Washington DC: It was quite a sight to see American and Indian businessmen, lobbyists and journalists push, shove and grab their bag of free Indian grown mangoes at the US-India Business Council meet on the sidelines of the 3rd round of the India-US strategic dialogue in Washington DC.
Indian journalists mindful of cultural etiquette picked up just one bag while their ‘Aamerican’ friends snatched as many as they could. There was an ‘aam-bush’ at the table, where a former US ambassador to India was sighted dispersing ‘aamgyan’, to a PYT reporter.
Mango diplomacy is no aam matter, as one is well aware, in Washington DC. From former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, quite a few diplomats have squeezed the juicy fruit for a few minutes of fame. In 2007 the Bush government eased the way for the import of Indian mangoes to the US.
Irradiated Indian mangoes finally reached American shores but they were so expensive that nobody wanted to buy them. At $40 a box they lie in a corner in most grocery stores waiting for connoisseurs to pick them up. Indian mangoes like Alphonso and Kesar are soft skinned and when they are subjected to irradiation they can only be air freighted, this makes them too expensive.
Indians usually pick up the South American pulpy mangoes at grocery stores which cost half the price. And well, taste like orange coloured cardboard. At Indian restaurants order Mango lassi (or lassey as the Americans call it) and what you get, tastes like shrikhand, with colouring if you know what I mean.
It is no wonder that the two things that Indians in the US miss the most about India are the smell of wet mud during monsoons and the mango season which incidentally coincide, back home.
The Mango months from April to August are what make the Indian summer tolerable. God made it that way. Ask God or Hapoos if you don’t believe me. Over 1000 varieties of mangoes are grown in India but only about 20 varieties are grown commercially, and most Indians know their names by heart.
Having lived in the north but spent summer vacations in the south, I have been lucky enough to have experienced ‘mango cycles’ of both the north and the south. Though products of the north and south are transported fast enough, there is nothing as authentic as eating mangoes fresh off the trees. The Chausa, Daseheri, Langra, Safeda (Benishaan) of the north are fleshy and robust. The Daseheri is a cute and chikni-chameli of a mango.
The south, including the Deccan has the Hapoos or Apoos or Alphonso, Banganapalli, Neelum, Pairi, Kesar. The mangoes of the south are less fibrous and by and large sweeter (barring the Dusseri). But then one can argue till the sun sets which mango is pulpier and which is more fibrous, which is spongy and which has more flavors though less sweet.
The point is, we Indians know our mangoes better than anyone else, yes even better than Pakistanis. But don’t let the Pakistanis hear you say that. They think theirs are better and are struggling to get their mangoes to America, to compete with Indian grown mangoes, which in turn, are struggling to compete with Mexican mangoes.
New York Congressman Mr. Tom Reed questioned the decision of the Obama administration to spend $30 million on mango farmers of Pakistan, to help them export mangoes to the US, terming it “egregious” and “wasteful” government spending.
With US-Pakistan relations sliding down the slope, mangoes are not exactly top on the administration’s ‘to-do’ list. With Hussain Haqqani out of the embassy, the Pakistani mango has lost its ambassador here.
Meanwhile besides the Indian mango, what is set to enter the American market is jackfruit. It is this giant fruit of the mulberry family that grows mostly in southern and eastern India, locally called kathal or halsinahannu.
It has a ghastly smell and traditionally is used in idlis, fritters, dried chips and traditional recipes that mostly aunts and grandmothers thrust upon their daughters and daughters-in-law. Now, some Harvard grad student (no less of course) is all set to bring this smelly fruit to the US. And this too shall grace the already crowded Indian grocery shelves. Viva la India!
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash