T.S. SATYAN: What your mango says about you

T.S. SATYAN writes: We are in the midst of summer and the mango season has begun and my friend H.Y. Sharada Prasad, like most of us, suffers from what he calls ‘The Golden Mango Syndrome’.

On April 23, his book of essays in Kannada—Ella Ballavarilla—was released in Basavanagudi, Bangalore. While returning home in Malleswaram, he peeped through the car window and spotted a man selling mangoes by the roadside.

He couldn’t resist the sight of his favourite fruit and started salivating as he got down from the vehicle to reach the vendor to buy his favourite Raspuris. Despite his poor health and the heat, he stood in the sun gleefully running his fingers on the fruit, smelt the fragrance before stuffing a dozen or so into his bag.

“What has enabled me to stand the rigours of Delhi’s summer is the mango,” says "Shourie" as we affectionately call Sharada Prasad.

He quotes (William) Blake who asked the tiger: “Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

“Did he who made Delhi’s summer so hot make thee?” Shourie asks the mango before sending up his heart-felt (rather belly-felt) to the king of fruits.

More than any other fruit mangoes are associated with abundance, joyousness and the carefree innocence of childhood. Which school boy can resist that well-aimed shot at the luscious mango dangling temptingly on the other side of the compound?

Don’t we remember our mango orgies at our grandparent’s homes, of our forays into a neighbour’s orchard? No other fruit evokes such universally enthusiastic response. All of us have our mango memories to recall.

The mango which has a 4,000-year-old history, is said to have originated in the North-East India / Myanmar belt and is now found all over the sub-continent and also in a succession of varieties that is mind-boggling.

In the North we have Sindoori, Siroli and the fully-sweet Safeda. The main and popular varieties are the juicy Dussehri that has a very thin, almost flat seed and the paler yellow and larger in size Chausa. Then we have the Langda that tastes like honey.

But none of these get passing marks from the Bengalis who swear by their Malda while the Maharashtrians assert that the Ratnagiri Apus (Alphonso) is the king among mangoes.

“Of all types of patriotism, mango patriotism is the most aggressive and vocal,” asserts Sharada Prasad who swears by Raspuri abundantly available in Karnataka, sidelining the Salem, Neelam and Totapuri. The favourite of the Andhras is Imam-Pasand and Cheruku-Rasaloo.

No other fruit is as much written about, sung about, praised and prized as the mango.

It has figured importantly in religion, history, art, the heritage of our handicrafts, jewellery and textiles and cuisine. If the Hindus regard the mango as an incarnation of Prajapati, Lord of all beings, the Buddhists consider it sacred. The Buddha is supposed to have lived under a mango tree. I have seen many mango groves in and around Bodh Gaya where the Buddha found Enlightenment.

Alexander is said to have relished the mangoes grown in the mango orchard associated with the Buddha in Sarnath. Later, the Macedonian conqueror probably died of malaria, thus getting the taste of two of India’s contributions to the world—the mosquito and the mango.

Akbar is said to have been a glutton for mangoes eating up to fifteen at one sitting. He planted in the Yakhi Bagh of Dharbhanga a hundred thousand trees and ordered that milk and honey be poured over them to make the fruit taste sweet!

It is said that the Battle of Plassey was fought in a mango grove.

Historians also mention that the great highways during the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka’s reign were lined with hundreds of spreading mango trees that presented a great sight when in full bloom.

In his unrivalled poem Meghaduta, Kalidasa mentions Amrakuta or the Mountain of Mangoes which is compared to a woman’s breast, its shape covered by the glow of ripening mangoes, and the ‘dark centre’ where the shadow of the rain cloud falls as it passes.

I have read about the mango hockey tournament that was held years ago in Cuttack. In a New Delhi 5-star hotel I once looked at the menu card and found a dish named Mango Fool. The steward told me that it was so named because they used only sour raw mangoes to make it. I found it deliciously sweet though and thought that it didn’t deserve the epithet ‘fool.’

In our own times we have seen mango diplomacy. During their State visits to countries around the world both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi carried baskets of our choicest Alphonsos from Ratnagiri to presidents and prime ministers. Talking about Indira Gandhi’s visit to Moscow, Sharada Prasad narrates the following amusing story:

“At a banquet that Indira Gandhi gave the Soviet leaders, mangoes were served for dessert. They created a sensation. Many of the top leaders asked whether they could take them home to show their grandchildren. It was a sight to see cabinet ministers and bemedalled generals slipping mangoes into their pockets like school boys taking away chocolates.”

Prasad writes about an editor he knew from Karnataka “who was well-known for his love of a particular variety of succulent mango. Once he asked his servant to buy two dozen mangoes which he sucked with his usual relish.

When he counted the seeds he found only twenty-three. He admonished the lad for allowing himself to be duped by the fruit seller. The boy insisted he had brought twenty-four and showed the master that there were twenty-four skins.

"Then don’t worry," said our editor, gently rubbing his capacious paunch.