“The Trouble With Mangoes” by Janet H Swinney - Indian Review
Janet H Swinney on The Reading Life
“The Trouble with Mangoes” is the fourth Short Story by Janet H Swinney which I have had the great pleasure of reading. Obviously I would not make a point of reading all her work did I not hold it in high esteem.
The title intrigued me for personal reasons. Our family owns a propery in rural Phillippines in a small town of five thousand people. The town claims to be “The Mangoe Capital of The World”. There are several giant very old mango trees on the estate, both apple and my favourite carabao mangoes. In season the area produces so many mangoes they are used to feed pigs! My wife gives away lots of big boxes of mangoes. In season there is annual mango festival culimated by the selection of The Mango Queen. Mangoes are used in lots of ways in the cuisine of the Phillipines. By contrast in The United States and the UK mangoes are seen as exotic fruit and are relatively expensive.
There are two groups of characters in the novel, very different from each other.
Charanjit is an older man, his son recently died and he stays with his daughter in law and her young son:
“Charanjit would have liked nothing better at his time of life than to take things easy, but his daughter-in-law’s dilemma meant that he had to reconsider the situation. Everything had been turned upside down the night his elder son had been killed.
The very next day, they got the news that his small grandson had passed the entrance test for one of the most prestigious private schools in the district (English medium), and was due to be admitted in the monsoon semester. The question was how to get him there. The school was on the far side of town, the boy was obviously too young to travel on his own and his daughter-in-law now had other matters to attend to. The easiest thing would have been to turn the place down. But his grandson was the eldest son of the eldest son. When he grew up, he would be the head of the family, and would definitely need to know his prick from a broom handle. ‘No’, Charanjit concluded, ‘the boy must go to school and I am the one to take him…’
The first morning, after he had delivered his grandson to the school gate, he spent some time poking around, looking for somewhere suitable to sit. Eventually, he found a spot outside the Hindu temple, shaded by a peepul tree, where he felt he would not be disturbed. He had sat in many worse places in his youth, as a cobbler.
On the days that followed, he brought with him a piece of sacking which he carefully set out at the base of the wall, and an umbrella with a broken spoke and the handle missing. For hours at a time, he sat contemplating the starlings strutting about with their yellow beaks gaping, or a woman from a scheduled caste involved in some desultory sweeping. And when sitting got too much, he stretched himself out along the sacking, propping his head up on one arm, and keeping his rheumatic knee pointed at the sky.”
I love this beautiful evocative description. Charanjit is so devoted to his grandson that he waits outside the school all day to escort him home.
Near the school lives and upper class family, consisting of a married couple being visited by the husband’s brother and his English wife. It is her first visit to India. Swinney lets us see the the two women struggle to bond. The wife from Indian wants to open a beauty parlour but her very dominant husband says her doing this would shame him as unable to support his family on his own. You won’t like him!
The English woman notices that everyday an old man waits outside in the heat for his grandson. She suggests to her sister in law they give him some drinks and a snack. The other woman sees the man as obviously very lower class and not worth bother with.
I don’t want to tell to much, you should read this story to learn how mangoes cause trouble.
Swinney in prior stories I have read deals with former caste distinctions and the huge gap in perceptions from Indians to most from Europe, the UK, and such.
This is acutely dealt with in “The Trouble with Mangoes”
I highly recommend this this story to all lovers of the form.
“Janet is a repentant education inspector who grew up in the North East of England, gained her political education in Scotland and now lives in London. For over forty years, she shared her life with the composer, Naresh Sohal. Her experience of life in India has influenced her work.
Eleven of her stories have appeared in print anthologies. The most recent of these is ‘Political Events Have Taken a Turn,’ which appeared in the 2018 anthology of Earlyworks Press. ‘The Map of Bihar’ was published both in the UK (Earlyworks Press) and in the USA (Hopewell Publications), where it was included in ‘Best New Writing 2013’ and was nominated for the Eric Hoffer prize for prose. ‘The Work of Lesser-Known Artists’ was a runner-up in the London Short Story Competition 2014, and appeared in ‘Flamingo Land’ (Flight Press, 2015).
Other stories have been published by online literary journals based in India, including the Bombay Literary Magazine, Out of Print, Joao Roque and the Indian Review.
Janet has had commendations and listings in a number of competitions including the Fish International short story competition. ‘A Tadge to Your Left’ was shortlisted in the Ilkley Festival competition in 2017, and was selected by Cathy Galvin for publication on the website of London’s ‘The Word Factory.’
Janet’s first collection of stories will be published shortly by Circaidy Gregory Press.”
I am very much looking forward to reading her forthcoming collection of short stories. She also will soon publish a story in the highly regarded Lakeview Journal of Literature and the Arts.