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Inspector General of Mangoes

Updated on: 16 June,2024 07:43 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Meenakshi Shedde |

Planning what to eat is a big part of our routine

Inspector General of Mangoes

Illustration/Uday Mohite

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Inspector General of Mangoes

Meenakshi SheddeIt is lovely having Amma over, getting a chance to pamper her again. She—Indu Shedde—is 97 and returning to stay with me for some days after three-four years. She is fiercely independent, choosing to stay on her own at a senior citizen’s home, with a full-time caretaker, after our dad passed away years ago. She spent a year with me during COVID, then because of unfortunately-timed building repairs, moved to a senior citizens’ home at Panvel, on a lovely 15-acre orchard property, two hours from Bombay, that she thoroughly enjoys.

I’m struggling alone to give Amma the best time possible. It is a very busy time for me with multiple work deadlines, and I am also going crazy trying to get her Aadhar card updated for two weeks, as her bank work is held up because of this. I think of ways to engage her in fun activities. Fawzan Husain, photojournalist and a friend, who also runs Arwa Farms at Dahanu, sends me a box of two dozen organic kesar mangoes from his farm. I promptly appointed Amma Inspector General of Mangoes. Her job is to pick out the mangoes ripe enough to eat today—and quite a skill that is, especially when dealing with kesar, as it doesn’t turn bright yellow like Alphonso. It remains mostly in shades of green, with a hint of yellow—but it is really the softness of the mango that tells you, ki iska time aa gaya. Amma and I learn new things from the instructions on the box: if you cut a mango and discover that it is not fully ripe, tie a thread around it and put it back in the hay for a day or two. Aha! 

Planning what to eat is a big part of our routine. We have masti treats like bhel puri and hapus amras; divine shrikhand-puri from Panshikar (actually it was amrakhand—shrikhand with amras and saffron strands, OMG) and Amma’s favourite sweet corn vegetable soup and soft Singapore noodles, remembering family treats at Kamling at Churchgate. Every evening, we go to the terrace for some hawa khana. Amma sings her favourite songs. Then I join her, and we sing together bandishes she has taught me, including Phagwa Brij dekhan ko chalo ri in Raag Basant, and Binati suno mori in Raag Bageshri. We are both currently learning Mharo pranam by Kishori Amonkar in Raag Yaman Kalyan, from YouTube.

I phone Amma’s friends so she can catch up with them. The crushing reality is, at 97, not a lot of your friends are alive. Amma is exceptionally lucky that at this age, she can see, hear, walk and even climb steps, but most of her friends, the few who are still alive, live in a fog. I call Lakshmi Pachchi*, a vivacious relative. “I’m constantly getting transferred,” she says, half-complaining, half in jest. She spends her time shuttling between her adult children in Mumbai and overseas. “They have a three-bedroom flat, so they are in one bedroom, their kids are in another bedroom, and I’m in the third bedroom. We hardly meet or talk. There is a lot of silence,”  she says. Lakshmi’s experience reminds us how lonely ageing parents can be when living in their own homes with their own families. So living with the family being heaven versus living in a senior citizen’s home being hell, is certainly one of the biggest lies going around. It just depends. Next, I call Radhikaben, a fun-loving Gujarati former neighbour. But she kept asking, “Kon che?” (Who is it?). Amma kept repeating, “Hu
Induben chu. From Mayur building. You used to come to our house…,” but Radhikaben remains in a fog. She can’t hear--or remember. After five minutes of this, we sadly cut the call. I don’t call any more of Amma’s friends, it is too crushing for both of us. 

Bathing Amma is a special privilege of love and trust not given to many—how many adults are comfortable bathing their own ageing parents? Those who can afford it, usually outsource it to a maid or nurse. Then I apply aloe vera to Amma’s body, and give her a foot massage before she sleeps. There’s something incredibly beautiful about watching your Ma sleep deeply like a baby in your home. I feel very blessed.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. 
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