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The mango’s days of glory

Frederick Noronha

The mango season is not yet on us. We haven’t even started thinking about it properly. The only hint we get about the fruit is the discussion in the media that the lack of the seasonal wintry chill could adversely affect the upcoming crop. Some part of the winter is finally here, even as we write these words.

Yet, the mango does continue to have a special place in the Goan heart. It’s a fruit which almost all of us love. One we wait for, one which figures in our literature. Leslie de Noronha has written ‘The Mango and the Tamarind Tree’, a book someone was complaining is hard to find. Nilima Kamat has authored a book called ‘Treasure Trove of Goan Mango Dishes’.

Another book called ‘Mango and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent’ (Alford and Duguid) features some recipes from Goa. These though are not connected with the mango. Poet Manohar Rai SarDesai’s ‘The Goan Mango’ has its opening lines which go thus: ‘A drop of honey, a splash of gold is the Goan mango. A handful of moonlight, a slice of sun. The Goan mango’.

One reason to remember the fruit, off-season, is a newish book by the nonagenarian agricultural officer Fernando do Rego. Rego might be retired, but even as he crosses four-score-plus-ten he’s not tired. His new book has recently come out and is called ‘As Mangas de Goa/The Mangoes of Goa’. It is a bi-lingual Portuguese-English book as one could expect from its title.

Rego’s paean of praise to Goa’s favourite fruit begins with citing its importance among “the natural wealth of India…  its flora” (p.62). He explains the role of the mango in Goa’s agriculture.

After this, he goes on to point out that the Indian mango has been written about right from the time of the fifth and seventh century Chinese travellers Hsuen Tsang and Fa Hsien. In Persian literature, it is noticed from the tenth century. The excerpted and translated words of Ibn Batuta (c 1334), Garcia da Orta (1563), Christobal da Costa (1578), Linschoten (1598), are ones which remind us of the ignored wealth in our own backyard.

In a few brief words, Rego mentions where all the Goan mango has been written about in Indian literature – starting from 1902, and even before. Manuel Gelasio Dalgado, the brother of the more famous Dalgado, wrote a work called ‘Flora of Goa and Sawantwaddi’ in 1883. So did a range of others, right up to the 1980s and beyond.

Leveraging his understanding of the Portuguese language gives Rego good insights into past writing on the Goan mango. He quotes what Propercia Correia Afonso e Figueiredo, today a little-recognised name in a changing Goa, had to say about the beliefs of the origin of the mango into India, for instance.

His thin books takes us to the songs featuring the mango in the ‘zagor’ of Carambolim, to the fruit featuring in local festivals – involving brides, garlands, ‘mandaps’, and houses, and the first harvest. Rego contends that Indian botanists credit Garcia da Orta to have been the founder of botanical studies in India, at least in the printed form

with his sixteenth century text on the subject (76).

An interesting section is how the mangoes of Goa got their names. They come in quaint nomenclature, ranging from Abreu and Alphonso to Xavier. Some, he notes, are after surnames or nicknames. Others come from names or nobility (Dom Bernado, Dom Filipe, Dom Fernando). Yet others get their names from their colours – well stained, unsharp, white strap, Monserrate red, Monserrate white, pink, etc. And a few even get their appellation from

the flavour they reflect – brindao, cidrao (citron), salgada (salty),

salgadinha, grapefruit.

When the Goan mango reached other places, they took on the “Goa” tag to identify their origins, says Rego, quoting Chadda. For instance, there’s the Bangalore-Goa, the Kalanka-Goa, Kodur-Goa, Malda-Goa, Neel-Goa, or the Papaya Raju Goa. Oddly, these varieties are not available or called thus in Goa itself.

Some local Goan mango varieties have disappeared, while others have got new names. Sampaio, studying the Goan mango in 1907, managed to find only 40 varieties, while noting that there were also many unnamed varieties used mainly for pickles.

In a neat summary, Rego’s work gives a description of a few prominent Goa’s mango varieties. He explains the method of grafting of mangoes. There has been debate on whether the credit for this goes to the Portuguese, or whether the latter simply improved the method already used in Goa, as argued by Braganca Pereria in 1886.

Interestingly, even Christian friars were noting that grafting could be done in the month of Sravana (July-August) and also during the monsoon months, particularly on full-moon days when the “callus formation is more assured” (85).

He notes that the nineteenth century pioneer of fruit preservation, Bernardo Francisco da Costa, who ran the Costa e Compania factory, sometimes called the first of its kind in Asia, detailed the methods of vegetative reproduction, including grafting for the mango, in his ‘Manual do Agricultor Indiano’.

Of particularly interest, the centre of the book has a series of colour photographs, each showing the mango varieties that have grown out of Goa. Some are popular or at least known breeds. Like Bemcorada, Malgesa, Malgoa, Monserrate de Bardez, Bispo, Fernandina, among others.

Others are little-known names, or ones many of us might have not heard of before: Ananas, Babio, Ball, Carreira, Chimut, Marchon, Maxima, Monteiro, Mozambique, Nicolau Afonso, Oliveira, Papel, Rebelo, Reinol, Rosa, Salgada, Salgadinha, Tokio, and the like.

One section looks at the mango in Goan folklore, particularly in Konkani adages and Konkani-English poetry. Yet another focuses on mango preserves, such as ‘chiro’ (sliced green mango), ‘chirmutt’ (endocarp mango, tender, sliced lengthwise, tanned in brine), ‘coll’ (whole mango in brine), ‘miscutt’ (green mango with a tender endocarp), mustard mango, ‘bafnam’ (undercooked and cooled in vinegar, with a little mustard, etc), and ‘manga cozida’ (mango with a hard endocarp, cooked, in brine with whole long pepper).

Finally, Rego offers a hint of the mango’s expansion. It went to Brazil in 1683, by way of seven mango trees. In 1811, the Portuguese were sending gifts of Afonso and Fernandina varieties, pointing to their preferred nature. Rigorous selection work in coastal Maharashtra has led to the ‘Afonso Goesa’ becoming more popular worldwide as ‘Ratnagiri Alphonso’, he notes. The Pires has become known across India as the ‘Pairi’, and also introduced in to tropical parts of the US in the early twentieth century. But Fontainhas-based Rego warns that the “old fame of the Goan mango” is now “gradually disappearing”.

These are the words of a veteran. Words which need to be taken seriously.

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