The Mango Season

The Mango Season

by Amulya Malladi


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The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

From the acclaimed author of A Breath of Fresh Air, this beautiful novel takes us to modern India during the height of the summer’s mango season. Heat, passion, and controversy explode as a woman is forced to decide between romance and tradition.

Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.

Returning to India is an overwhelming experience for Priya. When she was growing up, summer was all about mangoes—ripe, sweet mangoes, bursting with juices that dripped down your chin, hands, and neck. But after years away, she sweats as if she’s never been through an Indian summer before. Everything looks dirtier than she remembered. And things that used to seem natural (a buffalo strolling down a newly laid asphalt road, for example) now feel totally chaotic.

But Priya’s relatives remain the same. Her mother and father insist that it’s time they arranged her marriage to a “nice Indian boy.” Her extended family talks of nothing but marriage—particularly the marriage of her uncle Anand, which still has them reeling. Not only did Anand marry a woman from another Indian state, but he also married for love. Happiness and love are not the point of her grandparents’ or her parents’ union. In her family’s rule book, duty is at the top of the list.

Just as Priya begins to feel she can’t possibly tell her family that she’s engaged to an American, a secret is revealed that leaves her stunned and off-balance. Now she is forced to choose between the love of her family and Nick, the love of her life.

As sharp and intoxicating as sugarcane juice bought fresh from a market cart, The Mango Season is a delightful trip into the heart and soul of both contemporary India and a woman on the edge of a profound life change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345450319
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/26/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Amulya Malladi has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. Born and raised in India, she lived in the United States for several years before moving to Denmark, where she now lives on the island of Mors with her husband and young son. You can contact her at

Read an Excerpt

Use Your Senses

It was overpowering, the smell of mangoes—some fresh, some old, some rotten. With a large empty coconut straw basket, I followed my mother as she stopped at every stall in the massive mango bazaar. They had to taste a certain way; they had to be sour and they had to be mangoes that would not turn sweet when ripened. The mangoes that went into making mango pickle were special mangoes. It was important to use your senses to pick the right batch. You tasted one mango and you relied upon that one mango to tell you what the other mangoes from the same tree tasted like.

"No, no." My mother shook her head at the man sitting in a dirty white dhoti and kurta. His skin was leathery around his mouth and there were deep crevices around his eyes. His face spoke volumes about his life, the hardships, the endless days under the relentless sun selling his wares, sometimes mangoes, sometimes something else, whatever was in season. He was chewing betel leaves, which he spat out at regular intervals in the area between his stall and the one next to him.

"Amma," the man said with finality, as he licked his cracked lips with a tongue reddened by betel leaves. "Ten rupees a k-g, enh, take it or leave it."

My mother shrugged. "I can get them for seven a kilo in Abids."

The man smiled crookedly. "This is Monda Market, Amma. The price here is the lowest. And all these, enh"—he spread his hand over the coconut straw baskets that held hundreds of mangoes—"taste the same."

That had to be a stretch, but I didn't say anything, didn't want to get embroiled in this particular discussion. I stood mute next to my mother, patiently waiting for the ordeal to be over. My light pink salwar kameez was dirty and I was sweating as if I had never been through an Indian summer before. But I had been through twenty Indian summers, and now seven years later, I was having trouble acclimating to my homeland.

I pushed damp sweaty hair off my forehead and tried to tuck it inside my short ponytail. I had cut my hair a few years ago and stuck to the shoulder length hairdo. My mother had been appalled when I sent her pictures and had bemoaned the loss of my waist-length black hair.

"You go to America and you want to look like those Christian girls. Why, what is wrong with our way? Doesn't a girl look nice with long, oiled hair with flowers in it? Even when you were here, you didn't want the nice mallipulu, fresh jasmine, I would string. Always wanted to look like those . . . Short hair and nonsense," she had complained on the phone before thrusting the phone in my father's hands.

I would have preferred to wear a pair of shorts to ward off the tremendous heat but Ma instantly rebelled at the idea. "Wearing shorts in Monda Market? Are you trying to be an exhibitionist? We don't do that here."

Since I had arrived three days ago I had heard that many times. "We don't do that here." As if I didn't know what we did or did not do. I was "we."

My mother picked up a mango and asked the mango seller to cut a slice. She handed the slice to me. "Here, taste," she instructed, and I looked, horrified, at the slimy piece of raw fruit thrust under my nose.

Was she out of her mind? Did she expect me to eat that?

