IT takes a lot to be the national fruit of India. To be precise: 5,000 years of encouraging people to have a pulp-squishing, elbow-licking and mouth-watering time.
Truth be told, the mango is no ordinary creation. From Alexander the Great to Akbar the Great, everyone has surrendered to the charm of the aam. So Wikipedia must be wrong. The word ‘mango’ cannot have originated from the Portuguese word ‘manga’, but has sprouted from our wet earth that we call bhoomi. My theory is ‘mango’ draws its roots from the Tamil word maan kaai – the fruit the deer feasted upon – a coinage perhaps minted when South India was one massive canopy of trees.
Etymology aside, the thing to marvel at is our obsession with mangoes. We consume bazillion tonnes and export a gazillion tonnes. Last I checked, 65 per cent of the world’s mango production was from India.
But the sweetest part is: like Kamal Haasan, our mangoes come in 500 different avatars. From Amrapali to Zardalu, we mass produce it all, with a liberal dash of Mother Nature’s maa ka pyaar.
The Alphonso, named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese warlord who’s supposed to have imported this luscious variety into Goa, the Alphonso or the mispronounced Haphus, is the marquee product of just three districts in our country – Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad. The other cultivars are regional divas in their own right. From Andhra — the voluptuous Banganapalle (place of origin that literally means ‘golden village’), Varanasi gave us the delectable Langda (a reference to the lame planter of the original tree in Malihabad), Gujarat — the golden Kesar (an allusion to the saffron-hued skin), while Tamil Nadu — the tangy Kili Mooku (shaped like the parrot’s beak).
I was about to attribute the Malgova to Goa, but something wasn’t adding up. I am now convinced that the milky taste of Malgova could have had a hand in the matter. In my view, Malgova probably owes malai khoa (hilly milk treat) its name. Just like the Rumani owes its existence to the kerchief-esque thin skinned Rumali variety. Hope I am not barking up the wrong tree.