It was a particularly warm summer day and I was immersed in a television show, trying to ignore the acute heat of noon. At times like these, my mother's solution was to offer a serving of cold, glossy aamras with a side of piping hot, crispy puris.
As I ladled the ras in my mouth, I closed my eyes to cherish the harmony of the sweet and savoury, the cold and hot, and the crunchy and silky. I open my eyes to a view of seemingly endless trees at the Hanu Reddy Raghava Farms, amid which I stood with a plate of food piled with mango salsa, mango khichdi, pancakes, aamras, and more.
It’s true what they say: good food takes you back home. It had only been a few hours since the early morning long drive to the Hanu Reddy Mango Tourism Festival, a better part of which I spent wondering how many people would be willing to sacrifice their sleep.
On reaching, I realised the answer was several. The wooded area was alive with sprightly children, families and also, friends. Some were playing the assortment of traditional games set up by Kreeda Games - bambaram, astaa chemmaa, panch kone, a massive snakes and ladder, some were relaxing on white hammock-like seating areas, and others were exploring what else the fest had to offer.
There was much to explore, including a mini market, pottery, block printing, palm leaf weaving, slacklining, petting zoo, and a pumpset that was crowded with giggling children. It was the ideal family weekend outing; a little something for every member.
"I think this is a magical place to unwind. I like that it is not structured. You can just come and sit here, and stare at the skies. You don’t have to do anything but if you want to, there is plenty to try it out. But there is no pressure," shares Vinita Sidhartha, the founder of Kreeda Games and a school friend of the organiser, Nirupama Reddy.
Bringing people together
While the crowds were scattered for a large portion of time, there were activities planned that brought the strangers together. Like the storytelling session by Vikram Sridhar. Families and friends gathered in a circle, some sitting on the ground, under the cooling shade of a tree to listen to the fables and historical tales of Mughal kings, Mahatma Gandhi, and Sarojini Naidu on par with the theme of the day.
With his animated voice and gestures, Vikram captured the crowd, making it interactive to the children’s delight . Mid -way through the story, my eyes travelled to the bullockcart, on which people were spilling to find their seat for a ride. Bonhomie really shined through the crowd with the mango-eating competition. Children and adults took seats on a picnic bench, overlooking a plate of one kilogram of mangoes and no tools. The one to finish first would take home five kilograms.
With different tactics some peeling them with teeth, others sinking them right through the contestants went on as the crowed cheered and galvanised, a wholesome moment of companionship with those unknown. A new record was set in the first round (1 minute and 49 seconds) that was quickly demolished in the second (1 minute and 24 seconds).
Another crowdgatherer was the cooking session with food historian Rakesh Raghunathan, who educated the crowd on the presence of mangoes in Sangam Literature, Buddhism and Indian history as the aroma of the amba pulao he was cooking wafted through the air.
As one can tell, every corner of the space was abuzz. But the grounding centre of attention was surely the 156 feet table under canopies of blue, yellow and white festoons, that was built from the felled casuarina and eucalyptus wood during Cyclone Vardah. The statement piece of furniture seemed like the watering hole, drawing people in for breakfast and coffee.
At this table, I sat with the organiser Nirupama, who looked around at the large crowd and recalled the origin of it all, "In 2018, we conducted this by invitation only but seeing the posts online, there were several people who had booked a ticket next time. We wanted it to be a wholesome experience for a family. It’s a good chance for families to spend time and children to learn about ploughing, (and farming). Mango tourism was initially started by my brother-inlaw Hanu to show farmers how they can earn through alternate sources by creating experiences."
What's on your plate?
Punctuating the wood were baskets of mangoes and adjacent to it, stood several containers of mango (and some non mango) delicacies. Without missing a heartbeat, I took off to grab a glass of aam panna, the soothing solution to my parched throat.
There was mango juice as well. The mango khichdi and mango vada were delicious, albeit lacking in mango flavour. But the aamraas (though disconcertingly warm) and the mango salsa more than made up for that flavour.
The opinion seemed to resonant with other visitors as well. "This is our first time attending. Our expectations were that it was going to be really hot so we packed essentials accordingly, but everything is so well organised with water coolers and cans. The food was so good, we didn’t expect it to be this good," exclaimed Trishia Santhus and Roshini Rajesh, first-time visitors at the fest.
It seemed like everyone was taking back something with them good memories, a souvenir from the mini market, a full stomach. I was no exception, as the box of mangoes on my kitchentop can attest.
The fest will be hosted at Hanu Reddy Raghava Farms on June 18 and 19, from 6 am to noon. Register at hanureddymangotourism.com.