By Ivan Arthur
Suzie was just three when Grampa Norbert slyly clicked that mankurad-moment on his newly-acquired Canon. She looked funny-cute, with a face all painted yellow from ear to ear by the soft brush of the mango’s seed. The seed was usually reserved for Gramma Jane, but Suzie had insisted on having it that day, after relishing a fleshy slice, neatly cut into cubes. She sucked the seed with intent till there was no more flesh, just a little brush with slight yellow left on it.
‘Who made this mango?’ she asked her father.
‘God, my girl.’
‘Tell God it’s very good,’ she said.
‘It’s a Mankurad, baby - the best mango in the world.’
‘I love it. Can you tell God one more thing, Grampa?’
‘Tell him to make some more.’
‘Sure he will,’ Norbert said, smiling and putting a hand on her shoulder, ‘but you will have to help him do it.’
‘You will have to plant that seed in the ground.’
‘The seed will grow into a tree.’
‘The tree will give you mangoes. Not just one, but hundreds.’
Two days later it was done.
Stella, the househelp had told her that she had to dry the seed in the sun before planting it.
She took Suzie to the back garden, dug a hole at the far end and helped the little girl bury it. With her toy can, Suzie sprinkled water over the small piece of raised earth and said, ‘Now grow.’
She stood waiting to see if anything would happen. Her mother had told her the story of Jack and the beanstalk and she had visual expectations even as she stood there.
‘Seed now sleeping,’ Stella told her. ‘Let her sleep.’
It was three years earlier that Norbert and Jane had moved into their new Siolim house after Norbert’s retirement. It was one of four bungalows built, in a row, by chef-turned builder, Eddie Lobo, who had bought a plot of 9900 sq. metres from the well-known landlord, Joao Leitao. In a friendly moment, Eddie had confided to Nobert that he got the land at a good price, and had even managed to save on stamp duty. The sale of the four bungalows would help him in his ambition to be a big builder in Goa.
A good 250 sq. metres bungalow on a 550 sq. metre plot, and Eddie had offered to him additionally the portion of land behind the bungalow of 470 sq. metres. Norbert bought both the bungalow and the land at the back - all at a good price. A bald piece of earth with nothing growing on it.
Over the past three years, Norbert and Jane planted saplings: four coconut, two chikoo, a custard apple, and a jackfruit tree. Even two mango saplings - a roomali and an unknown variety. But no Mankurad.
Suzie and toy-can made their watery visits to the promised Mankurad mound every morning to see if they could wake up that seed from its slumber. But nothing happened.
It was now time to go back to her home in Mumbai. The three weeks’ leave that her father had taken was coming to an end.
On the morning of their departure, Stella came running with hushed excitement and took Suzie to their hallowed site. Two tiny leaves were peeping through the ground, like little hands doing a morning wake-up stretch.
Norbert drove them that afternoon to Dabolim airport; a good three hours up and down.
Back home from the airport that evening, they found on the verandah a brown envelope. Inside it was a sheet of paper that would change life for them in Goa from that moment on. A court summons from Leitao. His claim was that the land behind the house was not part of the sale deed between him and Eddie and that he was the victim of a fraud. He was suing Eddie, Norbert, and Jane.
‘The bastard!’ Eddie hissed. ‘We mutually agreed to put down just 5000 sq. metres in the sale deed and not 9900 so we could save on stamp duty, with the understanding that we would rectify the deed later. Now he has gone and done this! Saying he sold me just 5000 sq. metres. The snake! He has shown his fangs again.’
Later Norbert was told that this well-known landlord was also a well-known, habitual litigant. Property was to him a game of legal chess. A snakes and ladders game in which there was only one big boa-constrictor and no ladders.
Friendly scolds came aplenty: Couldn’t you have been more careful? Didn’t people warn you about Leitao? Didn’t you have a measuring tape? Didn’t you consult a lawyer? Or at least me? You don’t buy property like fish. Or feni. Oh! Norbert, when will you learn? To which Norbert and Jane could only offer the sucker’s shoulder shrug.
Then came well-meaning suggestions.
From an influential journalist who frequently appeared on national television came the point of view of the realist. He told Norbert and Jane that the case would go on for years. Fifteen, maybe twenty. Who knows? But they could bring it to a swift and satisfactory conclusion, he said. He knew people who could, with payment less than what one would spend on lawyers, arrange to break Leitao’s legs.
Norbert and Jane hired a good, senior lawyer. Stella was not impressed. ‘You will lose case, bai,’ she told Jane. ‘You will lose case. Leitao is going to bua man, Jadoo makes and all. Lawyer no good, patrao. Go to bua.’
