Reading about an unknown person’s childhood may make some individuals think “I don’t care about your life, why should I read you?” This was the predicament that Mahdur Jaffrey had to face. When I finished her book Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India, I realized that Jaffrey wasn’t able to write a memoir—she was able to paint a world.
The gastronomic and vivid narration elevated her ordinary life and transformed it into a masterpiece filled with incredible sensations. As I read her description of Indian food, my mouth tingled in anticipation for the next ingedient, my appetite stimulated by each descriptive word.
She starts the chapter by describing her birth: “Grandmother welcomed me into this world by writing Om…on my tongue with a little finger dipped in honey.” She went on to describe the landscape of her childhood, saying that it was burgeoning with “a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds and mangoes.” Zeroing in on how she and her cousins ate the luscious mangoes, she says that they were “armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chillies and roasted cumin.” This description particularizes the experience of eating mangoes, and this also illustrates the Indian culture’s love for spices.
This scene triggered memories of my own childhood. My cousins and I loved climbing mango trees in our house in the province. There were indian mangoes, pico mangoes, and carabao mangoes. The adults would bring platitos of bagoong alimasag, Barrio Fiesta bagoong, and salt, and each of them would pick one of these sansawans for their mangoes. For my cousins and I, dipping the mangoes in a bowl of toyo was our thing. Sometimes, when we’re bored, we liked smearing the toyo on our arms, and we would howl in agony pretending that the toyo was blood.
By crafting a compelling story amidst a sea of vision and flavor, Jaffrey’s descriptions coalesced into a world that was worth knowing and experiencing.
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Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.