The fruit of summer


Mamta Chitnis Sen deciphers the popularity of the summer fruit mango, and its distinct cult status in the eastern and western regions of India.

As summer approaches the Indian continent, the first question on everyone’s mind is ‘When are the mangoes coming?” For, every Indian firmly believes that summers are all about mangoes and mangoes
alone. The essence of a perfect Indian summer lies in the number of mangoes consumed!
Every summer, mango markets across the country go on an overdrive, sourcing and selling the fruit to its avid consumers. Although the Alphonso variety tops the list, other commercially bred kinds of mangoes too boast of their own following. Though it is popular knowledge that the Alphonso mango or hapus (as it’s called in Maharashtra) is the king of mangoes, there are also several other varieties of mangoes in the country that too demand equal recognition and respect.
While steering away from controversy over which mango is the best in which state, it would be much easier, for now, to narrow down and make a fair comparison between the fruit in the two opposite regions of the country, namely, the western (the Konkan area of Maharashtra from where the famed Alphonso hails), and the eastern region of Bengal which lays claim to having cultivated the famed Himsagar and Malda mangoes.
To begin with, mangoes bred in both the western and eastern part of India boast of a distinct taste and flavour, each different and unique in its own way.

The tale of Alphonso
We have all heard about the history of the making and the naming of the Alphonso mango after Alfonso De Alburquerque, the Portuguese military general who led sever- al invasions in the 1600s, including that to Goa which was occupied by Portugal for a long time. The fruit first came to Goa and from here travelled further down to the districts of Konkan, Ratnagiri and to various southern parts of India. Interestingly, several parts of the Konkan region now boast of their own Alphonso or hapus, the Devgad hapus, the Sindhudurg hapus, the Ratnagiri hapus etc.

According to a recent news report, the long ongoing battle over acquiring of the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the Alphonso was put to rest by the Patents Office when the latter convinced the districts of Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri to share the tags between them than fighting over its exclusivity. The GI is a sign that is put on products that originate from a specific region and possesses specific qualities and repute prominent to that region alone. Although the regions have agreed for now, it remains to be seen whether they plan to work together in this effort.
Interestingly in the Konkan region, as per reports published in the media, the market for the Alphonso mango is massive and huge. Reports suggest that annually, the Konkan region which has nearly over a crore of hectares of mango orchards produces mangoes worth ₹30 billion, half of which are exported.
Not many are aware that within the interiors ofKonkan region alone, there are a variety of mangoes being bred by non-commercial horticulturists in their own backyard, which are later on sold in the weekly village markets or beside the national highways to travellers. The figures for the sale of these remains unaccounted for — especially of the sale of varieties of the Rajapuri which is available towards the beginning of the monsoons across the state. The unripe ones are used mostly in sweet pickles.

The eastern story
Interestingly, towards the east of India too, mango remains one of the most sought after fruits in the state after the sweet and pulpy lychee. In West Bengal, the famed Himsagar mango enjoys cult status among other breeds of the fruit. According to authors S.K. Mitra, S. Mitra, B. Ghosh and P.K. Pathak who have penned the book Mango Cultivars and Hybrids Grown in West Bengal’, mango is the most important fruit of West Bengal state, occupying about 80.90 thousand hectares, which is more than 41 per cent of the total area under fruits. Unlike the Alphonso which entered Indian shores only about the 16th century, mangoes in Bengal have found prominence from as early as the seventh century, courtesy the many nawabs and zamindars who ruled here.
The district of Murshidabad is known to have introduced and nurtured over 100 varieties of mangoes, (many grafted) under the eye of the Nawabs who dominated the area until the colonial rule took over. The Nawabs were known to cultivate mango orchards as part of their culture, and even today one can find these mango orchards spread across some of their properties that lie empty and forgotten.
In Murshidabad district alone, mangoes are grown over 26,000 hectares. The ones sold include the commercially grown varieties of Langra, Fazli, Champa, Bhabani and many more. The Lakshman Bhog mango which is attractive in colour and having a sweet taste tops the list of the most coveted mangoes in the state. Bengal’s famed Himsagar though is considered to be the most superior of all the fruits, both in terms of taste and the exquisite aroma it generates. Interestingly, Himsagar here is regarded as the king of mangoes.
Devoid of fibre, the pulpy fruit which is golden yellow in colour, has inspired several poets to pen down poetry and dedicate songs to it too. The fruit is known to be ripe and rich for consumption only in the second week of May, till the end of June. It is grown in the districts of Hooghly, Nadia and North and South 24 Parganas, and interestingly, enjoys the GI tag as well.
Similarly, mangoes cultivated in the district of Malda, specially the famed Malda mango, enjoys equal prominence amongst mango lovers. And every summer, local markets in the district are brimming with buyers of the fruit from all corners of the country.
Last but not the least, irrespective of which region the mango hails from, the fact remains that this summer fruit is an integral part of our culture. Without the Indian mango, one surely cannot get through the long and hot Indian summer for sure!

Mamta Chitnis Sen

A journalist for over 15 years, Mamta Chitnis Sen has worked with reputed publications like Mid-Day, Society and her writings and columns have been published in The Sunday Observor and The Daily. She also worked with the Sunday Guardian and handled their Mumbai bureau for eight years reporting not only extensively on various political parties but also on crime, politics, religion, art, community, human interest, and general news. She headed Dignity Dialogue, India’s foremost magazine exclusively for the 50 plus age group as the Executive Editor. She presently handles Media Advocacy for Child Rights and You (CRY) – an NGO working for the rights of underprivileged children in India covering the states of Maharashtra, Chhattis- garh and Gujarat. Mamta is also an artist having studied painting and ceramics from Sir J J School of Art, and has exhibited in various groups shows in India and abroad.