‘We are the mango people’.
No not the jhadu/broom wielding variety, but the knife wielding one. Arre wait, before you get me wrong let me clarify, we wield the knives to cut and slice- mangoes. Election season may be over, but the mango people still remain divided in their vote, on the favourite mango of India. Ask any maharashtrian and they will swear by the Alphonso, and every Andhra-ite will quote poetry for his Bangnaballi, the Delhiite will speak up for his Dasehri. There is no written list of the various candidates, but it’s believed that there may be anything from 500 to 1000 variety of mangoes. Anyways, ‘variety’ is a word used bu the uninitiated, the corrected word here is ‘cultivar’. To name a few of the mind boggling number of ‘cultivars’ of mangoes, Chaunsa, himsagar, paeri,kesar, langda, apart from the three mentioned above.
Chaunsa or the ‘chosen one was the name given to a particular cultivar by Sher shah Suri, the Sultan of the muslim Suri empire. Gulab Khas, is known for its beautiful rose blush colouring and is the winner of a contest of the best new cultivar in a book by Urdu poet Abul Fazl Siddiqui. David Davidar in his book “house of blue mangoes” writes about the Neelam mango and how it is the greatest mango in the world. Mallika hybrid of Neelum and Dassehri won the Fairchild tropical Garden best show award for taste. There are many more such tales of the different mango varieties in India. Even though they all fall under the same mangifera species, you might as well be talking about apples and oranges when comparing one mango to another.
Now Goans are very fond of their Maharashtrian brethren, they fill up the stands to watch ‘Janta raja’ and many can quote Pu.la. Deshpande like it was nobody’s business, but ask them if the Alphonso is better than the Mankhurad, and you have the Konkani pride rearing it’s head.
So, what is the quality that these mangoes boast of? Ask any person and they will stand by their favourite mango and each and every one will say their mango is ‘sweetest’. “Alphonso is sweet, but mankhurad is sweeter”, “badami is so sweet” , “the chaunsa is like honey sweet”.
Well if it was just sweetness that we were looking for, we would cut an inch cube of each mango and just test the sugar content, and the mango with the highest sugar content would win. But even though people say the generic word ‘sweet’ the answer is much more complex. It starts with the smell which evokes memories of a playful carefree childhood climbing trees, the shape of the mango itself which reminds of the trips to the market while holding on to grandpa’s hand while he haggled with the mango sellers, the cut slices brings back memories of Sunday lunches and afternoons filled with laughter, and the trickling juice reminds of the chilled mango juice mother served after a hot evening playing outdoors.Each bite of our favourite mango is like a culinary equilvalent to a childhood summer vacation. Each one of us have unique memories related to our favourite mango, these memories are more often than not that colour our perception towards our favourite mango. My father was in the Army so we travelled to many regions of India, and therefore sampled a variety of mangoes, but part of our summer holidays were invariably in Calcutta. Maybe it’s because of that, that my favourite mango cultivar is ‘laengda’. I state it upfront that it is not the sweetest mango, but it’s got depth of flavour, nice fibrous texture, and best served cut in to cubes with a fork, just like my grandmother served to us. If you asked me now why I like laengda best, I would say it has character, which is no better a reason than saying it is sweet.
We love our mangoes with a religious fervour, and just like religion we fight zealously for the love of our mangoes, and will equally ferociously deride someone else’s mango choices. “ Hah! They say kesari mango is the best because they can’t afford alphonso.” “ they fact is the sweetest mangoes are not very durable, the laengda mango doesn’t come until the very end of the season, it is rare and precious just like diamonds, but these alphonsos they are sturdy and cheap to grow, so the advertising companies market it as the king of mangoes to dupe the foreigners and sell them imported mangoes at high rate.” Controversies and conspiracies fly thick through the air, and much like how the politicians fan the flame to reap the benefits, the salesmen have their marketing gimmicks to lure the mango people.
A mere fruit, but we are so emotionally bound to it. No other fruit evokes such a strong response. For days we discuss the coming of mangoes, the mango rates are discussed in the same breath as the sensex rise and fall, mango recipes are swapped and ways to preserve these delicious mangoes are tested. Our feelings towards the fruit are not always the same either, I have seen people change their preferences over the years. I for one used to love a variety called ‘safeda’ when I was in college and lived in a hostel. These mangoes were so huge that instead of selling by the dozen like Alphonso or Mankhurad, these mangoes sold by weight and I once had a single mango weighing half a kilo. There is a sense of perverse pleasure in making a meal of mangoes, or a having a single mango for lunch. As a hostelite with considerably modest resources, I was drawn to the fulfilling Safeda. I feel that with a keen sense of humanity and not a small amount of the power of deduction, we could perhaps get a sense in to a person’s psych through the Mango choices that they make.
Just the other day as we drove through the market place, my driver said
,”Madam, all these mangoes don’t taste so sweet.”
My interest piqued, I asked, “all of them?”
“Yes madam, all the mangoes that are sold in the market.”
“So which variety do you like?” I asked.
“The tree variety madam, there is a tree near the bus stop near my house, after 8 the buses stop plying on that road, and that’s when we throw stones or shake the tree with sticks. Those mangoes are the sweetest. I never buy mangoes from the market.”
article published in the Navhind times