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Mango mania hits the capital at Dilli Haat

Who is the fairest of them all? With around 500 varieties on offer, it’s a tough call

delhi Updated: Jul 01, 2017 16:01 IST
Alex Traub
With around 500 varieties up for tasting, visitors are spoilt for choice at the festival on at Dilli Haat, Janakpuri.
With around 500 varieties up for tasting, visitors are spoilt for choice at the festival on at Dilli Haat, Janakpuri. ( Photos: Raj K Raj)

The four scientists murmured agreements and dissent, passing around and evaluating their specimens. Each member of the graying, bespectacled group showed ease and expertise as they reached consensus on the subject of their research: which Langda mango was the tastiest.

It was a typical scene at the 29th annual International Mango Festival of Delhi, which started on Friday and runs through the weekend. Scientists snacked, farmers effused, and civilian mango lovers theorised, each different group arriving at the same tone of well-informed reverence for India’s most widely cultivated fruit. The four Langda-tasters were judging one of the festival’s 12 competitions.

In ten of these contests, mangoes of a certain variety were pitted against each other based on size, shape, smell, and, of course, taste. Besides Langda, other varieties included Chausa, Kesar, and Amrapali. The final two categories rated form above content. In one, the mango of the most pleasing and appropriate appearance was selected. The other contest was won by the heaviest mango.

The festival also provides agro and food processing industries the opportunity to display their products. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

A number of past champions were in attendance. Tafzeel Ahman, a 63-year-old farmer from Saharanpur, has been going to the festival for 10 years. He won the best Ramkela mango last year. Ahman rhapsodised about the superlative healthiness, beauty, and deliciousness of the fruit.

Playing favourites

Tariq Mustafa, 55, who comes from a long line of mango farmers in Muzzafarnagar, spoke like a future member of the mango Hall of Fame. He said he had won the contests for both most attractive and heaviest mango for 11 years running, and expressed certainty of more victories this time around. To show off the excellent quality of his wares, he gave me a Gula mango to try. After I struggled to bite off the top and suck all the flesh out in one go, as he suggested, Mustafa performed the delicate operation himself, observing with pride that he could finish off a Gula in 15 seconds.

The participating farmers are vetted by Dr RP Srivastava, 78, the principal scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and an advisor to the mango festival. Srivastava said that only two in 100 farmers he speaks to agree to come. But, he added, “I am crazy about mango”. He has been studying the fruit for 35 years.

Enthusiasts of mangoes who do not study them professionally often find their strong feelings about the fruit leading them into the realm of scientific hypothesis. “It depends on the mud,” said Thapan Kumar Das, 62, about why the mangoes of his native Bengal were superior to all other breeds.

The festival is on till July 2. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Das, who drove the Uber that brought me to the festival, was eager to demonstrate objectivity under his apparent regionalism. Bengal mangoes are not more frequently exported to other states and countries, he said, because of the political dysfunction of the local government and its lack of support for farmers. Bombay mangoes, he admitted, may also be “more smooth and stylish,” though this was perhaps a backhanded compliment.

Exotic taste

Jonathan Green, a 40-year-old British resident of Delhi, said he was attending the festival for the third consecutive year. Since moving to India, Green estimates that he has tried 40 to 50 different types of mango. He often uses Safedas and Kesars to make lassi. Before the season ends, Green pours blended mango into an ice tray to make lollipops. “It sustains me and my wife the next four months,” he said.

The fruit is a leitmotif of Green’s experience of living in India. Whenever he travels, during mango season, to a part of the country he hasn’t previously visited, Green always makes sure to sample the special local varieties.

These were exhaustively collected at the festival, where visitors were treated to an exhibition with samples of roughly 500 different types of mango. There were also stands of mango products, a mango market, and performance spaces for a planned mango quiz, mango eating competition, and mango carving session.

Most attendees came with families. Asked opinions of the fruit at home, three separate groups all reported that their relatives shared the same favourite mango variety. Pallabi Jaiswal, 20, and her brother, Aditya, 13, were two of the many partisans of Dushehari. “He can eat a dozen,” said Pallabi of Aditya. “At home, we have to stop him.” Vidisha Gulati and her mother, Minu, said that everyone in their family swears by Safeda, though Vidisha qualified her praise. “I would really love,” she said, “that they should have less calories.”

A cultural troupe also performed at the event. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Members of Sukhmanch Theatre, a troupe performing at the event, clamoured to describe their own preferred mango. Most felt that the best ones came from Uttar Pradesh, though a lone Bengali stood up for his hometown fruit. Whatever the disagreements, Deepak Narang, 27, perceived a common identity. “We are mango people,” he said.

Must visit:

What: International Mango Festival

When: Till July 2, 11 am-9pm

Where: Dilli Haat, Janakpuri

Nearest metro station: Janakpuri East