Once upon a time there was no mango in Malihabad. In fact till a few centuries ago there was no Malihabad either. Today, it is the largest of the 14 mango belts in Uttar Pradesh (UP), owned mostly by descendants of Afridi Pathans who came here from Afghanistan’s Khandar region, some two hundred years ago.
Before the Pathans made Malihabad their home around 1824, the area had belonged to people from the Pasi community.
According to legends popular to this day, the place may have got its name from Mali, one of two Pasi brothers, the other one being Sali Pasi. Or from the Persian word maleeh, for the people with dusky skin, and who were famous for their salt and pepper charm.
The clout of Pasis diminished after the arrival of the Pathans who had trekked all the way from Afghanistan through Peshawar to make a home in the the heartland of the Indo-Gangetic plains. One group led by Faqir Muhammad Khan or Goya Malihabadi transited in Kaimganj, Farrukhabad in western UP and found employment as a soldier in Rajasthan’s Tonk area. Stories of his bravery on the battlefield spread far and wide and soon reached the royal ears of the ruler of Avadh in Lucknow who immediately offered to make him commander in chief of his army.
In his capacity as one of the most influential soldiers of his time, Faqir Muhammad was allowed to gallop around the length and breadth of the state that made him eventually fall in love with the people, and with the breathtakingly beautiful landscape of the Avadh countryside.
The Pathan who had come down from the mountains loved the sight of endless plains planted with delicious crops of multiple variety that seemed to stretch far beyond the horizon. He had basked in the shade of countless fruit orchards of Eastern UP and felt most at peace in the shade of the sylvan surroundings where he found the waters so sweet, and the air so fresh.
Eventually he requested the ruler to relieve him of his military duties as a fighter so that he could live in peace with farmers in the countryside and cultivate some of the lush lands.
His wish granted, Faqir Muhammad settled down to tend to a bunch of mangoes brought to him from Murshidabad in West Bengal. During the Mughal period, Murhsidabad was the capital of Bengal and remains the home to hundreds of varieties of mangoes, many of which are hybrids nursed under the patronage of the Nawabs. The culture of raising mango orchards in the area had coincided with the crowning of Murshid Quli Jafar Khan as the first Nawab of Bengal, who transferred the capital to Murshidabad from Dacca in 1704.
Unusual mango hybrids created during the Bengal Nawabs face extinction today.
Earlier in the 16th century Akbar, the Mughal Emperor had planted a royal mango orchard of 100,000 trees in Darbhanga, Eastern India.
The Nawab mango garden in Murshidabad is an open air spectacle of the rarest of rare mango varieties. Documents describe a research centre during the days of the Nawab whose administration was forever in search of new varieties of the mango fruit. Those were the days when no stone was left unturned to find means and ways to improve the flavor, fragrance and taste of this king amongst fruits.
For example the soaking of mango seeds in a mixture of fruit juice, rose water and herbal extract was a way of improving the look and taste of a mango. With the annexation of the Nawab’s administration by the British East India Company both the sophisticated technique of mango cultivation and technicians were neglected.
The British found the mango quite a disgusting fruit actually. They did not like the sight of Indians sitting on the floor before buckets full of mangoes. They did not like the sight of Indians sucking on mango after mango uncaring of the juice of the fruit trickling down the elbow, chin and neck. Some British masters even forbid their staff to eat mangoes while on duty. The orders included that mangoes were not allowed to be eaten anywhere on British owned compounds expect in the bathroom.
Some Englishmen with incurable nasty temperaments even nicknamed the king of fruits the bathroom fruit!
Today it is possible for anyone to buy seedlings of trees planted only within the walls of the royal garden. Many people have plant their own mango tree, the fruits of which are enjoyed by everyone. The best varieties of Murshidabad mangoes are many but also threatened today with extinction due to a lack of patronage by those with power to do so.
Dussehri is not just a mango but a tiny hamlet on the Kakori/ Malihabad road. It gets its name either from a group of dus,or ten people from the shehar or city who decided to settle down in this part of the countryside, in times forgotten. The mother tree that bore the first dussehri still stands from a basketful of mangoes carted by a hot headed Pathan for sale. On the way he decided to quench his thirst at the hut of a fakir in the same village but also got into an argument. Instead of paying the faqir with a few mangoes, the Pathan buried a few fruits in the ground before he left the village in a huff.
Others believe that a shia nawab of Lucknow who was a very sweet person had owned this land and planted the 300 year old tree. Ever since the fruit from the ancient mother tree is called dussehri.
Once he had settled down in Malihabad, Faqir Muhammad invited other Pathans who were experts in grafting and in the preservation and sale of dry fruits.
Faqir Muhammad built many villas in Malihabad that have been inherited by his family members. One of the villas that still stands belonged to Josh Malihabadi, legendary poet and great grandson of Faqir Muhammad. The premises were used by Shyam Benegal to shoot his 1978 film Junoon and by Muzaffar Ali who made Umrao Jan in 1981.
Today mango farmers are a shadow of the glory they had enjoyed decades ago. It was the passion and hard work of the first mango growers in collaboration with business wizards from the local Bania community that laid the foundation of UP’s magnificent mango belt. Even today nearly 30,000 hectares of land in Malihabad alone produce around 12.5 per cent of mangoes in the state.
In fact UP is the largest producer of mangoes in the country but lags behind all other states in mango export. A majority of mangoes exported from UP go to the Persian Gulf countries despite the demand for the delicious dussehri all over the world.