"Here," she prodded again, and shoved it closer to my mouth and the strong smell of mango and its juices sank in. And memories associated with that distinct smell trickled in like a slow stream flowing over gently weathered stone.

I remembered stealing mangoes from the neighbor's tree and biting into them with the relish of a theft well done. I remembered sneaking into the kitchen at night to eat the mangoes Ma was saving for something or other. I remembered sitting with Nate and eating raw mangoes with salt and chili powder, our lips burning and our tongues smacking because of the tartness. Now, I couldn't imagine putting that piece of white and green fruit inside my mouth. It was not about taste, it was about hygiene, and suddenly everything everybody had warned me about India came true.

My Indian friends who visited India after living in the United States said: "Everything will look dirtier than it did before." I never thought myself to be so Americanized that I would cringe from eating a piece of mango that had languished in that man's basket where he had touched it with his hands and . . .

I shook my head when the man scratched his hair and used the same hand to find a piece of food between yellow teeth, while he waited for judgment to be passed on his mangoes.

Ma sighed elaborately and popped the piece of mango into her mouth. From her eyes I could see she was excited. From the myriad mangoes she had tasted all morning, this was the one that would be perfect for her pickle. But she was not going to let the mango seller know it. It was Haggling 101.

"They are okay," she said with a total lack of enthusiasm.

"Okay, enh?" The man frowned and slapped his thigh with his hand in disapproval. "Amma, these are the best pachadi mangoes in all of Monda Market. And"—he paused and smiled at me—"I will give them to you for nine rupees a kilo, enh?"

Ma waved a hand negligently, and memories of my mother bartering over everything came rushing back like a tidal wave. The worst of all incidents was when we were on vacation in Kullu Manali in Himachal Pradesh. It was a popular vacation spot in the Himalayas before Kashmir had become such an issue with Pakistan. In a bazaar in Manali, Ma was trying to buy a shawl; it was not just any shawl, this was an in-fashion and in-high-demand woolen shawl, which had different colors on each side. This was a blue and black shawl and Ma was haggling like she had never haggled before.

The bargaining had stopped over one single rupee. The man said fifty and Ma said forty-nine and they went on for ten minutes after which Ma just walked out of the store. I was about thirteen years old and unhappy that we had just spent half an hour haggling over something she was not going to buy. I didn't know that she was using another haggling tactic of walking out of the store and then being called in by the vendor who would then believe that she was serious about one rupee.

As I was dragged by the hand out of the shawl shop I cried out, "It is just one rupee, Ma, why do you have to be such a kanjoos?"

As soon as the word was out, I knew it was a mistake. Ma slapped me across the face in the center of the market and took me weeping and wailing back to our hotel.

She never forgave me for letting the entire marketplace know that she was haggling over one rupee or for the loss of the blue and black in-fashion and in-high-demand shawl. The vacation went to hell after that as Ma kept telling me how she was not a kanjoos, not a scrooge, and she was only trying to save money for our future, Nate's and mine. When I reminded her that she was buying the shawl for herself, I was awarded another sound slap. I sulked for the rest of the vacation and for a couple of weeks even after we got back home to Hyderabad.

Thanks to happy memories like that I never, ever, bargained. It was a relief that in the United States I didn't have to do it for groceries and clothes; everything came with a fixed price tag. And even when I went and bought my car, I didn't barter or bargain. The nice Volkswagen dealer gave me the price; I agreed and signed on the dotted line even as Nick insisted that I was being conned.

"You could get it for two thousand dollars less, at least," he told me when I was signing the loan papers.

"I like the car, I'm not going to fuss over it," I told him firmly, and Accountant Nick's eyes went snap-snap open in shock.

And that was that. Nick told me that from now on, when I wanted a new car, I should tell him what I wanted and he would buy it. "Getting conned while buying tomatoes in India is one thing, but when you buy a car it's criminal to not negotiate," he said.

But to haggle equated being like my mother and I was never, ever, going to be like my mother.

The mango seller picked out two more mangoes and set them in front of Ma. "Try more. See, they are all the same," he challenged eagerly, in an attempt to convince her.

Ma ignored the mangoes he chose and pulled out one at random from the basket in question. The man cut a slice off with his knife. Ma tasted the piece of mango and instead of swallowing it, spit it out in the general direction of the ground.

"Eight rupees," she said, as she wiped her mouth with the edge of her dark blue cotton sari.

"Eight-fifty," he countered.

"Eight," she prodded and the man made a face, a "since-you-twist-my-arm" face.

"Okay," he sighed, then looked at me. "She drives a hard bargain, enh? I am not going to make any money on this sale."

I made an "I-have-no-say-in-this" face and put the straw basket I was holding in front of him.

"How many kilos?" he asked, and I gasped when my mother said twenty.

How on earth were we, two women with no muscles to speak of, going to carry twenty kilos of mangoes all by ourselves?

I found out soon enough.

It was excruciating. Ma pulled the edge of her sari around her waist and heaved to lift one side of the basket, while I lifted the other. We looked like Laurel and Hardy, tilting the basket, almost losing the goods inside as we paraded down the narrow crowded aisles of Monda Market.

We reached the main road and set the basket down on the dusty pavement. My mother looked at me and shook her head in distaste. "We will have to go home and you will have to change before we go to Ammamma's. I can't take you looking like this and we have to take clothes for tomorrow anyway."

We were all meeting at my grandmother's house to make mango pickle. It was a yearly ritual and everyone was pleased that I had come to India at the right time. I regretted my decision dearly. If I had to pick a month, it should have been anything but blistering July. I was glad that Nick wasn't there with me because he would have melted to nothingness in this heat.

I wiped my neck with a handkerchief and stuck it inside my purse. I probably smelled like a dead rat because I felt like one. My body was limp and the sun blazed down at eight in the morning as if in its zenith.

A whole day at my grandmother's house scared me. The potential for disaster was immense. I had no idea how I was going to tiptoe around the numerous land mines that I was sure had been laid out for the family gathering, as they usually were. When I was young it hadn't mattered much. I used to find a way to block out the bickering and the noise. But now I was an adult and I was expected to join in the bickering and contribute to the noise. I was hardly prepared for either. In addition, I had to break my not-so-good news to one and all—land mines would multiply.

It had just been three days, but I was already tired of being in India, at home, and especially tired of my mother. My father and I got along well, but when it came to taking sides between his children and his wife, Nanna knew which side his idli was smeared with ghee. According to him, Ma was always right.

When Nate and I were younger and fought with Ma, Nanna would always support her. His logic was quite simple: "You will leave someday," he would say. "She is all I have got and I don't want to eat at some cheap Udupi restaurant for the rest of my life. She is right and you are wrong—always, end of discussion."

Calling my mother a nag was not a stretch—she was a super nag. She could nag the hell out of anyone and do it with appalling innocence.

"No autos," Ma complained airily, and looked at me as if I was somehow to blame for the lack of auto rickshaws. "Why don't you try and get one," she ordered, as we stood on the roadside, unhappy in the skin-burning heat, a large basket of mangoes standing slightly lopsided between us on the uneven footpath.

I waved for a while without success. Finally, a yellow and black three-wheeler stopped in front of us, missing my toes that were sticking out of my Kohlapuri slippers by inches.

With her usual panache Ma haggled over the fare with the auto rickshaw driver. They finally decided on twenty-five rupees and we drove home holding the mango basket between us, making sure none of the precious green fruits rolled away.

The road was bumpy and the auto rickshaw moved in mysterious ways. I realized then that I couldn't drive in India. I would be dead in about five minutes flat. There were no rules; there never had been. You could make a U-turn anywhere, anytime you felt like it. Crossing a red light was not a crime. If a policeman caught you without your driver's license and registration papers, twenty to fifty rupees would solve your problem.

Everything that had seemed natural just seven years ago seemed unnatural and chaotic compared to what I had been living in and with in the United States.

The breeze was pleasant while the auto rickshaw moved, but the heat and the smell of the mangoes became intolerable when the auto rickshaw stopped at a red signal or for some other reason. There were many "other" reasons: stray cattle on the roads, frequent traffic jams, a couple of Maruti cars parked against each other in the middle of the road as the drivers passionately argued over whose mistake the accident was.

"If Ammamma had only given us mangoes like she did Lata, we wouldn't have this problem, now would we?" my mother said as the auto rickshaw leaped and jerked over a piece of missing road.

Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of the title The Mango Season? How about the title of the prologue, “Happiness Is a Mango”? Why does
Amulya Malladi constantly refer to mangoes, and how does this symbol resonate within the novel as a whole?

2. How is the constant reference to food significant to the unfolding of the story? What does the inclusion of recipes add to the “flavor”
of the book?

