My father grew up in Ramgarh, a desert village near the district of Jaisalmer. It’s near the border, hence you can always see army trucks on the main road that leads to the village. Unlike the districts, desert villages didn’t procure the harvest of fruits and vegetables because of many reasons like limited supply of water and land quality. So, my grandparents always had to do with whatever was made available to them. My grandfather, whose name was Gyan Chand ji, ran a Kiryane ki dukan (general store) with his brother. They basically had two families to be fed with what they earned and what was left from the stock. And this about the ’60s, so at the time in India, people had huge families. Whatever produce my grandfather or his brother got, it always got divided among the kids and this meant limited supply. The kids (my father and his siblings counted five) were always offered small-sized portions of food items and there was always this competition of who’s going to get what.
The desert life was all about using what you have. There were many cows that my grandfather had, so there was always milk and its products for the kids. But fruits and veggies were luxury items, and the king of all–needless to say–was mango. When the mango season came, the kids dreamt of nothing but juicy mangoes. Everything else was secondary. In Ramgarh, mangoes, unlike now in cities, didn’t come in endless varieties and volume.
“My father used to get some mangoes from Jaisalmer (as the main market was there), and we, in the end of all distribution, got around one KG mangoes for us all. Which didn’t mean much. The five of us kids had to make up with two mangoes per day,” papa once told me. Every mango was like a treasure for us, and the fights were real. “A mango was divided in three parts. The one that came along with the skin, the middle juicy part, and the best part was the gootli (the seed),” he fondly narrated to me. Whoever got to eat the gootli was the lucky fellow as that is the tastiest layer of the mango. Dreams are made of this. You always have to earn the gootli. It doesn’t come easy.
My grandmother made Aam Ras (mango pulp mixed with water and sugar) which was supposed to be had with rotis. When the mango season came, it was only Aam Ras and Roti for the kids. They were ready to kick everything out. After a hard day of play and school in the sands, a dream-like reward meant all. “Imagine. My mom used to make Aam Ras with only two Langda mangoes for us five. A lot of water was added to suffice our portions, and we still loved every sip of it, ” papa told me with a smile that of a child. When you break a piping hot tukda of roti and dip it in the cool and sweet Aam Ras, it sparks stars in your mind, let alone the taste buds. And that was all for them in summers. Aam Ras Roti. And, all they knew, was life was good.