The Ambi, the young unripe mango, is as special to us as the Aam, the ripe mango. Perhaps more.
Like the bright yellow Amaltas tree, the mango in its golden and green, saffron and lemon hues, is a visual synonym for the pulsatingly hot Indian summer—which it does not merely redeem, but elevates to something quite unique.
The ambi is a harbinger of this feast of ripe mangoes that we wait for the year round; of the interval of anticipation between the heady scent of the bunches of mango blossoms that fill the air in spring, and the wonderful texture and aroma of the myriad mangoes that will come when summer is at its peak. And just as the promise of a feast is more mouth-watering than the feast itself, so is the ambi to the aam.
But it is more than all this. Though unripe, the ambi is not inedible. On the contrary—as any Indian worth their salt, who has bitten into one, whether plain or garnished with chilli or spice, knows.
The ambi is a part of shared childhoods. Of tantalising targets brought down by a stone aimed by you and your friends; of summer afternoons livened by its irresistible, and occasionally indigestible, delicious tangy sour slices; of the times when our palate was more adventurous and our teeth more resilient.
The ambi is beautiful to behold. The young green mangoes reveal their rounded fullness suddenly on the dark green trees, almost the same colour as the elongated leaves amongst which they hang, languid and poised on long thin stems. Sighting them is like coming upon a much-loved painting again, and seeing its well-remembered details with a fresh start of recognition.
Like the trees that bear it and dot our physical and mental horizon in different ways, the ambi is an integral part of our past and present. Its distinctive form has been embellished in verse and fabric, its enticing taste preserved and pickled in jars and stories, figured with as many variations as the types of mangoes in different parts of India.
No wonder, then, that the ambi has led to inspired creations from textiles to tapestries to tales in India. For almost as long as it has existed, it has been a recurring motif in our individual and larger lives—celebrated, represented, re-imagined, and realised into endless permutations.
We hope to live up to at least some of the promise of the ambi, to learn from and continue a green, fresh and growing Indian spirit of creativity.