‘Mango jelly, mango jelly’, the child at the store was insisting, wrestling his mother’s arm. I had just bought some sweet-smelling mangoes and thinking mango jelly would go fab with it, I reached out for a pack. Lo! inside the packet lay a slab of golden yellow - paper slim layers of guess what – sticky aam papad! My mouth filled with its sweet-sour taste as the mind delved into its inner recesses to bring forth sweet-sour memories.
Those naughty afternoons when Mother went off to sleep giving us strict instructions to not make noise, to not step out and to not eat any more. But bored with the fights over Chandamama and Ludo, we hadn’t much to do besides raiding the fridge and the jaali ki almari that had all the home-made treats - besan ladoos, namkeens, matthis and shakker-paras. One greedy afternoon, my sister and I stole and finished a packet of aam papad – nearly finished – but then we thought that if we left nothing maybe it wouldn’t be missed at all. We were right.
A couple of days later, Sis proudly claimed she could make aam papad. I challanged not because I disbelieved her but because of my craving for aam papad. She took out a mango from the fridge after close examination. Leisurely, she went on to wash and dry it. She rolled it between her palms till its insides became a smooth pulp. Then pressing around its eye, just a little, she discarded the first white fluid – which mum said causes acne. She took enough time to create that air of mystery that experts have which frustrates you but keeps you still and quiet lest you disrupt a great creation. With flourish, she squeezed out the thick pulp on a hot griddle. What happened next the mind chose not to remember – maybe the swishing of the griddle woke Mother up. The aam papad sure did land in the garbage bin for I don’t remember having eaten any home made ones, ever.
Another time, I accompanied Mother and Bua, my aunt to the supermarket. Bua was not keeping well and could not climb the stairs so I was left with her as Mother went off to the floors above. I was discreetly told to keep an eye on Bua who was a diabetic and could not keep her hands off sweets. As soon as Mother disappeared, Bua dear disappeared. Before I could panic, she reappeared with a thick slice of aam papad. She tore off a small – a really tiny bit - and thrust it in my palm and hurriedly finished the entire pack herself. I made sure everyone came to know of it.
Mango jelly can never capture the essence of aam papad. It can never bring back such vivid childhood memories nor reveal your fondness for people lost to you. It’s dreadful to call aam papad, mango jelly.