It has been the best mango season of my life. It began with a crate of Alphonsos from Tavleen Singh based in Mumbai. Evidently, she has given to a firm of mango exporters a list of friends to whom the fruit should be sent every season — with my name on it. Alphonsos are our chief export mango, rated the best we produce. I agree they are of high quality but those from the Yamuna-Ganga Doab of Western Uttar Pradesh between Lucknow and Delhi are tastier.
After a few weeks arrive a basket full of dussehris from an orchard near Lucknow owned by Parveen Talha of the UPSC. I have never tasted anything better, and wonder if people in the west know about dussehris. Then follow rataul: small, succulent, delicious. They are the right size, and the texture of a man my age.
My principal mango donor is Abid Saeed Khan who has a large orchard in Bugrasi, about three hours drive from Delhi. He is very generous in his bounty and sends me chausa and langra in large enough quantities to be distributed to my brothers’ families, neighbours and friends. They too have been better tasting than in years before. At my prodding, Abid has planted a few avocado trees five years ago. With a bit of luck they should be yielding fruit by next year. If I am around, I will be enjoying avocado salad with my meals.
I often wonder if our best quality mangoes are available in the Middle East, Europe and America. My friends who live in Muscat, Dubai and Riyadh tell me that mangoes are available in plenty during the season, but they are not from India but Pakistan. Pakistani mango growers have stolen the Middle-East market from us. Their mangoes are good quality but not a match to ours from UP. Why have we lost out to Pakistan? I put it to Abid Saeed Khan. “We have no export promotion incentives for our mangoes; Pakistan has. We also have to develop mango by-products like panna, pickle and contents of mango seeds which have medicinal properties as an industry. At present, besides Haldiram’s panna, they are largely prepared at home and are of different ingredients and qualities. They should be standardised and made uniformly high quality.” He went on and on about what needs to be done to restore India to its former position as the world’s biggest and best producer of high quality mangoes. “We can more than double our income from the king of fruits,” he assured with confidence.
A History of Ancient & Early Medieval India from the Stone Age to the 12th Century is a serious work of unmatched scholarship by one of India’s leading historians Upinder Singh. It has been brought out by a leading publishing house, Pearson. Briefly, it recreates the history of ancient India through a study of an enormous range of literary and archaeological evidence, including the humblest of stone tools. Not being a serious person, my immediate reaction was to call to mind a Hindi film song of a few decades ago: Geet Gaaya Pathharon Nein — the Stones Sang a Song. The book is in effect an encyclopedia of all that we need to know about our ancestors with a generous display of pictures, maps and charts with salient features put in boxes.
It is designed to be a college textbook. The price (Rs 3,500) is well beyond the pockets of most students. The publishers intend to bring out a much cheaper edition in paperback both in English and Hindi. There are two very short bio-datas of the author which mention her being married with two sons, having a doctorate from McGill (Canada), teaching history at St Stephen’s College for 14 years before being appointed Professor of History in Delhi University. There is no mention that she also happens to be the daughter of the Prime Minister of India. The deliberate omission adds to her stature.
India is a democracy
As everyone knows.
It is a government of the people, who,
After having voted are zeroes;
And is by the people who
Masquerade as heroes;
And is for the people in whose veins
Sycophancy and corruption flows.
Then we must have an Opposition
An essential ingredient for its completion
A dappled pack of folks who’ve missed the bus,
To create ugly scenes and make a fuss
Their sacred duty is to oppose
Everything that the government does;
And they do it with such devotion
Even the good the government may do,
They must in unison boo.
I don’t know of other countries’ position,
But in India we have
A total and perpetual opposition
On one thing, however, they readily agree;
It’s when they propose to raise their fee.
(Contributed by JC Mehta, Delhi)