Today I want to take my readers to a different, unique, much loved and much sought after destination. A destination that was very Indian and East Asian in ancient times but later it was opened for the whole world. A destination, that is so rich, colourful, flavourful and tasteful, that it takes you to the seventh Heaven. I can confirm that all of you have been here, so I will again take you to this utopian summer destination of ‘Mango-land’.
“Mangoland?” How do you reach the Mangoland? Where is this Mangoland? No worries, I am here to take to you to your already visited Mangoland. Raise your hand who has not been to this Mangoland. I can certify that all have been here or rather visit here every summer. Don’t you relish on the juicy mango fruit every summer? And while savouring your bite of the sweet yellow pulp from the tastiest of the Mangoes, don’t you have the eternal feeling of being moved to the heavenly destination where only the taste buds rule while all other senses become numb. And we stay stoned for a long even when the fruit is over. I am here to share the same feeling with my readers. (Now its enough of exaggeration.)
When I was a kid I read a story somewhere, on the etymology of Mango. This day I can not recollect the exact story but I am sharing what I remember today. A tree was planted to cover the grave of a man and when the tree grew up to bear the sweet fruits, it was named Mango (Man dies and goes to heaven, so Man-Go). While the original etymology of the name traces back to the Malayalam word of Dravidian origin ‘māṅṅa or mangga’ which was modified to Mango by the Portuguese and the Dutch who had established the spice trade in the Malabar region. In those days due to lack of refrigeration Mango was pickled and then exported to the West.
Although the official name of Mango was established during this phase, this heavenly fruit was known to Indian since ages, with this being an endemic species to the Eastern part of India and other parts of South Asia. The earliest known cultivation of Mango traces back to India during 2000BCE, claiming it to be endemic to India. So here comes the patriotic part that can be added to enhance the qualities of the favoured fruit of Mango. Since ages, the simple Indian fruit has conquered the world with its sweetness and charm.
With the onset of spring, the Mango trees start blooming. Being a Bengali, I know how good it feels to have a bite on the tiny piece of the inflorescence which is offered to Goddess Saraswati on the day of her worship on Basant Panchami. It heralds the beginning of the mango season. Mango being very Indian, the fruit along with the inflorescence and the leaves are associated with various rituals across the country.
Now a little bit of morphological Gyan on Mango trees. These trees are long-lived, evergreen trees having the main tap root with largely spread branched feeders. The thick trunk spreads to branches and the terminal branches generally hold the thickly branched inflorescence. A span of four to five months ranging from spring to summer is required for the total process of flowering to fruit ripening. There are few varieties of mango that gives double crop, in summer and again in winter. The single crop variety is the most common and is of various types with different names.
Some of these varieties are natural while others are cultivars. Who cares about the variety being natural or cultivar as long as the fruit is sweet and delicious. As per the variety, the fruit varies in shape, size, colour, pattern, flavour, sweetness, pulp and taste. But all mangoes have a characteristic ‘mango-ish’ sweet smell and a central large seed. Different varieties have different names and are regional like Chausa, Langra and Dusseri from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Himsagar and Fazli from West Bengal, Alphonso from Maharashtra and Goa, Badami from Karnataka, Kesar from Gujrat, Neelam from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Totapuri, Mulgoba are from the states of South India. Other known varieties of mango are Amrapali (a hybrid between Neelam and Dashehari), Rajapuri, Gulab Khas, Pairi, Beneshan and the list goes on.
Being from West Bengal I had more exposure to Himsagar, Langra, Chusa, Dusseri, Fazli and other local varieties and among them, Langra has always been on the top of my list of favourites. Now Pune has given me the opportunity to binge on Alphonso, Badami, Kesar and other local varieties. But still, I have Langra on the top of my list. Visiting Banaras last summer opened for me the path of divine indulgence in Banarasi Langra and Chausa. (Read my Varanasi story.) I remember bringing back home cartons of mangoes and then sharing the heavenly fruits with family and friends and thus spreading joy.
Who does not love to have a box of sweet mangoes as a gift? For ages, mangoes have been known to entice humans (as well as animals) irrespective of their social strata. Mango finds its reference in the Upanishads, it was a favourite among the Mughals, Shah Jahan was known to be a great mango lover. The Persian poet Amir Khusrau named mango “Naghza Tarin Mewa Hindustan” meaning the fairest fruit of India. Thus mango has its reference in various forms in various texts at various times since ages.
Now coming to the versatility of Mango as an edible item, the range has a beginning but no end. It begins with eating the fruit as raw and ripe and moves ahead to numerous ways of processing the raw as well as the ripe mangoes. Pickle, Amchur, Chutney, Panna, Salad, Rasam, Rice, Pachadi, dal, kadi, candy are a few end products of raw mangoes. Now coming to the ripe one and I can just go on and on with the list – aam ras, ice cream, aam papad, halwa, malai, barfi, lassi, pudding, jam, custard, shrikhand, cake, shake, smoothie, juice and whatnot. I would request my readers to add to the list in the comment section of anything that I have missed.
I find mangoes to be the only reason to like the most loathed tropical Summer. I become sad as the summer comes to an end, just because it will mark the end of the mango season my most loved fruit and food. I love mango in its plain old form, deskin, cut and bing. This is my favourite way to eat and nothing like mango ice cream or mango halwa or any other form of it comes anyway closer. And among all the Banarasi Langra and Chausa are most devoured. Share with me your mango story and your personal favourites in the comment section and also the variety of mango grown in your region. With the floating clouds knocking on the door, the monsoon is not far behind so delve deep into the Mango land for the remaining summer days and enjoy the gift of Nature – the Heavenly fruit called Mango.