When Zia-ul-Haq sent a box of small, sweet mangoes to Indira Gandhi in 1981, she responded with a letter saying she had never tasted mangoes like those in India. Soon, a delegation of mango growers from Rataul, Uttar Pradesh, visited Gandhi to set the record straight – for all Pakistan’s pride in this golden variety, the Rataul mango was “born” in India.
That’s how the Rataul is claimed for its own in towns on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. This fist-sized, sugary number is little-known in India but renowned in mango festivals held around the world where the two countries tussle for credit.
For six years now, historian Sohail Hashmi has bundled mango enthusiasts into buses bound for a day trip to the mango orchards of Rataul, fifty kilometres outside Delhi. This July 2, over a 100 people have already signed up for a visit on which they’ll tour the orchards, sample the fruit at an all-you-can-eat mango buffet, and enjoy a local meal at a haveli (this year’s “monsoon meal” includes besani roti, sitaphal sabzi, poori with aloo-chhole, chicken biryani and more). You also get to carry back a bounty of five kilos of mangoes each. The tour costs 2000 rupees: any money which isn’t spent on the tour is donated to the local Salma Public School for girls, Mr Hashmi says.
Root To Fruit
The man who opens his orchards to this tour is a retired Delhi University history professor called Zahoor Siddiqui. Once upon a time, there was a tehsildar from Rataul, who worked under the British - Mr Siddiqui’s grandfather. As he travelled from tehsil to tehsil, he returned with saplings of mango varieties that were not yet grown in Rataul, eventually setting up a nursery called Shohrah-e-Aafaq, which roughly translates as “world famous.” Not that the tehsildar needed to be modest – the nursery grew over 500 varieties of mango. Today, around 300 varieties still grow in Rataul, some of which are only cultivated and consumed here.
For the record, Mr Siddiqui would like his Pakistani relatives to remember that the Rataul was first grown on this side of the border.
On the way to Mr Siddiqui’s orchards, you'll pass a 100-year-old tree called “Janak,” rumoured to be the mother tree of the Rataul mango. How come the Pakistani “Anwar Rataul,” grown in Multan, has world renown while this place is little more than a brief yearly attraction, we ask? He contends that the Pakistani Rataul is larger and cultivated in greater quantities because their government supports their grassroot mango farmers. Our government, he laments, “is more interested in other fruit.” For the record, Mr Siddiqui would like his Pakistani relatives to remember that the Rataul was first grown on this side of the border. The Janak tree may no longer bear fruit, but it’s kept alive as a testament to the history of the place.
Aams & The Men
If you go on this weekend’s tour, expect to be overwhelmed by varieties of mango you may never have seen or tasted before. A former day-tripper, Katyayini, tells us she was shown to a table laden with thirty or forty kinds of mangoes. “One was called gulab jamun,” she laughs, “and it tasted like gulab jamun!” Trippers climb the mango trees, which have low branches, and hang out for hours, basking in the sunshine and the hosts’ obvious love for their “aam ke khet.”
“When people come and eat mangoes here, they feel a sense of community,” Mr Siddiqui says -- their faces light up, and they remember what the fun of eating mangoes is supposed to be like. “The mango fruit is eaten by the rich and the poor. It unites people. It’s a shame the government doesn’t support it.”
Getting there: Sohail Hashmi’s day-trip to Rataul in Baghpat, UP, takes place July 2, details here.
This story was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer who lives in New Delhi.
Image credit: Instagram / jaan.distributors.inc
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