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Saturday, April 5, 2014

the inflationary alphonso ..... no longer 'aam admi'.....

As the mercury shoots up and as people start predicting that ‘this year summer is going to be more hot’ …. 

People start thinking of delicious mango season.  Every place have their own variety of mangoes – some to be eaten ripe, some green and raw and some pickled and devoured. 


Sure you can add more to this list ……..Totapuri, Aambaat, Banganapalli,  Neelam, Sindhoori, Malda, Pairi, Chandrakaran, Alphonso, Langra, Gulaab khaas, peddarasalu, Kesar, dashehari, movandhan, mallika …..

Afonso de Albuquerque  was a Portuguese general, the first European to enter the Persian Gulf…. Considered a great naval commander, he attempted to close all the Indian Ocean naval passages to the Atlantic, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and to the Pacific, transforming it into a Portuguese base.  He defeated much larger armies and fleets ~~ and a famous variety of mango was named after him.

Devgad, is a coastal town in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. Devgad is globally famous for its Alphonso mangoes, that are exported from here every year.  Devgad is located on the Arabian Sea in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra, south of Mumbai. It is noted for its harbor, its beach, and a lighthouse built in 1915 at the Deogad fort. A majority of farmers are converting from rice cultivation to mango cultivation in the Western Konkan Region of Maharashtra, alongside the Arabian Sea Western Coast. It is known for windmills too…  being on a sensitive coastline, Govt has installed static radar and electro-optic sensors at Devgad Lighthouse as a part of first of a coastal surveillance network.

A recent article in The Hindu ~ Sunday “Not any more for Aam Admi “ (by Sumit Paul) this interesting piece - the first batch of Devgad mangoes arrived at Mumbai’s Crawford Market on March 18, rather late because of hailstorms in parts of Maharashtra. These were priced Rs 1,400-Rs.1,600 a dozen. Who’ll buy them? Who has so much money that he would spend Rs. 1,400 for a dozen mangoes? ‘Aam’ is no longer for the aam aadmi. This ‘king of fruits’ is almost out-of-bounds for the commoner.

Mango is a fruit that has enriched literature. So many stories, real as well as apocryphal, are associated with this sublime fruit. Like cricket among all sports, mango among all fruits has lent itself to the folklore of Indian and subcontinental literature. Viceroy Lord Wavell once jocularly told Gandhiji that foreign forces invaded India for no other reason than mangoes. Wavell was so fond of mangoes, especially the divinely aromatic Alphonso of Allahabad and Banaras, that he once wrote to his friend in England he was seriously thinking of settling down in India after his tenure as Viceroy because he would not get mangoes in England. The Hindi name langda(lame) for Alphonso intrigued him a lot. Any excuse, even if it’s lame, will do to sink the teeth into a heavenly ‘langda’ aam, he apparently used to say. Akbar Allahabadi was also smitten by ‘langda aam’ of Uttar Pradesh. He wrote poetry on the golden coloured pulp of Alphonso and its green outer skin. The Urdu poet Shabbir Hasan Khan ‘Josh’ Malihabadi’s only weakness in life was mango. “Nothing weakens me more than mangoes,” the short-tempered great poet himself admitted. The entire Malihabad becomes aromatic with the mild fragrance of mangoes from the last week of February, and it lasts till mid-September. The place is dotted with amrai (orchards) and till the late-1990s, one could buy one kg of Dashahari for Rs. 20-25 at Malihabad. Now if you get to see it at all in the Pune or Mumbai markets, it costs Rs. 700-800 a kg. ‘Aam’ is thus becoming unreachable for the aam aadmi, a fruit that was most affordable once. Abul Fazl’s Ain-e-Akbari mentions in its fourth chapter that Emperor Akbar used to distribute the best quality mangoes among the people of his kingdom.

Where is that romanticism? Today you get mangoes in all seasons, artificially ripened with chemicals. They taste so vapid that had they been available in the days of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, a great mango-lover, even donkeys wouldn’t eat them. There is an anecdote in this context. One day Ghalib was having mangoes and casting away the skin. Some donkeys sniffed the mango-skins and left them untouched. A detractor, trying to pull Ghalib’s leg, quipped: ‘Ghalib sahab aapne dekha, gadhe bhi aam nahin khate!’ (Ghalib sahab, did you see, even donkeys don’t eat mangoes). Not to be outdone, Ghalib said: ‘Ji baja farmaya aapne, Gadhe hi aam nahin khaate’ (Yes, you’re right. Only donkeys don’t eat mangoes).

It is stated that original and pure mangoes from Devgad will give a natural aroma that is noticeable from a distance. Even one mango kept in a room will fill the room with its aroma.  Every year in the mango season, it is common to see a debate on chemical ripening, calcium carbide, FDA raids, and some traders saying it is not possible to ripen mangoes otherwise.  It is claimed that there are companies in Devgad which are completely against any chemical ripening and ripe the fruits naturally in grass hay.  Ripening is a biochemical reaction – what calcium carbide does for mangoes is that it produces acetylene gas, which creates heat.  With this mangoes turn yellow, but do not ripen.

Well, I am no great lover of aam or aam admi (party)

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

26th Mar 2014

the first photo in this post and article credits : The Hindu

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