3. In which ways does Priya embrace America upon her arrival there? Which cultural traditions does she eschew?

4. Contrast Priya’s relationship to her mother with those she has with her father and brother.Why do you think she finds it easier to relate to the males in her family? What sets Priya and her mother at odds?

5. Do you think that Priya should have told her family about her engagement right away, perhaps even before her arrival in India?
Why doesn’t she? What larger problems does her reluctance to discuss her romance indicate about Priya’s relationship with her family?

6. What is your impression of Nick through Priya’s rendering of him via her memories and their e-mail correspondence? What characteristics are appealing about him?

7. What are Nick’s fears about Priya returning to India? Why does he want to go with her? How are his worries borne out?

8. Why does Malladi disclose Nick’s race only at the end of The
Mango Season? What hints does she sprinkle throughout the book that he is black? Does this disclosure make a difference in your understanding and perception of the novel?

9. How are Priya’s female relatives constrained by their places in society? How do they chafe under these restrictions? Do any rebel,
and if so, how? What effect does Priya have on them, and in turn,
how do they influence her?

10. What spurs Sowmya to exact promises from her future husband before she’s married? Does this surprise you, based on
Sowmya’s characterization at the beginning of the book?

11. “What can we do when someone takes your trust and throws it away?” asks Priya’s mother (p. 39). How does this theme of establishing—and losing—trust thread through the book? How do Priya’s relatives trust and distrust her? In which ways has their attitude infantilized her, and how has it made her stronger and more independent?

12. “Happiness is such a relative term that it sometimes loses definition,”
Malladi writes (p. 56). How does Priya’s definition of happiness evolve as the book unfolds? How would her parents de-
fine happiness differently from her?

13. Priya refers to the “two people inside me” (p. 69). How does
Priya seek to reconcile the two halves of her personality? Which aspects of her character derive from her Indian upbringing?
Which from her choice to embrace America?

14. Is Nate indulged more than Priya by their parents? How does he adapt to the strictures of Indian society, and within the family structure in particular? How is he a modern figure, and how does he feel a link to the past?

15. “Behind the façade . . . we were strangers to each other,” Priya says of her family (p. 98). Is this statement an accurate representation of her familial relationships? With whom in the family is
Priya most herself?

16. Why does Priya go through with the bride-seeing ceremony?
What about her might be attractive to Adarsh? What are the benefits and disadvantages to having an arranged marriage?

17. How does Priya envision love and marriage? In which ways is this an “American” view, and how is it influenced by her Indian heritage? How does it contrast with the vision of her family in

18. How does Thatha view Priya’s refusal to marry a handpicked
Indian beau? Do you believe that their relationship will ever recover?
Why were they close in the first place, despite their differences?

19. “You cannot make mango pickle with tomatoes,” Thatha says to Priya (p. 170). How does this sum up his view of her relationship with Nick? Does it also apply to any other relationships in the book?

20. “I had to start living my own life on my own terms,” Priya says
(p. 142). Is this goal easier to accomplish when Priya is in the
United States? Why? Does being in India stifle her sense of self?

21. How does the theme of sacrifice thread throughout the book?
What sacrifices is Priya prepared to make for love? How does her mother hold up her sacrifices to Priya, to force her daughter to accede to her wishes? Ultimately, is this an effective technique?

22. How does racism, both against Indians and within the Indian culture itself, influence the perceptions that the Indian characters in the novel have of Americans? What else informs their perception of blacks, whites, and “foreigners”? What slights do you think
Indians have felt based on the color of their skin?

23. Malladi deliberately leaves the ending of the novel ambiguous.
Why? What do you envision occurring once Priya’s family receives the photograph of Nick?

