It’s spring — the time when flowers will bloom and soon the king of fruits will be ready to be plucked off the trees. We step back in time to the summer of 2018 when the champion of social causes, Jyotsna Kaur Habibullah, gave us a full run of the mango belt of Mall, Kakori and Malihabad, along with some mango stories to carry back.
Focussed on all things healthy, organic and social, the dynamic Jyotsna Kaur Habibullah champions causes that support welfare. “I work with women self-help groups and focus on skilling, entrepreneurship and livelihoods in and around Lucknow and Barabanki,” she explained when I had met her in lebua Corbett, Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. We were off to explore the jungle. Three hours of sharing a gypsy, breathing in the fresh air, looking heavenward tracing the sound of birds, eyeing shrubs to see the elusive big cat and conversation.
“My grandmother-in-law was the founder of SEWA,” Jyotsna said as she dished me an invite for the UP Mango Festival. Bewildered, my mind started going into the bank to recall all that I knew about SEWA — the women’s self-help group that is well known for reviving the famous chikankari work of Uttar Pradesh. Wikipedia helped.
Hamida Habibullah, passed away in March 2018, aged 102! A parliamentarian, educationist and social worker, she was an iconic figure in India. She was the first president of the Women’s Cricket Association of India, she joined politics in 1965. She was Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Haidergarh (District Barabanki), State Minister of Social and Harijan Welfare, National Integration & Civil Defence (1971–73), and Tourism Minister (1971–74). She was also a Rajya Sabha member from 1976–82. She was actively involved in the mango industry, planting several varieties such as Maliahabadi, Dussehri, Chausa, Langda and Safeda in her native village Saidanpur (district Barabanki).
May turned to July, the festival was over. But we went to Lucknow to explore the city of Nawabs. Little did I expect that I would end up eating the last of the mangoes sitting under a mango tree. The season was ending.
Our journey with Jyotsna began with a drive from Lucknow to Saidanpur to the famous Waaris Manzil, the ancestral home of the Habibullahs. Weaving was the norm along with agriculture here but many weavers have gone to cities to find other jobs. Giving a lease of life to those who are there, Jyotsna supports Bank-e-Loom, run by DEF. The centre is located at Waaris Manzil. There is also a computer centre where children and women are taught. Women and young girls weave stoles and saris. Some were showcased at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai too.
She also conceptualised the Uttar Pradesh Mango Festival seven years back. Like her iconic grandmom, Jyotsna is actively involved in organising farmers markets in Lucknow to support local produce and connecting farmers to consumers. “The mango festival aims to put the mango growers on the international map.” It is organised by Awadh Mango Growers Association in association with Lucknow’s premier research institute Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture. This is also affiliated to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, NABARD, State and National Horticulture Board, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, Mandi Parishad, Hotel and Restaurant association and others.
Even as we spoke, the children from the centre were all sitting under a huge tree. It was storytelling time. Himanshu, an independent journalist, learnt ‘dastan goi’ or the art of oral storytelling as he likes the creative power of stories. For the children learning at this little centre in Saidanpur, Himanshu had some mango ‘qissas’. Soon, it became a laughter session. “This was for the children, in other sessions, we wear a proper dress,” he elucidated on participation in festivals. With a keen interest in culture and cuisine, he does some special walks in Lucknow on request.
The roots of this Urdu storytelling art can be traced to the times of Amir Khusrow in the 13th century. When Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya fell ill, Khusrow began narrating stories to keep the guru happy. It began with ‘Qissa-e-Chahār Dervish’ or The Tale of the Four Dervishes. The saint recovered and prayed that anyone listening to these stories would also be cured. And the stories became a healing art.
Mango laughs were over but we walked around Waaris Manzil, blown away by the beautiful chandeliers and ancient furniture. Then we had a plateful of the last of the mangoes — sweet and filling.
The next day was all about the orchards. The drive started with a trip to an orchard in Kakori. While the orchard is decades old, the owner Shahid Iqbal Abbasi got involved in the mango business a few years back. Now he participates in fairs, exhibitions and is part of the annual mango festival.
Sitting on a charpoy, eating mangoes straight out of a bucket, the pure joy of sweetness was on our faces. The mango leaves were spinning green magic, birds chirped and the world was joyful. But the sweetness didn’t end.
Our next stop was Mall — that’s a village not a shopping mall. The mango belt comprises Mall, Malihabad, Kakori. At Mall, we met the grand old mango man — Kunwar Bhupendra Singh, who has been living the mango life forever. Between snacks and tea, he spent hours educating us about mangoes. And then took us to his orchard — Madhav Udyan. Here, he showed us different varieties of fruits, besides the many heirloom mangoes.
Cutting and eating a mango is an art, best learnt from the man who lives and breathes them. “The mango has to be smelt before being cut. And it’s cut in a certain manner so that you get to eat the best parts,” he said, as he cut into one too many for us, giving us a taste of the sweet king of fruits. We must have tasted a good 10 of them. Wind in our hair, we were off to Lucknow to catch the night train to Delhi.
And now it’s the spring of 2019, time for the mango flowers to bloom once again. The mango belt is buzzing once again and the organisers have begun the task of organising the annual Uttar Pradesh Mango Festival. Like every year, the heat of June is the best time to enjoy the sweet fruit and its many products. If you are a mango fan, maybe you would like to eat the fruit in the perfect natural settings like me. There’s provision for an orchard visit too, besides numerous other things that happen during a festival.
The Indian Mango
In India, about 1,500 varieties of mango are grown including 1,000 commercial varieties. In Uttar Pradesh, popular varieties found are Bombay Green, Dashehari, Langra, Safeda Lucknow, Chausa, Fazli.
- Mango (Mangifera indica L.), belonging to family Anacardiaceae, is called the king of fruits.
- Mango has been cultivated in southern Asia for nearly 6,000years.
- India ranks first among world’s mango producing countries, accounting for about 52% of the world’s mango production. Other major mango producing countries include China, Thailand, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria and Egypt.
- Major mango producing states are Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Other states where mangoes are grown include Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana, Punjab.
From where comes mango?
- Mango can be propagated from seed or propagated vegetatively. Planting is usually done in the month of July-August in rainfed areas and during February-March in irrigated areas.
- Mango is well adapted to tropical and sub-tropical climates.
- Dry weather before blossoming is conducive to profuse flowering. Rain during flowering is detrimental but rain during fruit development is good.
- The orchard starts bearing from sixth year onwards and the economic life of a mango tree exceeds 35 years.
Uses and benefits
- It is a rich source of vitamin A and C.
- Mango has fattening, diuretic and laxative properties. It helps to increase digestive capacity.
- Raw fruits of local varieties are used for preparing products such as raw slices in brine, amchur, pickle, murabba, chutney, panhe (sharabat).
- The wood is used as timber, and dried twigs are used for religious purposes. The mango kernel also contains about 8–10% good quality fat which can be used for saponification. Its starch is used in confectionery industry.
- A lion’s share of Indian mango goes to the Gulf countries. Efforts are being made to exploit European, American and Asian markets.