It is probably true of every 30+ year old born in India. We all have stealthily climbed up neighbors’ trees, silently jumped over wired fences into orchards, viciously fought with our siblings over the last one in the cane basket, or at the very least wait for parents to come back in the evening with a bag full of goodies. All for what? Mangoes of course!
Summers were endless fun. Non stop games punctuated with breaks only for mangoes and how many varieties of them! Alphonso, Banginpalle, Kesar, Rasalu, the list goes on. Each of them delicious and every one of them unique in taste.
There is nothing more quintessentially Indian than mango. Perhaps others can think of cricket and movies which are very Indian as well but for me mango clinches it. You can like Amitabh over Dharmendra or Imran over Kapil but there are no divided loyalties over a mango! Everyone loves it irrespective of our myriad differences over religion, region, language or caste. Be it Tagore’s poems or Ghalib’s shayari, mango has inspired many giants from India.
Fittingly, mango’s imprint on Indian culture can be traced through much of it’s known history. Mango has been cultivated in the Indian sub-continent for more than 4000 years. References to it can be found in early Vedic literature. In ancient India, rulers used mango names to bestow titles, the famous example being Amrapali, a courtesan who lived around 500 BC. There are several references about Buddha and mango trees in Jataka tales. Alexander, after his famous win against Porus, took many varieties back to Europe and laid the foundation for mango cultivation there. The Mauryan kings planted mango trees along roads and highways bringing it closer to the masses.
The love of mango spread enormously throughout India during the Mughal emperors’ rule. Akbar built the Lakhi Bagh (meaning a garden of a hundred thousand trees) full of mango trees, this being one of the earliest examples of cultivation through grafting. Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan (the builder of Taj Mahal) was so fond of them that he had his son Aurangazeb under house arrest on the suspicion that he was hoarding all the mangoes! The Maratha Peshwa, Raghunath supposedly planted millions of trees across the present day Maharashtra. With the advent of Portuguese into India, mango cultivation underwent more experimentation leading to many more mango cultivars today.
I’ve been in the US for the last 20 years and have tried mangoes imported from Mexico and other Latin American countries. But no offense, they can’t hold a light to the Indian variety. A couple of years ago, I, just like many others was excited to know that mangoes are being imported from India between April and June. If you haven’t heard of it, search for “Aamgo”, order a case, and get addicted to the lovely King of Fruit! Do yourself a favor and thank me later.
P.S. I am now reminded of the hilarious Seinfeld episode “The Mango” where George discovers an aphrodisiac unexpectedly. Turns out that mango satisfies many needs!