08 July 2006


Every time I cut mangoes, I think of Samira's father. Ramesh was a round little Indian man, stereotypical in a lot of ways, jolly but also very soft-spoken, and he spoke quickly and decisively, always sure of his opinions. A few years ago he had a stroke the week of his son's wedding that put him in an irreversible coma. (Next week is the anniversary of his death, which gratefully came before the family had to make any decisions about withdrawing life support and feeding)

It was Ramesh who fed me my first mango. It was a little underripe, and so was tart and green and had that strange tingly flavour that green mangoes have. When I demurred at being served the second half of my mango, he castigated me mockingly, "You don't like mangoes? Shame on you! What kind of Indian woman would you be?" This, of course, made us snort with laughter, since we had to constantly remind Ramesh that the reason his wife and I are so pale is because we're both white.

A few months later, Samira and I were visiting her grandmother in North Jersey. Mangoes were in full season now, and we brought some with us. Ramesh had introduced Carolyn to mangoes, too, when he first married her daughter. We brought a plate of the fruit into the living room to snack on with our iced tea, and after a while we noticed Carolyn hadn't had any. We asked her if it was still too green for her, and she got a piously outraged look on her face. "It's not how Ramesh cuts them!" Of course, when we got home we were instructed on Ramesh's Official Particular Way to Cut a Mango So that Carolyn Will Eat It.

I brought mangoes to the funeral home instead of flowers. I knew Samira and her mom would know why, even though I felt stupid piling the three fruits onto a table filled with huge arrangements of lilies. Sure enough, when Carolyn was wheeled into the viewing area, she clucked her tongue at my handiwork. "That's not the way Ramesh would have done it," she said softly, moving the mangoes into the casket with him for cremation.

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