Author Natasha Sharma talks to us about her book The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes, published by HarperCollins India, and much more!
Why a book on mangoes? And a how-to one at that. What brought it on?
It’s easy to be mango-obsessed! I am, for one! The idea originated when a friend expressed surprise on varieties of mangoes other than Alphonso. From there came the realisation that everyone is passionate about their favourite mango, the favourite way of eating one and the messy mango-eating childhood memories.
The thoughts grew to having loads of fun with the ways of eating a mango, the various varieties of mangoes and even a personality quiz to identify the way best suited to you to eat a mango. The fun continues beyond the mango season since the book even comes with fun mango facts, a mango math section and allows you to dream about mangoes for the rest of the year.
The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes is the first in a series of books that will take experiences intrinsic to India and present a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the same while also pondering over what makes for a good Indian child in that context.
Mangoes are known as the king of fruits. Would you agree, especially in the Indian context?
Absolutely! Summer means mangoes and mango-lovers will all hold by the fact that the taste is unparalleled!
In your experience, is it easier to get kids to eat mangoes, than any other fruits?
I wouldn’t generalise, but I have seen most kids around me love mangoes. I think the sweetness with a hint of tart, the messiness and the texture, all help its case. My daughter, as a toddler, wasn’t too fond of mangoes and I recall feeling almost like it was the end of the world, wondering where the genetic code had gone awry. Much to my relief, she soon grew to love them, and balance in the family’s eating preference was restored.
For most of the older generation, childhood memories are about getting mangoes off the tree, sometimes stealing them from the neighbour’s garden. How much do you think children today relate to that experience?
Those certainly make up a lot of my memories as a child. For children growing up in large cities, that experience is probably missing but it makes them hear stories of it with open-eyed wonder. I hope, if presented with a neighbour’s tree and no meddling adults around, they will still try and get their hands on one.
Tell us about some of your favourite mango memories.
A lot of them! Here’s a list:
Stealing raw mangoes off a neighbour’s tree!
Eating mangoes on a hot summer’s day in my vest and shorts to allow for maximum messiness.
Eating mangoes with parathas sitting beside my grandmother. A combination taught by her!
Stealing mangoes off the sole mango tree in college. I was in hostel in a Delhi college and I recall setting off to the common room that had windows at level with the tree. A friend was posted below to gather treasures that fell. We couldn’t reach the branches through the grill on the windows. We removed the curtains, unscrewed the curtain rod, stuck it out and whacked a few “ambis” so that they dropped down and then put the curtain back in place to remove any traces of our misdeeds.
Do you have a favourite mango recipe to share?
I love a chilled mango smoothie. Yoghurt, cubes of an entire mango, sugar to taste. Whizz around in a blender. Dilute with chilled water and slurp up.
The book also introduces kids to various varieties of mangoes. Which, in your experience, is most kid- friendly?
Safeda, Alphonso and Chausa are not fibrous and therefore probably the most kid-friendly. I’m not an expert on the many delicious varieties you find in other parts of India but I’m sure each has their own favourite.
Your mango book and Icky Yucky Mucky both talk about creating a mess…if there a reverse message somewhere?
Not connected in any way! I have to say that in Icky, Yucky, Mucky, the characters don’t end up reforming themselves. They are so over-the-top in their mess that children get to the inherent thought that you shouldn’t follow their example.
In The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes, while it talks about many ways to eat a mango, some of which are messy, it also presents you with the question on what makes for a good Indian child? Someone who eats with a fork and knife in the La-di-dah way or someone who eats in the All-or-nothing, Everyone-else-exit-now way while completely relishing their mango. Again, up to the reader to decide.
Kids’ reactions to The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes has been great! At the launch reading, we had an extremely excited bunch of kids, each wanting to express their favourite way of eating a mango, sharing their messy moments and often laughing out loud.
What role do illustrations play in books like this? What was your collaboration like with Shreya Sen?
Illustrations play a crucial role, particularly in the format of this book. Being a graphic novel format, completely illustrated, the illustrations are crucial to supporting and amping up the humour.
It was great fun working with Shreya and quite an adventure and learning since I had never worked on a format like this before as well. Often, there were places that my words had to pull back to let the picture tell the story and at times, I had a specific thought on the illustration since it was telling the story in a certain way. It was hard work for everyone but we’re all thrilled with the way it has turned out.
Shreya has created a completely delicious book and I can’t wait to get started on the next one with her.