Customer Reviews

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Mango Season 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
karinaCA More than 1 year ago
highly recommened
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Once I started this book I couldn't put it down. I recommended this book to all my friends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow!! what a story! This book is a hope for those Indian-Paki Americans involved in an interracial relationships, which includes myself. I'm dating my Caucasian college sweetheart for 5 years, and his actions are more Indian than Indians I met in the States. Nobody discusses this issue in our society and I'm glad the author did. Its about time! I can fully understand the main character's stubborn irrational parents, not willing to be open minded. My generation is still not ready to settle outside our race because it would make it harder for people in our society to accept interracial relationships, which is a shame. I loved that main characther confronted her parents to accept her for who she loves and not be like other Indian-Americans to go home and get married to a stranger (just because he would be an Indian). This book also shows that those Indian-Americans that go back home are typically involved in previous relationships in the States, and come to India to shop for a spouse. This book gave me courage to stand up to my parents one day when I want to marry my boyfriend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 8th grade when I began to have affections for America, and felt farther away from my home country. While I still embrace my heritage, my birthplace is where I am from and American is what I am. I'm not Indian. I'm Korean Amercan, and I am not even 18. But cultural conflicts I faced as an immigrant woman (or girl) was reason enough to make the book touch my heart. Yes, this book is only fiction, but this book made me feel like I wasn't the only one who had struggles like her. I could almost taste the frustrations Priya had. I've read some of the sour reviews on this page, but I don't think this book deserves it. Maybe being in a similar situation like her made me appreciate this book a bit more. I loved it.
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, living your own life and keeping family happy is very hard to do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Write more but dont copy Bluestars proficy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not copying any books.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm only a few chapters into the book. I'm enjoying the characters and basic storyline, but the editing, or lack thereof, is driving me completely mad. There's a chapter where Priya's aunt talks about her pregnancy and the next chapter she is shocked to hear about the pregnancy from another aunt. It's like things were never placed in the proper order. There are also other inconsistencies and errors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Disappointing, to say the least. After reading South Asian voices like Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth, and Salman Rushdie, this book came across as an ambitious flop. The plot's not bad. Technically speaking, the writing is not especially bad. But that's the kindest thing you can say about this book. There's no magic, there's no suspense. Malladi tries and fails to capture India with formulaic, forgettable writing; her characterizations leave much to be desired, and for a book that's supposedly about cross-cultural, cross-generation conflict, the conflict's not all that worrisome and the happy ending is rather predictable. There's one small ironic twist, but even that seemed too contrived. Malladi gets some of the generalizations right, but completely misses out on the pure magic of India, captured in its beauty and bigotry, advancement and poverty, sainthood and corruption. Anyway, compared to some of the other trash out there, The Mango Season is not really that awful. Who knows, you might like it. But I recomemend reading it at your local library rather than making a purchase - this made-for-the-masses yawner isn't worth more than a few hours of your time, and certainly not worth your money. If you want really well written South Asian/Indian fiction, look at the recs below.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being married to an American born Indian, to me it was like reading my personal diary. Very true and realistic though I did not go through the 'family resistence' Priya went through. Wish the book never ended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You really can't go home again, and Priya Rao didn't want to either. She had to though. After her mother's youngest brother eloped, Priya knew she had to tell her family face to face that she was engaged to marry an American. What follows is a humorous, heartwarming story of a woman struggling to retain all her roles; daughter, granddaughter, sister, Indian and lover. Intermingled with her mother's expectations, her father's compassion, her grandfather's manipulation are the sights, sounds and smells of India--the India that is foreign, yet familiar to Priya. By showing the reader the flaws in India, Amulya Malladi has managed to show us why it's also exotic and mysterious.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book transported me to India right away. All those recipes in the book are just fabulous because the cooking is integrated so well into the story. I thought that Priya's boyfriend, Nick was a little too understanding, but hey, I am sure there are a lot of nice guys out there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up after reading a review in Woman's Day magazine; it was worth it. I laughed out loud while reading it. Priya's mother is awesome (a super nag as the writer calls it) and so close to so many mothers I know. I guess mother-daughter relationships are universally weird and Amulya Malladi does a great job of illustrating that. I really got to see India in this book; and I enjoyed the cooking so much. This is different from the food we get in a lot of Indian restaurants and I think I may try to make a few based on the recipes in the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is in the trend of the popular chick lit novels, only it is with an Indian heroine. I enjoyed this book very much, especially all the scenes in the kitchen with the cooking and the smells. Can't wait to read more books by this author!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny, delightful and unpredicatble, THE MANGO SEASON is an awesome read. I loved Priya and how she struggled to tell her family about Nick, her American fiance. I loved her aunts, both Sowmya and Lata were amazing women. I just went and bought Amulya Malladi's first book, A BREATH OF FRESH AIR and I can't wait to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is about Priya, born and raised in India, who comes to the United States to do her masters in computer sciences. She gets settled in Silicon Valley and finds an American fiance. She goes home to south India to tell her family about the American in her life; and comic disaster hits. All the characters in Priya's family, from her loud mother to her conservative grandfather to her understanding father and aunts, are wonderfully described. I especially liked the way the author showed how food is cooked in south Indian homes; and how mango pickle is made.