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its mango time

DURING these mango months- Baishakh and Jaistha, I eat mangoes, sleep mangoes and dream mangoes, and funnily enough I just don't feel guilty about how much I weigh in the season that follows. And I am sure i am not all alone at this.
The month of Jaishtha is now going on, the hottest month of all. To many people the hot summer of Baishakh and Jaishtha is unbearable - hot, sweaty and full of seasonal diseases. If you ask these people what they love about summer, they would probably giggle at the whole idea of loving summer. But isn't there anything to love about the season? Well, the inevitable answer would be Mango- the king of fruits. Mango, the delicacy of summer, the delectable and juicy...the fruit that rules.
According to our ancestors the king of fruits usually ripens in this hot weather. Well things are a little different these days. Mangoes do not ripen in the trees any more. Long before Jaishtha, they are collected from the trees and ripen as packed inside bamboo baskets, with the help of 'Carbide' and 'Ethrel 39SL'. Well that does not stop us from enjoying the yellow, fleshy, delicious mango. The eating of palatable mango is in our veins.
The Mango has been around for 4000 years, originating in the Indian sub-continent. Although the mango is now grown in South America, East Asia, Africa and the Middle East, it is widely popular mainly in this continent. The mango was taken to Brazil and the West Indies by the Portuguese and by Indian traders to East Asia. Persian traders introduced it in the Middle East and Africa. In Florida and California in the USA, a small number of mangoes are grown. It arrived there presumably in the 1830s.

The mango, which is called aam in Bangla, means shadharon (general). We often hear the word aam janata which means 'the "general people" . It is quite easy to apprehend where these words originated - aam the most popular fruit among the general people of this continent. In summer mangoes grow in great quantity. In the past, most people had mango trees in their backyards, and did not have to buy the fruit from the bazaars. The name aam came about because the mango was within everyone's reach always.
We have a thousand year old 'mango culture'. We eat them in many forms, starting when they are green. We make many kinds of aachar, chutney and aam chur with it. Mango daal and green mango sherbet is widely popular, and we have special curry made with green mangoes, vegetables or small fish.
When it is mellow we the Bangali people devour mangoes in many ways. We eat it plainly or make mango juices. We eat it with doodh-bhaat. We make aam shotto and morobba with it. With much style we relish mango.
The meaning of mango may be 'shadharon' but all the extraordinary people of this continent have loved the mango. The Mughal emperor Akbar loved the mango among all the other fruits. He described it in detail in his writings "Ain-e-Akbari" and had one lakh mango trees of various species planted. The famous orchard, known as 'lakha bagh', is situated near Darbhanga in Bihar, and many of the trees still survive. Mango plantations have special historical significance for us - in 1757, Nawbab Sirajuddoula lost the battle and we lost our freedom to the British. It all took place in Palashi Amro Kanon. In 1971, the Interim Government of Bangladesh was formed in Baidyanath aam bagan of Mujibnagar.
The religion which once used to be dominant in ancient Bengal, Buddhism, has close ties with the mango. There is a story that God presented Goutom Buddha a seed of amrodorika mango. Buddha later planted that seed. He used to rest and meditate under that mango tree. In the Hindu religion, mango leaves are very sacred. They use it during wedding rituals, to worship the god Ganesh. To worship the goddess Saraswati they use mango blossoms.
Mango rules this continent's music and poetry. In the poetry of Kalidasa, Amir Khosru, Galib or Rabindranath, aam or aamro kanon is prevalent. The ancient poet Kalidasa compared mango blossoms to the arrows of Manmatha the Hindu God of love. Khosru described it as the greatest fruit of all. Rabindranath in our national anthem describes how during spring the fragrance of mango blossoms bemuses him, and in o monjoori o monjoori he describes the full moon on the mango blossoms and how it's fragrance mingles with his songs. In the widely celebrated novel, Pother Pachali author Bibhutibhushon described how Durga and Aupoo the two leading characters devoured green mangoes hiding from their mother. The mango motif has always inspired our literature and music.
Scientists have so far found 41 species of mango in the world. These species have hundreds more sub-species. In Bangladesh only, researchers have found around five hundred types of mango. The findings of a research conducted by Policy Research on Development Alternative (UBINIG) is that, in just Meherpur and Chapainababgonj there are 331 types of mango (65 were found in Meherpur and 266 in Chapainababgonj). Some of these species have histories of their own, revealed by names such as Ranipasand, Shahebpasand, or Boubhulani. There is an old saying that one of the Mughal empresses loved a specific kind of mango, that later became known as Ranipasand. Alfonso considered by many as the prince among all mangoes, is the most expensive mango in India. There are a hundred more varieties. Some of them have exquisite names such as Brindaboni, Sofia, Madhobi, Surjopoori, Shamlota, Shindury, Baishakhi, Mohonbashi and so many more.
Not all the species still exist. Some of them have gone extinct because commercial growers tend to plant only a few species which give higher yields. In Chapainababgonj 14 species have already gone extinct. These include Shithipati, Kakila, Poly, Anarosh, Bou Fooshlani, Shaheb Pasand and some others. More and more growers are producing hybrid mangoes. This is why our diversified mango seedlings and their growth is dying out day by day.
Mango growers in Rajshahi, Meherpur, Chapainababgonj or in other mango growing regions lease their orchards for one to five years. Commercial producers use huge amounts of chemical fertiliser and pesticides to increase production. Use of chemicals during production and 'Carbide' and 'Ethrel 39SL' to ripen the fruits after harvest is increasing the risk of environmental and health hazards. If swallowed these chemicals can cause chemical poisoning which has no antidote. Birds and insects living in mango trees, which do not harm mango production, are facing extinction because of the pesticides sprayed on them. Our farmers are losing all their native plants and seed varieties to the hybrid seed breeding labs of the Western "Multinational Corporations". Our farmers and those who export hybrid mango seeds fail to apprehend the important fact that soon we shall only have a few mango species. When we loose all our native plants, we will have to buy all the seeds from Multinational Corporations.
The mango is not just a delicious fruit but it is also highly nutritious. It is high in beta-carotene, and contains all four recognised anti-oxidants (Vitamin A, C, E and Selenium) that prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes- the three biggest killer diseases in the world currently. One mango contains three times the recommended daily intake of beta carotene and vitamin A. The general people and the kings and queens who loved the mango did not have this analysis of food value in mind but eating mangoes definitely feels good.
The mango culture has changed a little these days but only 20 or 30 years ago people used to visit the houses of their relatives during summer bringing mangoes as special gifts. In some region, parents would never eat a mango unless they presented some to their married daughters. During Kalbaishakhi, collecting green mangoes fallen from the trees was a matter of simple joy. Those beautiful days do not exist for us town folks, but maybe in the villages they still do. How many times naughty boys and girls stole mangoes from a rich man's orchard? The city dwellers may not recall but the mango culture still exist in the pastoral Bengal. It will continue to exist, as it is the king of all fruits.

By Shahnaz Parveen; Photo Credits: Syed Zakir Hussain Special thanks to Dhaka Sheraton Hotel.


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