Sunday, August 8, 2010

Taste Of The Mango 'Saatt'

I don't want to rake up much of the sweet nostalgic memories. But the taste of 'Saatt',- dried mango pulp, is known only to those who have tasted it sitting curled up at a corner of the house, looking and listening to the torrential monsoon rains, in a small town in South Kanara.

45 years is really a long period of time, since I migrated from my native South Kanara, now renamed as Dakshina Kannada in line with linguist chauvinism. I was born and brought up in a small town called Panemangalore near Mangalore (now Mangaluru!). My primary schooling was in the sleeping small town itself but for secondary school education I had to walk a couple of miles to neighboring Bantwal, another town, a little bigger at that. Both the towns were situated on the opposite banks of river Nethravathi and there was a steel bridge built in 1914 by the British. There were only a couple of dozen pupils from my town and neighboring villages walking daily to have 'higher' education!

A word about the bridge and the monsoon rains needs a mention here. I don't know why the British selected the particular location where the river bank is almost the widest, to construct the bridge when there were narrower places, not so far away. The bridge, still in good condition though for restricted use, is having about 15 spans of about 100 feet length each. My memory is not that sharp to say the correct statistics, yet the bridge was known to be the longest in the vicinity next only to Ullal Railway bridge at Mangalore on the same river just before joining the Arabian sea. The spans are supported on stone and cement pillars. The sand bed of the river could be seen in summers at about 30 feet deep from the bridge. Today the bottom cannot be seen because of the dam constructed a few hundred meters away on the flowing direction from the bridge site. There are also two new bridges, one each for rail and road traffic on either side of the old bridge.

Academic year started with roaring monsoon rains simultaneously every time. Tropic monsoon rains those days was a terrifying experience with thunder, storms and lightning. If we boys and very few girls while going to or coming from the school, were caught by these stormy, heavy down pours in the middle of the bridge, a fully open area for cross winds, we all would simply shut our umbrellas and squat firmly on the road close to each other so that none of us was washed away into the river! There is strong steel structural parapet on both sides of the bridge, but at the pillars it was only some 3 or 4 parallel steel tubes, through which it is easy to be swept away!(Our juvenile fears). Also there are gaps in the steel parapet structure design, enough for school going children to pass through. When there were good continuous rains, the water level in the river rose rapidly and came up to almost 4 feet below the bridge flowing with fierce speed. The bridge is on the highest level compared to the dwellings in the surrounding area. Floods sweeping tenements in low lying areas was quite common in monsoon season. After the construction of this bridge, since 1914 the water level of the river never came above the bridge (look at the British foresight!). Yet there were two occasions when both Panemangalore and Bantwal were completely submerged under floods. Once in 1923 before I was born and again in 1974 when I had already migrated. Normally, the water levels rose and fell quite often during monsoons for about 45 days. A number of times we used to cross floods submerging parts of our road to Bantwal up to 4 feet, which was quite normal when the water of the river was below danger level. Today all the roads are heightened and the danger level is significantly risen up. Above all, I don't think the monsoon rains are as much today as it was in those days. In those days, a piece of 'saatt' in the half pant pocket would always come in handy!

South Kanara is home for a number of varieties of mangoes. There are at least a couple of dozens of wild varieties, both sweet and sour. If they are sweet, why then they are called wild?- you may wonder. For one, they have big stone (seed) with full of veins (called beard  or coir in local parlance). Quite a few wild varieties are used in making good pickles from tender to different stages of maturity. Also there are a few varieties from which curries are made. For this also mangoes, though are wild, they are special because you cannot make curries from all wild varies; more the vein and juicy pulp with equal sweetness and sour is better. Saatt is made from almost all wild varieties, yet fleshy pulp is preferred. All these special wild varieties were plucked at right level of maturity for different kind of usages, sorted, brought and sold from door to door by tribal people dwelling by the forests, during my times. The fruit was available in abundance in those good old days. Today this practice is totally out.

Mango is considered as the king of fruits in the region. Out of a large variety of 'Kasi' (grafted) mangoes, 'Mundappa' variety is considered the king of mangoes during those days in South Kanara. There are other kasi varieties too such as Pairi (Raspuri), Malgoa, Apus (Alphonso) Kalappadi etc., which are not only very sweet but also have thick pulp with rich flavour, very small stone and almost no veins. Tart is made from a selected kasi varieties such as Mundappa. To make tart, mango should be fully mature but not ripe. It is a pity that the present generation has no access to such wide and mouth watering preparations of mango except perhaps those in deep rural (?) areas of Konkan, Goa, North and South Kanara. And that is why I said in the beginning, to have the taste one should practically taste under the same circumstances, - heavy monsoon rains, curled up in a corner preferably under bedsheets and chew the mango Saatt!

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