Peeling the Emperor Of Fruits
Had the Greeks been familiar with the mango, Aphrodite would not have been so tickled about Paris’s golden apple. Shakespeare would have written “Hang thee like mango, my soul, etc.” And Milton would have named it the fruit of the forbidden tree. But none of this happened because the Western world did not discover the mango till centuries later.
Fruit trivia: According to experts, the Hebrew Bible did not name any fruit, it used the generic peri. But when Jerome translated it into the Latin Vulgate he used malus, meaning evil and also apple.
Historians and horticulturists agree that the cultivated Mangifera indica originated in India. The centre of origin was the Northeast and the proof is “fossil compressions of carbonised mango leaves”. There are references galore in ancient Sanskrit texts. Travel writers Megasthenes, Hieun Tsang and Ibn Batuta also mention Indian kings and mango trees they planted to exhibit their prosperity and munificence.
Fruit trivia: The Indian word was “aam”, except down South, in Kerala, where it was known as “maanga”. That is the name Vasco da Gama and his crew picked up when they landed in Calicut in the 15th century. From maanga we got mango.
Cherchez le aam
In the subcontinent, the mango has always been associated with war and peace. Persian poet Amir Khusro called it the fairest fruit of Hindustan. Some say Babur set up empire here because of it. His grandson, Akbar, created Lakhi Bagh near Darbhanga, home to over a hundred thousand mango trees. Aurangzeb, who was apparently lacking in social skills, used the fruit for diplomatic ends — he sent cratesful to the Shah of Persia to secure his support in his fight for the throne. The British, too, cottoned to the practice. But it was the Pak Prez, Zia-ul-Haq, who
initiated the Indo-Pak mango diplomacy in the 1980s. An aam for peace, an aam to avoid war, an aam to show off who had the best cultivar. (In A Case Of Exploding Mangoes, Hanif suggests mangoes led to Zia’s death.)
Fruit trivia: In The Great Indian Novel, Shashi Tharoor sums up the Indian sentiment. He writes: “...the good Lord having given the Indian peasant droughts, and floods, and floods after droughts, and heat, and dust and low wages, and British rule, said... your cup of woe runneth over, drink instead from the juice of a ripe Chausa...” Jai mango!