Norbert, retired art director and cartoonist that he was, saw all these as possible subjects for his satirical cartooning. Pen, ink, and paper for him. He had no head for sq. metres and legalese.
Stella came to Jane, eyes all shining with excitement. ‘You will win case, bai, she said. ‘Give money to Advogad Saibinni. Not to lawyer man. She be’s best. I donno wot wot you do in your Bommai, but here in Goa all Goan peoples goes to Advogad Saibinni.’
And in Jane’s ears she whisper-shouted, ‘You know wot? Eddie Lobo build chapel for Advogad Saibinni. He will win.’
We later heard that it was true. Eddie had put down a few hundred thousand rupees to do up the Advogad Saibinni chapel.
Norbert couldn’t get himself to visualize Our Lady, crafty-eyed, with black gown and white cravat, and Jane was not going to employ any patron saint of litigants.
Visitors from Mumbai, an elderly couple had even more realistic suggestions. They had been fighting a court case for their ten-acre plot in Valpoi for over twenty years. On a visit to their daughter in Canada, they had discussed the matter with her. Without a word to anyone, the daughter took a plane to Goa that week. She came back at the end of that week, case resolved in their favour. All it took was a quiet dinner in a five-star restaurant, where a suitcase casually changed hands.
Truth. The elderly couple were not entirely elated,their ‘victory’ marred by the thought of what had happened to the Goa they knew.
Norbert kept doing satirical sketches to shake off the stress that now sat heavy between his temples and on his shoulders.
Jane’s distress was more measurable: 180 over 92 . She had never suffered from blood pressure before.
The journalist was proved right. The case dragged on for years with nothing happening.
One court hearing followed another, dates following dates, asking Norbert and Jane to be present almost every month. The Honourable Judge took on in Norbert’s mind the image of a permanent calendar. For years. One. Two. Three... Four...
Every year on vacation, Suzie would come to Goa with her parents and go straight to her Mankurad tree, that had now quite grown. She was eight years old, and the tree was taller than her. A year later, it got taller than Stella.
Five years on. And yet no mangoes. A seedling tree takes longer to fruit, she was told. Trees from grafts fruit faster. But the seedling trees grow big and strong and last long.
Suzie was impatient, but willing to wait.
Nobody talked to her about the court case. She just kept her eye on the Mankurad tree, watering it with the hose now, not her toy can.
Grampa would pay good money and buy her mangoes. Always Mankurad, which she enjoyed still painting her face with sunshine.
In the sixth year of the court case, Jane spoke to Norbert. ‘This will go on, she said. We have got to end this.’
‘What are you suggesting?’
‘Compromise. Offer him a part of the land.’
‘People will say we are mad.’
‘Let them. We have to buy our peace.’
And that’s what they did. Swallowing, with that decision, their hope for justice and letting faith in righteousness take a flogging.
Peace, said Jane, was bigger than righteousness - a 120 by 70 recording on her blood pressure instrument was better than justice.
It took a good part of the year to work out the consent terms and for the court to pass the order, transferring half of the land at the back of the house over to Leitao.
It was the seventh year after the planting of the seed.
Suzie, aged ten, was back with her parents on their annual holiday to Goa. As usual, the first thing she did was to run through the living room, to the back bedroom and the back balcony. From there she could see the Mankurad tree. It had mangoes this year. It had mangoes! The very first year of fruiting. There were quite a number of greenish yellow bulbs amid the leaves. Her heart did a little dulpod as she stepped into the garden.
Then she saw it: the wall separating their garden from the garden belonging to Leitao. Behind her, the family watched as Suzie stopped in her tracks. She looked behind her at her grandparents and her parents, questions furrowing her brow.
‘That’s not our tree now,’ Jane told her, ‘It belongs to Mr. Leitao.’
Suzie looked again at the Mankurad tree. Near the wall she spotted a single mango that had fallen on their side of the garden. It was half ripe. Slowly she walked towards it, bent down, and picked it up. She looked long and hard at it. And in one swing of her elbow, she flung it over the wall.
Back in the house, Jane cut slices of a few mangoes that she had bought from the Mapusa market. She placed the slices in front of Suzie.
‘Which mango is this?’ asked Suzie.
‘Mankurad from Mapusa market,’ Jane told her.
Suzie stared at the plate, as if it was something she had not seen before. She then slowly pushed the plate aside.
‘I hate Mankurad,’ she said.
Ivan Arthur is a three-time winner of the WPP international Atticus Award for original writing and the former Area Creative Director of JWT. His book A Village Dies: Your Invitation to a Memorable Funeral (Speaking Tree; 2016) is available for purchase here.