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The way we were - how Dilliwallahs ate mangoes,’60s-style

Family picnics with pooris, pickles, chilled mangoes

delhi Updated: Jul 01, 2017 08:32 IST
Sohail Hashmi
Family picnic at Andheria Bagh, Delhi
Family picnic at Andheria Bagh, Delhi( Photos courtesy: Sohail Hashmi)

The sweltering summers of Delhi are insufferable today, they were worse 50 years ago. Power supply was far more erratic, air-conditioners existed in dreams, even desert coolers were a rarity. Succour came from the shade of trees. There weren’t too many grassy lawns but there were gardens aplenty that provided shade from the piercing rays of the sun. There were also the medieval ruins of Hauz-Khas and the Jami Masjid of Qutub Minar and the garden near the Agra Canal barrage at Okhla. These were the places that Dilliwallahs flocked to from early May to late June to escape the heat and then during the monsoons, to celebrate the arrival of sawan.

The gardens dotting different parts of the city included the Shahzada Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Gulabi Bagh, Beriwala Bagh, Qudsia Bagh, Roshanara Bagh, Nicholson Gardens and the Talkatora Bagh. Lodi Gardens and India Gate Lawns were not among the most favourite, they were still not part of the consciousness of the Dilliwallah. They were associated with New Delhi and New Delhi was another country.

(From right) The Hashmi children: Safdar, Sabiha, Shabnam, cousin Zoobi, Sohail, and Shehla, all tucking in except for Shabnam, who seems bothered by the heat. (Photo: Sohail Hashmi)

One of the all-time favourites was the mango orchards near Mehrauli planted at the initiative of Akbar Shah the IInd [the penultimate Mughal emperor]. The orchards were lush and thick and it was said that the rays of the sun never reached the ground. The Amraiyan (mango orchards) was therefore also known as Andheria Bagh.

The movers and shakers of Delhi, taking advantage of a large loop-hole in the taxation regime that exempts agricultural income from the tax net, acquired large tracts of land all around Delhi, gardens and orchards planted centuries ago were now transformed into ‘farm houses’, and the same happened to the Andheria Bagh, now known as Andheria Modh. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), by naming the station Chhattarpur, located 2 km away, has taken away that name as well. Nostalgia has been deprived of that last connect with a past destroyed.

Before all this happened, the orchards were open to the public, the contractor took the orchard on lease and sold the crop to the wholesalers. The contractors and their staff lived in little tents and you could either buy from their stock or you could select the mangoes and they would pluck them for you. The mangoes sold to the contractors by maunds (40 seers was a maund, a seer was around 930 gm) were available to visitors by the dozen, like the baker’s dozen they gave you - 13 pieces to the dozen. The extra efforts of plucking the fruit you wanted was well worth the effort because these retail sales were far more profitable then selling to the wholesalers.

Groups and families could always come in to spend a day in the orchards, to laze around, to sleep on mats that they brought with them, to throw rope swings around the sturdy branches and to buy and consume mangoes. The contractors and their staff lived in little tents and you could either buy from their stock or you could select the mangoes and they would pluck them for you.

The Sarauli, Dussehri, Langda and the Chausa were the most cultivated varieties and the Delhi strains could more than hold their ground against their Malihabadi and Lakhnawi cousins. What Delhi never had, was the Safeda, the delicate, white-spotted dainty little fruit from Lucknow, and it was always a prized acquisition as were the Rataul, the Gola Hakeem-ud-Din, the Makhsoos and Khas-ul-Khas of Rataul. All this was before the humongous Banganapalli from Andhra, deviously named the Safeda by some marketing genius, flooded the market and the mind space of those who prefer quantity more than quality.

A gardener at a mango orchard in Delhi (Photo: Sohail Hashmi)

There was a time, before Banganapalli, before Chhatarpur Metro Station, before Delhi farmhouses, when Dilliwallahs, in scores, arrived by the tonga-load, each tonga carrying huge tubs with ice in them. Families carried mats and durries to spread on the ground, and ropes for swings. They also brought readymade food, a killer mix of mince-meat and green chillies cooked with curd and eaten with chick-pea flour parathas. Vegetarians brought a dry hot and sour-potato preparation and chutneys and pickles to go with pooris. The meal was considered complete with mangoes.

The Amraiyan would be filled with families clustered about, kids played together. The loss of these orchards is a loss of these shared spaces. Do people share food and make friends at Pragati Maidan and the melee of India Gate, one wonders.

Sohail Hashmi is a well-known cultural commentator of Delhi