely.
So Hapus it is that our protagonist is called.
Hapus chuckled at the name. It had made up a partly fictitious though not necessarily exaggerated tale about the origin of the word, while developing a growing sense of pride in its own beauty, a result of watching the fruit-grower, the children of the fruit-grower, and the husband of the fruit-grower who before placing Hapus in a crate, examined it and exclaimed: ‘Perfect!’
Hapus was telling its creative tale, for the first time, to the third bunch of bananas to be placed by its side. It had been awkward with the first two bunches, not entirely comfortable with their presence on the same display table. Understandably so, because on the tree and in the crate it had shared space with other mangoes only.
However, as the bananas glanced at Hapus with admiration, it felt reassured by the increasingly familiar feeling of attention that it had become used to receiving, and by the time the third bunch of bananas were placed on the table, Hapus was all but ready to regale with its tale.
The bananas listened as Hapus recited, ‘My great-grandma told me that back in the day when there were only the sucking type of mangoes in India, people did not look at mangoes as an object of beauty, they simply relished the juicy fruit. Then, the Portuguese came, conquered, and began to send fruits to Europe. They wanted mangoes that their royalty could consume with the accepted table etiquette of their culture, and so they grafted trees to cultivate more firm varieties of mangoes.
One evening, in a cluster of villages along the coast of the Arabian Sea in the western parts of India, whispers were heard from the forests. Yes, in those days back in the 16th century fruit trees grew amidst other trees, there were no orchards then, and we the cultivars were planted by humans at the periphery (edge) of the forest.’
The bananas looked at Hapus in astonishment, as if seeing it for the first time. Hapus unwilling to trade admiration for astonishment quickly explained, ‘Humans only grafted and planted us, it was nature that gave us life and nourished us, so we too are natural fruits.’ Saying this, it hastily continued with the story.
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