Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mango Mania in Awadh: For 'aam' lovers, it is not summer but the season of mangoes


Summer is the season of mangoes. The mango lovers wait throughout the year for the season to arrive.

Especially, in Awadh in Uttar Pradesh (UP), mango is the most common topic of discussion for a large section of population during these three months.

For many it is an obsession. More so in Malihabad-Kakori belt, which is home to innumerable varieties of mangoes.

As the season approaches, the conversation is mostly focused on mangoes. It is common in joint families to put 40-50 mangoes in buckets or tubs filled with water and sit together to eat them.

People who have no fancy to eating and can't go past a couple of 'rotis', will astonish you by eating a dozen mangoes with ease.

The obsession with mangoes, conversation centred around the fruit

If you hail from this region and you are settled anywhere in the world, the season, the smell and the sight of mangoes, make you nostalgic. On phone calls, you are told how much mango is expected this year or how a particular pest has affected the trees this year.

From the talk about the kind of 'baur' on trees to storms or premature rain, anything that affects the health of mango or the mango tree is talked about and discussed as if it is the biggest issue for mankind. The search for workers, the lack of 'petis' [wooden boxes] and other allied issues are not just for those who own orchards.

But most importantly, one must eat mango to his/her heart's content. Aam, the king of fruits, rules the hearts of people here. There is no dearth of anecdotes about the fruit, history of each variety, local tales and folklore about 'aam'.

'Achcha, aapke shahar mein aam hote hain?'

I remember the expressions of people from other states who came to the region and the first question they encountered was about mango.

Imagine, a person from Bombay arriaves and after the 'salaam dua', he is asked, "Achchha, aapke yahaan mein aam hote hain".

Such innocence. After all, where in India you don't get mangoes? The person posing a question would also be someone who has travelled far and wide, by train and plane.

And when the visitor's reply was 'yes, of course', there was a nod of approval about the person [as if he was a respectable person now] before the next question, about the varieties available in that particular city where he had come from.

But this obsession is understandable. Not hundreds, but thousands of varieties of mangoes were available in the region. Today, one hears about the Dussehri, Langda, Safeda, Badam, Alphonso, Kesar, Totapari or the few other commonly known 'qism'.

In certain cities, you may know a few more but the sheer variety of mangoes that were [and are] still available in the town and rural parts is mind-boggling. The 'tukhmi' aam [that comes up from the seed]is much more tasty and distinct than the 'qalmi' [grafted] which are commercially sold. 

Samar bihisht, Shahad-kuppi, Benazir

The names of these mangoes were also charming. I remember eating mangoes like 'Samar Bihisht' [Fruit of Paradise], Shahadkuppi [Honeypot] and Benazir.

Samar Bishisht, true to its name, tasted heavenly while the Shahadkuppi was too sugary. Benazir's uniqueness was that this variety was sweet even when it was not ripe.

One of my favourite mangoes was 'Parnaala'. It was a huge mango and it was so juicy that if you put a straw into it, you could almost drink the juice.

This variety is nearly extinct now. Further, in all these varieties, the difference in taste and odour is something that is incredible. For commercial reasons, the 'tukhmi' or desi trees are being felled to give way to Dussehri or similar other mangoes.

Commercial considerations: Old trees felled to give way for a few well-known brands

I was pained to see people felling age-old and unique mango trees because these varieties aren't sold in the market unlike the few well-known brands. In place of them, trees like 'Aamrapali' [or Dussehri] which start giving you fruit in 4-5 years, are increasingly being planted.

So there are orchards that have hundreds and thousands of trees of just one variety. What a tragedy. Of course, Haji Kalimullah, will keep appearing in newspapers or TV channels, telling you how he is growing up different mangoes on a tree or creating new variety. 

But the truth is that so much has been lost. Now a days, in city markets, you at the most get half-a-dozen different varieties, depending on the region. 

In one region, you may see Rasaal or Benishan in the market, while in another part of the country, there will be Chausa, Malda, Mohanbhog or Kesar. 

In Lucknow, it is common for people to invite friends for 'aam ki dawat'. There can be poetry alongside to add colour to the mehfil.

You may be used to eating mangoes by cutting them in slices, the ardent aam lover can surprise you with his ability to suck any mango without letting a drop fall of fingers or spoil the dress.

But the fun is for those who enjoy mango amidst the hot summer in the region. The call of the mango groves.

Sell jewellery if you don't have money, but buy mangoes!!!

For people who are away from home, the dreaded question coming from a Lucknow-wala is 'aam ka mausam hai, aa rahe ho na'. To say, that I wouldn't be able to make it this time, fills you with guilt. It is like not being true to your culture or getting away from roots.

One has to say, 'Ji, koshish to kar rahe hain, ho saka to aayenge'. So if one can't go, he/she can at least celebrate the season by eating mangoes. Though it invites scorn from you kin back home [bechare ko kharid kar khane padte honge].

A friend's father [an elderly man] tells his family members, "The season of mangoes has come. If you don't have money, do sell some jewellery and buy mangoes in bulk.

Ornaments can be bought again, later, but what if the mango season departs?" Just loved the line. It really captures the attitude towards mango.

In fact, some people find it strange and get upset with the mango-mania in Lucknow, its satellite towns and other places in UP, where there is a similar culture as far as love for the fruit is concerned.

I have been told, that it is a sort of 'hawas'. Couldn't any other word be used for it? Sigh! So celebrate the season as long as it lasts.

For, Aam is not Aam, but Khaas (special)--the King of Fruits.