City Life – Leela Kanuga’s Mango Tree, Mayfair Gardens
Life with a tree.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In these days of lockdown, people can easily spend waking hours absorbed by the changing patterns of sunlight on their drawing room’s walls. But Leela Kanuga recently gazed upon something far more different—bunches of white flowers growing on a mango tree.
The tree stands in the backyard of her bungalow in south Delhi’s Mayfair Gardens. Its dense leafy branches spread upon the roof of her house like a fisherman’s net across the sea water. Ms Kanuga might have never noticed the blossoming but for the pandemic-triggered lockdown that forced her to shift her evening walks from the park outside to her sprawling roof. “And one evening I saw those flowers.” They are now gone, and the tree is covered with green unripened mangoes, she gushes, talking on WhatsApp.
The lady goes up to the roof and shows her mango tree through the phone screen that connects her to The Delhi Walla. The grand tree looks like a forest. “The mangoes are still small,” notes Ms Kanuga. Two days ago, a mild storm knocked over many of those little fruits, called ambi. They were picked up by housekeepers Geeta and Tara, who live in the residence’s staff quarters. They took some of those ambis to their kitchens to make kachha aam ki curry, and some were given to a guard in the neighbouring house — his wife likes to cook the same dish.
The tree is as old as the bungalow. It was built by Ms Kanuga’s father, Kewalram, who settled in Delhi after a long successful stint in the oil industry in Assam. “It was my mother Ganga’s wish to have her own mango tree.” Ms Kanuga is the youngest of six siblings; the rest of them were more or less settled in their own homes elsewhere by the time her parents and she came to live in this house, sometime in the 1970s.
Reflecting upon her years in Mayfair Gardens, Ms Kanuga says that “for a long time it was Mom, Dad, me and the mango tree in the house. And then Mom passed away and it was Dad, me and the mango tree in the house. And then Dad passed away and it is now me and the mango tree in the house.”
And yet the lady isn’t hyper-emotional about the tree. “I’m more emotional about textiles,” she says with a chuckle—she’s an executive in that industry.
The tree yields hundreds of Dussehri variety mangoes each season. A lot of it goes to neighbours, friends and to her sister in Vasant Vihar.
The mangoes are also feasted upon by Mayfair Gardens’s lucky parrots. The gardener, Ram Milan, often urges the lady to put up scarecrows in the tree but she lets the parrots come and have the treat of their life. Those birds anyway lose interest when mangoes start to ripen—they only like the khatta (sour) flavour, Ms Kanuga says. It is then that each fruit is plucked off, wrapped carefully in a newspaper, and stacked in a loft where it is made to ripen further.
By now the sun is setting and the mango tree, infiltrated with a golden glow, is looking like an angel in paradise. Ms Kanuga eagerly points out to the guava and pomegranate trees, growing in the backyard. But, frankly speaking, who cares when the king of fruit himself is giving an audience.
And still the Mango blooms