TASTE MATTERS

The fruit that sent Mirza Ghalib into raptures

Most passionate mango-eaters will dismiss other people's opinions on the subject, but the Urdu poet deserves to be taken seriously on the topic.

Most Indians I know are passionate about the mangoes they grew up eating and refuse to believe that there can be superior varieties out there. For the most part, I am no exception. You can keep your Alphonsos and Dasehris, as long as I can have my Himayat Pasands and Benishaans.

But however dismissive one is of the opinion of others, one cannot help but take Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib seriously on this topic. Quite apart from that impressive name and his lofty standing as the Urdu poet, Ghalib has a well-deserved reputation as a mango-lover extraordinaire.

One only has to go through his letters – the first instance of Urdu prose, by the way – to realise that his passion for mangoes crosses the line into obsession. I have often gazed longingly at the names of mangoes mentioned by him in his missives to his friends, and tried to imagine what many of the unfamiliar ones would taste like.

In case you too are the gazing kind, here’s the list arranged in alphabetical order: Alphonso, Aziz-Pasand, Baadaami, Baaraah Maasi, Bishop, Bombay Green, Chausa, Dasehri, Dil-Pasand, Fajri Samar Bahisht, Fasli, Gulaabakhsh, Hamlet, Husn-aara, Jahaangir, Kishan Bhog, Khatta Meetha, Khudaadaad, Langra, Mahmood Samar, Malda, Malghoba, Naazuk-Pasand, Neelam, Nishaati, Ramkela, Ratol, Rahmat-e-Khaas, Roomaani, Safeda, Sarauli, Sinduri, Sultan-us-Samar, Totapari, Xavier, Zaafraani, Zard Aaloo.

What qualities does a mango have to possess to be called Naazuk-Pasand (one preferred by the delicate)? Or Rahmat-e-Khaas (a special grace)? What on earth is a Hamlet? Is the Baaraah Maasi really available twelve months a year? Who in their right minds would name a mango Zard Aaloo (yellow potato)?

And why, for heaven’s sake, is there no mention of Rasaal, that juicy fibrous mango of Hyderabad, of which the act of eating has appropriately been described as akin to sucking on a beard dipped in honey?

Ghalib’s mango-philia is so strong that he is not averse to humbling himself for a chance to be gifted the fruit. In a letter addressed to the caretaker of Calcutta’s Imambara, he writes ingratiatingly: “Not only am I a slave to my stomach I am a weak person as well. I desire that my table be adorned and that my soul be comforted. The wise ones know that both of these cravings can be satisfied by mangoes.”

This is followed by a disarming request for the mutawalli to “remember” Ghalib “twice or thrice” before the mango season ends, though he worries that this may be too insufficient to comfort “your humble servant”.

Ghalib’s concern isn’t without basis, for he certainly had a voracious appetite for the fruit. As a 60-year-old, he laments in a letter that he can no longer eat “more than ten or twelve at a sitting... and if they are large ones, then a mere six or seven. Alas, the days of youth have come to an end, indeed, the days of life itself have come to an end."

Altaf Hussain Hali, Ghalib’s student and biographer, records three stories about Ghalib and mangoes in his book Yaadgaar-e Ghalib, that have found their way into popular lore. The best-known is the one of Hakeem Raziuddin Khan, who while visiting Ghalib noted that a passing donkey had just sniffed at a mango peel and kept moving along. Look, said the Hakeem, even donkeys don’t eat mangoes. True, replied the poet, donkeys don’t eat mangoes.

Then there is the one about Ghalib accompanying Bahadur Shah Zafar, in the orchard of Baagh-e Hayaat Bakhsh, whose fruit was reserved for the nobility. Ghalib peered at the mangoes with sufficient intent for Zafar to ask what he was looking for. Ghalib replied in a calculated fashion:

I have heard the elders say:
bar sar-e har daana ba-navishta ayaañ
ka-een fulaañ ibn-e fulaañ ibn-e fulaañ

(On every piece one can see written quite clearly
That this is for so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so)

Perhaps, said the canny old man, I can spot the names of my ancestors on these fruits. Zafar got the message and Ghalib his case of mangoes.

The third story is of a gathering where the virtues of mangoes were being discussed. Maulana Fazl-e Haq turned to Ghalib and asked him for his opinion. Mangoes, said Ghalib, need to satisfy only two conditions. One, that they be sweet, and two, plentiful.

It’s hardly surprising then that Ghalib composed a masnavi titled dar sifat-e ambaah (On the Attributes of Mangoes), which included lines such as:

mujhse poochho, tumheñ khabar kya hai
aam ke aage neyshakar kya hai...
ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

baagh-baano
ñ ne baagh-e jannat se
angabee
ñ ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas
bhar ke bheje hai
ñ sar-ba-mohr gilaas
ask me! for what do you know?
a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane...
perhaps from the great heights above
the gardeners of heaven’s orchards
have sent, by the order of God
wine filled in sealed glasses

I only wish Ghalib had added the following couplet:

aur jinse ho dil hamesha shaad
vo to hote hai aam-e Hyderabad

and those that always please one’s heart
are the mangoes of Hyderabad.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.