Archive for June, 2018

Mango trees have existed in the Indian subcontintent since at least 1500 BCE as confirmed by the Vedic literature.  Their health benefits were known to the ancient practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine who used not only their fruit but also the leaves and the bark in their prescriptions. Mango is considered to be a complete food by a large percentage of rural population who, instead of curries, prefer to eat mangoes with rice or roti throughout the season.

When Emperor Asoka Maurya (268-232 BCE) ordered the planting of banyan trees along the highways he also ordered planting of many mango gardens to provide shade and fruit to the weary men and animals living in his vast empire. Asoka has gone down in history as the good king who had converted to Buddhism; it is said that his last meal before dying was half a mango.  Mango remains to be a sacred fruit for many as Lord Buddha himself is known to have meditated in the mango gardens.

Today, the mango is cultivated throughout South and Southeast Asia and is undoubtedly the ‘King of Fruits.’ It has many a variety with fancy names.  The best rated or most beloved mango, however, bears a foreign name, Alphonso, after Afonso de Albuquerque. Albuquerque was not a king but a valiant Portuguese admiral who was appointed the governor of Goa in 1511 CE. Alphonso’s origins are traced to Brazil, Portugal’s far-flung westernmost colony in South America, where by way of grafting this delicious variety was developed and later introduced in parts of India.

Eleven years after the death of Albuquerque when Zaheer-ud-Din Mohammad Babar captured the throne of Delhi, he was not impressed by the mango. Perhaps, he did not  taste the Alphonso. Babar found it close to a peach, although in reality the mango is related to the cashew.  Babar’s descendants, however, fell in love with this fruit. His grandson, Akbar the Great Moghul, who was born in the desert of Sindh, is known to have planted one hundred thousand mango trees. Mango was the most loved fruit during the Mughal era, its sweetness  is best described by the great Indian poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, the court poet of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Through the centuries many new varieties of mangoes were born and many became extinct. I have tasted some of the best grown on our mango garden in lower Sindh, and as a child I have also witnessed some older varieties dying in an abandoned mango garden.  Its trees were old but still well-anchored for the kids to climb. They were leafy enough to provide a cool shade but they grew very few mangoes which were always rotten. According to the village folk, these trees were planted during my great grandfather’s days. My father had attempted to save some of these ancient varieties but he failed.

And then in 1960s a new breed of mangoes called Sindhri arrived in the markets of  Mirpur Khas near our village.  They were ‘as large as melons,’ the locals exaggerated. Sindhri was developed by a neighbor landlord Abdul Samad Kachelo who convinced my father to grow this breed and hence we had a brand new mango garden.  It had shorter trees which matured faster. Within five years’ they grew fruit in abundance and they made the landlords richer. Rafiq Kachelo, the enterprising  son of Abdul Samad, began exporting mango to the Middle Eastern countries and became known as the Mango King.

Sindhri was larger with less fiber and a different aroma but once we got used to its unique taste it became a family favorite. Today Sindhri is as much a favorite in Pakistan, as Alphonso in India.  Both, as in many things subcontinental are great. We can agree with the fruit retailer who said “If Alphonso from India is crowned the ‘King of Mangoes’, Sindhri from Pakistan is undoubtedly the ‘Queen of Mango’.”

Alphonso is being imported in the United States for about 10 years now.  Many buyers hope the same for Sindhri. As of now even Alphonso is allowed in a limited quantity which reaches a very few buyers. But for those who remain deprived there is some relief from Chobani who has succeeded in blending it with the Greek yogurt. So look for Chobani’s  ‘A Hint of Alphonso Mango’ at the grocery stores.

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