One must see something to accept that it really exists but at the Inami Bagh, a mango grove believed to be more than 150 years old, one has to taste it to believe.
The taste of mangoes we eat in cities — like Langra, Dussehri, Safeda, or even the celebrated Alphonso — seem bland after one has had a mouthful of some of the 40-odd varieties of the desi (native) mangoes growing here for hundreds of years. Some of the parent trees of the 10-acre grove are 150 to 200 years old, with the traits of the different varieties determined by cross-pollination.
The Punjab government has allocated Rs 2 crore in the current budget to acquire the land and declare it a national biodiversity heritage site. But the grove is on private land with three owners and purchasing is a big hurdle. Punjab Biodiversity Board has sent the government a fresh proposal with increased budget. A committee headed by the chief secretary will preserve this site.
Fruit contractor Vikram Ram sits beneath a tree, sorting and weighing mangoes for the buyers who keep arriving from nearby towns and villages. The fruits seem to be fit for the gods, and entire crates are distributed for free during the annual mela at a mazar (Muslim saint’s tomb) in the nearby Kantiyan village.
Small buckets of different varieties of mangoes swimming in cool water are placed before newcomers, who can have their fill. The regulars, of course, know what they want. Praising the fruits, Harjinder Singh, retired school principal from nearby Hariana village, quotes a famous saying: “Ambiyan nu tarsengi tu chhad ke des Doaba (You will long for raw mangoes if you leave the Doaba region).” Hoshiarpur is home of native mango trees in Doaba.
The Inami Bagh grove gets its name from the prizes it won for certain varieties during the British colonial times. The old trees have stood witness to Punjab’s history for hundreds of years. Jagdev Singh, grove’s caretaker since 1980, says: “The grove belonged to the Muslims originally. A Pathan, Umar Khan, is believed to have so much land here that he would find it difficult to cover it in a day even on horseback.” After Partition, it was purchased by Ajit Singh, who migrated abroad and now it’s is the property of his sons in England. Records reveal now one of the three owners has given a power of attorney to someone, so it will delay the government’s plans to take over the grove.
“The site was earlier over 16 acres but lost 6 to the ‘kandi (sub-mountainous area) canal’ that runs through the grove. Several varieties are represented by a single tree. Some trees are decaying and the site is under threat. This natural marvel needs to be conserved. It is heartening that the Punjab government has taken interest in it,” says biodiversity board senior scientist Gurharminder Singh.
Gone in two weeks
This year, Vikram Ram got the contract for Rs 2.5 lakh but the yield declined. “Now there are just two weeks of the mango season, eat some more,” he says, being generous. A visitor sucking a fruit exclaims in delight: “I have eaten this mango after 30 years!” He is Madan Mohan from Dasuya, who has driven with his wife and son to taste the fruits of his youth. He has handicrafts business in Paris.
“France imports mangoes but one gets Safeda usually,” he says, offering his wife a baby Sindhoori. Rain comes as one leaves the grove and one is reminded of a yesteryear Punjabi song in which the girl implores her love to raise an umbrella over her so that she may suckle the mango in peace: “Chhatri di chhan kar ve, main amb choopdi jandi”.