This is a pity also because more and more people are turning away from orchard farming. Many prefer to cut down mango trees and sell them to make a living. Others have sold their land to builders.
Today many parts of the mango belt are lined also with row upon row of glass and concrete monstrosities despite the fact that the felling of trees and putting up industries is forbidden on the good earth.
The question is does nobody want mangoes anymore, if yes then please answer the immediate crying need of mango growers for facilities and subsidies so that they are able to make a decent living of producing mangoes for you, and for me.
What is Mango?
The botanical name of the fruit in Latin is mangifera indica that indicates the origin of the mango to India. It is believed that the mango as we know it has been around for 4000 years. From here the fruit was transplanted to other mango growing regions of the world. The mango was taken to Brazil by the Portuguese, and by Indians to the Far East.
No tree in the history of India enjoys as many names as the mango tree. It is called Vasantaduta or messenger of Spring, Madhuduta or messenger of fragrance, Kamang or embodiment of Cupid, Kokilavasa or abode of cuckoos and Kamavallabha or the amorous.
Call of the Koel
Indians are extremely inspired by mangoes and the koel bird. Together the two evoke lilting imageries of the end of winter and the stirring of spring. The end of frost and mist and the start of joyful days of plenty.
The anticipation is of trees laden with flowers and fruits and the varied colours of blossoms that carpet away the barren gloom of the cold season.
The call of the koel heralds times for mates to meet and inspires poets to sing of the longing of lovers separated from each other due to work, weather and other worldly ways.
What is in a name? MANGO
The English word mango is from the Tamil word manga also in Portuguese. When mangoes were first imported across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas in the 17th century they were pickled in the absence of refrigerators. The result was that whatever other fruits and vegetables that were also pickled came to be also called mango!
Mango growers want to go global!
In a recent meeting of Mango Growers Association of India, Insaram Ali president appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for new policies and measures that are in the interest of mango growers.
India enjoys 50 percent of total mango production in the world. However in the export market its share is pathetic.
Ali would like to see a boost in the export of mango and subsidies on its import. Assistance by the state to mango growers is essential in maintaining high standards in terms of quality, branding and packaging to compete in the international market. Mango growers demand an 80 percent subsidy on export from the Mandi Parishad but that has not happened so far.
Ali feels that in the absence of government subsidies on export, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) variety of mangoes remain unknown in the global market. Ali would like the government to help mango cultivators to aggressively market Indian mangoes in the international market and increase its demand, particularly in new markets like Chile, New Zealand and Middle East.
Mango growers in UP are not affected by the recent ban by the European Union (EU) on Indian mangos because the dussehri, langda and safeda were never exported to the EU. Mangoes from UP are exported mostly to the Middle East but the EU ban has caused a glut of the alphonso variety in local markets this season which is affecting the sale of mangoes from UP.
Fertility and fruitfulness
The mango tree and fruit has inspired various aspects of life for thousands of years not only in India but around the world. Paisley is the European weaving industry’s oldest pattern and was copied from Kashmiri shawls in the 15th century. There are mango motives in art particularly in the Kangra miniature style.
There are references to the fruit in classical literature, poetry, painting and sculpture as the great symbol of fertility and fruitfulness.
It is not surprising that a country that has hundreds of gods, dozens of languages and dialects and hundreds of castes should have as many as 1,400 varieties of mangoes.
Mangoes are for everyone!
The country produces nearly 10 million tons of mangoes yearly and makes a large profit exporting them to Europe and to the Persian Gulf. An inexpensive mango can cost only a few pennies, but alphonso mangoes are so expensive – as much as $10 a dozen – that only wealthy Indians can afford them. Most are exported.
It is not hard to believe that India accounts for more than half of the world’s mango output, and that mangoes account for more than half the fruit produced in India.
At the marketplace, everyone complains about shipping costs and gouging by packagers, salesclerks and contractors. They also complain about such unethical practices as the use of calcium carbide crystals to turn unripened mangoes a bright yellow, mimicking lush, ripe fruit.
The Love of Mangoes
It was not just poetry that Kalidasa loved but he was very fond of mangoes as well. As a child the famous Sanskrit poet who lived in the third century stole fruits that had branched out beyond the walls of the king’s palace.
As the king peeled a mango for himself, he was distracted by Kalidas on the royal walls covered in mango fruits and he cut his finger. All the wise of the kingdom were asked the significance of the blood flowing non stop from the royal wound?
The person who had distracted the king was called and it was advised to eliminate the jonah! The frightened Kalidas was asked to express his last wish before he was executed.
Kalidas begged forgiveness for bringing bad luck to the king but plucked up enough courage to question who was responsible for his bad luck?
The king was so impressed that he adopted Kallidas and encouraged him to pursue his love for poetry and drama.
Langra literally means lame and originates from a chance seedling near Benares.
Amman Dussehri from a village near Lucknow and Malihabad. A superior chance seedling. The other varieties are called Laila Majnu, Hussanara and Samar Bahisht or fruit of paradise from near Muzaffar Nagar.
Anwar Rataul is the most famous Pakistani mango but is originally from the Shora-e-Afaq garden in Rataul, Meerut about a two hour drive from Delhi. The 100 year old variety was taken by a local mango grower who migrated to Pakistan. There he planted the sprig and when the tree bore fruit he named it Anwar after his father.