Ripening of a Mango
Jun 23, 2005
It was a joke. Or so we thought.
Sitting under a tree in the remote tribal hills of Northern Maharastra, I turn to Guri and randomly ask, "Ok, seriously, what if someone just came upto you and handed you mangoes? I mean just handed them to you, out of nowhere, without wanting anything in return. What would you do?"
Veena and Guri share a good laugh. I persist, "No, come on. What would you do?" Chewing on some thepla and jaggery that our previous host had packed for our journey through these barren lands, Guri mumbles, "If that happens, then you will cook for me for an entire month." More laughs.
Today is a big day. We enter the state of Maharastra from the far eastern tribal hills of Gujarat. Our previous host, Sujataben, gives us a huge package as we are about to leave: "Here, take this. You'll need it." Despite our refusal, she packs us over a dozen theplas (bread), some jaggery, and some spiced up puffed rice.
Sujataben didn't know of anyone crazy enough to cross the river, walk up through the hills and enter Nashik 110 kilometers later. But we have no choice since we are journeying by foot. She calls one of the local tribal folks to give us *very* approximate directions. Good news is that we know we have to follow the sun rising in the East. :)
We take off at 5AM on what promises to be a true adventure -- we don't know anyone, we don't have a place to rest the night, it's hilly and tribal, and we don't speak the language. To top if off, many pilgrims have warned us that Maharastans aren't as hospitable as Gujaratis. ;)
Onwards we charge, through these dimly populated hills.
No doubt, it would've been the toughest day to date but fortunately, nature cooperates with us. We don't see the sun all day! Not even a single peek through the thick clouds. So we just keep walking and walking, hoping to spot villages that we are told are on the way.
There's no food (or tea!) on the way. At about 2PM, Guri rolls out her shawl under a tree and instructs us macho-wanna-be's to snack on Sujataben's food offering.
After a hilly 30 kilometers, we are hoping to walk another 10 kilometers to get to the village of Nanasi. They are said to have a government school where we might be able to spend the night. Going into uncertainty like this is typically nerve racking, but today, we're too happy to be in another state. :)
On the way, through thorn insights et al, I keep the pace by walking up ahead. Veena and Guri are about a quarter kilometer behind.
All of a sudden, I hear a huge yell from behind me -- "Nippppunnn!"
It's Guri lifting both her arms jubilantly up towards the sky. There's something in both her hands. Behind her, Veena is lifting both her hands too. It turns out that couple guys were picking bite-sized mangoes off a farm; when they saw Veena and Guri, they ran upto them and dropped off enough mangoes to fill all four of their hands. Then they took off. Just like that.
We sat on the side of the streets, cleaned the mangoes with our precious water-bottle water, and um-um-um, ate bunch of them. And then all of sudden, Veena remembers the prophetic joke: "Wait a second, mangoes? We didn't ask for it, someone just came up and gave it to us without any rhyme or reason and then just went away." Ooooooh. Our mango ecstacy pauses for just a brief moment, as if we got a glimpse of the universal aliveness.
If the story ended there, it would be a nice ending. But there's more.
The next day, as we were walking into Nashik, we take a five minute water break. I pull out my lone remaining bit-sized mango to sip away all its sweet juice.
Just then, a dark middle aged comes out of the nearby house. He inquires about us, offers us water and starts chatting with us about our pilgrimage. "Yeah, my wife saw you from the fields and asked me to come all the way out here to greet you," he says. Because he's Gujarati, we have an extra "home team" kind of connection too.
As I spit out the remaining mango from my mouth, he is curious about it. I tell him how some kind folks gave it to us on the way and how we loved mangoes. Something shifted in him as he invites us into his small, one-room-one-kitchen den. His wife comes in as we all talk about spiritual principles and how people come together in random ways to teach each other lessons. They serve us some wholesome lemonade, which we gladly accept.
While they look like an oddly matched couple, they both seem happy and kind. "Our marriage was just like yours. We are both from very different family and religious backgrounds but it was meant to be," the wife tells us connecting herself with our Punjabi-Gujarati marriage.
Then, it's time to leave. We still had a few more kilometers left (actually, we walked another 24 kilometers that night!). The husband turns to the wife and tells him about how he caught me eating bite-sized mangoes that someone offered on the way. Almost immediately, she takes off inside and brings three huge mangoes! Not one, not two, three. We, of course, refuse such an over-the-top offering, but she quickly shuts me up with, "I am your sister. Can you ever refuse something from your sister?"
Wow, well, what can you say to that? With all of us smiling, we take off with one mango each.
If the story ended here, it would be a nice ending. But there's more.
While Guri and Veena eat their mangoes, my mango stays in my backpack for the next two days.
Day after that -- by this time Veena had left for Hyderabad -- we end up staying at another amazing place on the outskirts of Nashik at the "ashram" of Srikanthbhai and Niruben, a brother-sister combo who have committed their lives to service.
As we eat, they ask us to share stories about our walk, the lessons learned and our "wow-what-a-life" experiences. It's a good time.
"This is an offering I received from a sister along the way; it comes with a lot of love. And I think it has your name written all over it," I tell Sangeeta (who is also like my sister by now) as I hand her my mango from the previous day, that incidentally happens to be in my pocket! It is a perfect ending to all the stories we shared during dinner.
The next morning, while we are all eating a sweet dish -- rava, Sangeeta whispers into my ear, "Did you taste it?" Quizzically I respond, "Um, yeah, it's really tasty. My mom makes this for me all the time but I haven't had it once on this trip!" She innocently says, "We also put the mango in it so we can all share the kindness." I took another bite. Sure enough, the slight hint of mango is now obvious.
Sangeeta's eighteenth birthday gift was a second hand mango. But what I really passed on was a pearl of kindness from one sister to another. And because she immediately shared what she received, I knew that she looked inside the shell.