Murshidabad misses its exotic mangoes
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Murshidabad misses its exotic mangoes

Varieties such as Kohitur, Kalapahar, Mohan Bhog and Nawab Pasand have gone out of cultivation mainly for their high cost of production.

kolkata Updated: Jun 05, 2017 13:09 IST
Sreyasi Pal
Sreyasi Pal
Hindustan Times
Mango,West Bengal,Murshidabad
Though Bengal had a bumper crop this year, exotic varieties of Murshidabad are nowhere to be found.(HT Photo)

Keep them on a bed of soft fluffy cotton, but change their position every 12 hours. It should not lie only on one side for a long duration. While peeling, place them gently on the palm. If you hold them with your fingers, they may leave an impression on the fruit. ideally, a wooden knife should be used.

This is an instruction on how to store Kohitur mangoes and prepare the fruit for eating.

Read: Tried and Tasted: For your Sunday lunch, how about everything mango?

Summer is here and so are the mangoes. But connoisseurs of Murshidabad district that was once the capital of exotic mangoes are missing their bounty of yesteryears.

A descendant of the nawabs of Bengal, Reza Ali Khan is fortunate to have a few trees of exotic mangoes in his garden. But the fruits are strictly for consumption of the family members. (HT Photo)

Once the seat of the nawabs in the 18th century, Murshidabad is known for its exotic varieties such as Kohitur, Kalapahar, Chandan Kosha, Mohan Bhog, Nawab Pasand – names that return to tickle the nostalgia of the aged and the imagination of the young every summer.

More than 250 different varieties of mango used to grow in the orchards of this district. Most of these varieties were developed as hybrids during the rule of the nawabs, the last independent nawab being Sirajudaullah who was defeated by the British in 1757.

The nawabs of Murshidabad had brought saplings of different varieties of mangoes from across the country and took initiative to make new varieties through grafting. Till the 1970s and 1980s, some of those rare varieties used to be found in the mango orchards of Lalbagh in Murshidabad. But now for the common people, these are alive in folklore.

Murshidabad mangoes used to be sent as gifts by the nawabs and noblemen of the district to the occupants of Buckingham Palace.

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“Nawab Faiyaz Ali Khan, the sixth generation descendant of nawab Mir Jafar, was a connoisseur of different mangoes. He set up a mango orchard at Jafraganj and planted the Kohitur variety there. Only very few Kohitur mango trees are still there in the orchard. But the mangoes aren’t sell commercially,” said Dr Reza Ali Khan, a member of the royal family of Murshidabad.

Prominent mango traders of Murshidabad think if a few varieties of the exotic breed are cultivated now, a kilo may cost around Rs 500. There will be no customers at that price point. (HT Photo)

Khan is one of the few fortunate ones who still eat Kohitur during summer. There are four trees in his house in Jafraganj, but the fruit is consumed in the family.

The care and handling of the fruits went to fanatic extents.

Read: India to export mangoes to Australia for the first time

“Special care was taken for growing and plucking Kohitur. When the mangoes grew big, we used to hang jute bags under the trees so that the fruits didn’t fall on the ground. No one was allowed to touch the mango with fingers while plucking it,” said Khan.

Khan, who has authored two books on the district ‘Murshidabad Abong (and) Banglar Nazim, has also done some research on the history on Murshidabad mangoes.

“Kala Pahar” is another variety that was popular in Murshidabad. The nawabs of Bengal, especially Murshid Quli Khan (1660-1727), who transferred the seat of power from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1704 and Alivardi Khan (1671-1956) were fond of this mango.

Representative picture. Gifting mangoes has been a tradition in Murshidabad. Rich families of this district used to send exotic mangoes to British royal families during the days of the Raj. (HT Photo)

“I don’t know whether any Kala Pahar tree is still alive. This mango used to turn black when it ripened. It was very juicy and sweet-and-sour in taste,” said Khan.

Read: No aam for the ‘aam aadmi’ this year as mango production drops 65% in UP

Subhadip Nath, a senior officer of district horticulture department has done extensive research on the district’s rich heritage of mangoes. From what he said, it became clear that the nawabs took a democratic approach while naming mangoes. A few varieties were named after tax officers and gardeners.

“Enayet Pasand’ was another variety that nawabs were in love with. The mango is named after a nawab’s tahshildar (tax officer), Enayet Khan. Even after it ripened, this fruit was green,” said Nath.

“Historians have said nawabs named variety Bimli after a woman gardener who had the same name. The fruit is longish in size and had a yellow hue,” Nath added.

“Other varieties that caught the attention of nawab families were Champa, Chandan Kosha. The Champa mango tasted like Champa flower and its colour was like gold. The taste of Chandan Kosha was like sandal wood and it took the colour of sandalwood colour when it became.”

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Some of the varieties that nawabs liked were Anupam, Begum Pasand, Bhabani Chauras, Bira, Dawood Bhog, Dil Pasand, Dudhia, Mirza Pasand.

However, not everybody is ready to give in to the nostalgic excesses. Mithun Saha, an assistant director of agriculture (Murshidabad) thinks several stories related to the mangoes is a myth. “Due to climate change and inadequate preservation facilities farmers are losing interest in the production of these varieties. Once there were more than 250 different germ plasms of mangoes in Murshidabad. But now farmers are producing only those mangoes that can give them profit,” said Saha.

“There are a few rare species of mango trees in the orchards of Lalbagh. But people aren’t ready to spend so much money to eat a single mango. So Kohitur and other exotic varieties are not available in the market,” said Mofidul Islam, a prominent mango trader of Murshidabad.

But how much can a kilo of Kohitur cost?

“Rs 400-500 a kilo, if it is available at all,” pat came the reply from Islam. He pointed out that a Kohitur tree occupies more than double the area needed for a tree of the commercial varieties, and the care needed to nurture these mangoes raise the price.

Incidentally, the best Himsagars are selling for Rs 40 in Kolkata.

First Published: Jun 05, 2017 13:09 IST