For the love of mangoes

Kids from Baiga, an indigenous tribe in Central India, enjoying wild mangoes fallen due to winds of the first monsoon rains in Seoni District.

Engrained in childhood
For a vast majority of Indians, both urban and rural, mango is an integral part of their growing years. The fruit flowers in spring and is harvested in summer, which coincides with the summer holidays for kids  in India. These holidays for many kids in India are a time to break free from the bondage of formal schooling. A time to holiday with fellows from their mohallas, go to vegetable markets with their parents,  play (and fight) over sports like cricket as well as enjoy street side edibles.

For the nearly 80% of these who live in non-urban and semi-urban areas, it also means exploring nearby woods, throw stones to bring down fruits from avenue mango trees and for some (mis)adventurous souls, even stealing from some body else's orchard. Every year when the cold winds wane and the sun gets harsher above my head forcing me look for shadows, I feel a strong carving for mangoes. I guess they are engrained in the summer part of my body's annual biological clock. 

Fruits from a farm being sold near Kingston City in Canada's  Ontario province. I took this image during one of our summer outings to Presquille Provincial Park / bird sanctuary along Lake Ontario, in mid 2000s.
All in the family
I spent a few summers in Canada's Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Like the rest of North America, this is one of world's most eternally mango famine-stricken areas. All one can have here of mangoes, are a few glimpses of a couple of tasteless varieties supposedly brought in from Mexico, something hardly worth the buck. I bought a few, one summer, from Scarborough's well-known desi store 'Karachi Bazaar' located at Eglinton and Kennedy. But they were nowhere near what I had grown up eating back home in south India. 

My grandfather, apart from being a farmer, was also a mango merchant, leasing mango orchards in and around south India's Tumkur District in summers, hoping to make profit from the harvest. Although the family suffered heavy losses and my father's and his siblings' lives bordered on poverty, they got a fair understanding of different varieties of mangoes. Our extended family got educated and left mango business (and poverty) behind for greener pastures in US and Middle East by the time I came into this world. But as a child, every summer I would still hear stories from my father of how he had relished his childhood summers with mangoes. How he would get to eat the occasional 'shaakh' / 'shaaqh' - a word in Deccani/ Dakkani dialect* for a mango that ripens naturally on the tree, unharmed by elements and fruit eating birds (*A coarse Urdu dialect spoken in the Old Mysore region, similar to Hyderabadi). He would remember the rare variety of mangoes he would get to eat once in a while while helping my grandfather sell the produce at different markets in times gone by. But he always rated mangoes from Uttar Pradesh (UP) state  in north India as the tastiest. 

Mango nation
Moving to Delhi in April last year (2009), the first thing I did after renting a place to live was to look out for wholesale vegetable markets to stock mangoes at home. I had to replenish my body that was still critically low on mangoes due to the mango drought I endured in Canada. My search took me to Okhla Mandi in south Delhi and Asia's largest vegetable market the Azadpur mandi in North Delhi. Beyond these, my official trips to Sundarbans Delta and Siliguri in West Bengal gave me my first taste of hemsagar and malda varieties of mangoes. Some of these were lucky to fly back with me to Delhi : )

Mangoes of UP begin to arrive in Delhi's market in early June. The earliest of these are the non-tasty safedas. These are followed by dushheris. There are the usual dushheris that are grown in the Saharanpur - Rampur  - Moradabad belt of Uttar Pradesh. The ones grown in the Malihabad region near Lucknow strike your taste buds like nothing else before. Together with alphonso these are probably the tastiest mangoes on earth! In July you have the langras (lang 'da) and the very tasty chausa hitting the streets. By the month end these disappear. I saw golu variety in first couple of weeks of August this year and the mango season ended there.

In the summer of  2010, I had more than my share of the 'King' of  fruits.
With my previous year's knowledge of the mango season and mango markets of Delhi, I didn't waste much time in getting my acts better this year. My mango adventures started early this year.  
Mangoes - among the few things which can separate me from
the driving wheel
Dussheris up for grabs near Saharanpur, UP
I had my quota, from the mangoes bought for the family by my dad, flown to Delhi with a family friend in April. The share of  malghobas, baeganpalli and badami (alphonso) I received, accompanied me and made the picturesque drive up to Dhanaulti hill station near Mussorrie in the foothills of the Himalayas tasty as well. The drive back to Delhi was equally tasty as we had the first taste of season’s dushheri along the roads besides the mango orchards surrounding Sahranpur village.

The next drive to UP and into Uttarakhand was on official purpose to Chuna Kham forest center near Ramnagar town / Corbett Tiger Reserve in mid-June. During the drive back to Delhi we first stopped by at a mango orchard south of Ramnagar Territorial Forests along the Ramnagar – Kaladhungi road. I picked up dushheris, got the season’s first chausas and langras plucked from trees, got some of a desi (local variety) which were a little bigger than apricots, apart from kalia, which I was eating for the first time ever.

Farm fresh dussheris up for grabs near Saharanpur, UP
We pulled off the Moradabad – New Delhi highway further up, just after Brijgad village, along the banks of River Ganga. I got to see the saroli and zafran varieties for the first time ever at the fruit stall of Mr. Salim Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed said he sourced the mangoes from the orchards of one Khan Sahib of the royal family of Hasanpur near Amroha town in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently Khan Sahib was found of experimenting new varieties of mangoes and the zafran variety was his contribution this year. This particular mango was very tasty, nothing like I had ever tasted before. Mr Ahmed said he had bought two harvests this season from an orchard measuring 120 bighas for Indian Rupee 1.2 million.  

During this drive alone, I got to see seven different varieties of mangoes - four for the first time ever. This is a reflection of the diversity in India’s horticulture, something that is hardly found in other countries. With our economy booming and industrialisation as well as development at greater odds than ever against our farm land, we need to protect this diversity for our future years as well as generations.

Farm fresh mangoes being sold at an orchard along Ramnagar - Kaladhungi road in Uttarakhand state
A 'desi' local variety mango a little bigger in size than an apricot
Mangoes being plucked for us
Mr. Saleem Ahmed with his fruit stall near Brijgad along Moradabad - New Delhi national highway
The delicious Zafran variety of mangoes
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  1. So true that the flavour of mangoes are impregnated with the summer holidays, One isn complete without the other!

    Thank you for giving out the varieties.. Now i know wat else I can try next season!

  2. Ah.. mangoes! Summer is the time to scan the line of carts at the neighbourhood main road, searching for the best possible ones that you can find that day. And summer is also the time to make a visit to the local 'juice center' to ask for a glass of mango shake, some times two glasses! Delhi has a mango festival that happens every July. Did you go there?


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