Mangoes quench Pakistan’s summer brunt


KARACHI: In Pakistan, where people are exploring ways to beat the searing summer heat, delicious mangoes keep them cool and fresh.

The rising summer temperatures coincide with the harvest of mango crop as well. Extolled as king of fruits, India and Pakistan recognise it as their national fruit. Both often unleash its power in diplomacy and political outreach. The fruit has also been used by writers and poets in the region, over centuries to represent unspoken thoughts and feelings.

Summer in both countries is defined by the sights and sounds of vendors hawking piles of soft, sweet-smelling mangoes or pureeing them to create refreshing drinks to cut through the scorching heat.

“Summer in Pakistan is getting unbearable with every passing year, but mangoes only make it bearable,” Tasneem Hussein, a lawyer said while bargaining with a mango-seller, at the entrance of Karachi’s main fruit market.

Karachi was once known for its modest weather even in the hottest months of June and July. Global warming, associated with rising pollution levels, have upset weather clock, with the city getting warmer in recent years.

“The cold and slushy (mango) shake or the frosty mango slices beat the fatigue, caused by the heat,” said Hussein with a winsome smile on his bearded face.

Pakistani mangoes are favourites

Tariq Ali, a resident of southern Mirpur Khas district, where temperatures touched 50 degrees Celsius earlier this month, says mangoes were the only thing he liked about summers. “It (summer) is stifling and disturbing, but I like the season because it brings with it mangoes, that make me tidy at the end,” he said.

Mirpur Khas is one of the largely mango-producing regions and famous for its huge Sindhri variety of mangoes.

Pakistan produces 1.9 million tonnes of mangoes annually, thus ranking sixth in the world, followed by India, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Mexico. There are two dozens of mango varieties, notably, Anwar Ratual, Dasheri, Langra, Saroli, Sindhri, Totapari, and others. But the taste of the country is prized Chaunsa.

Last year, Pakistan exported 82,000 metric tonnes of mangoes to the Middle East, Europe, the US, Japan, Australia and other countries. The juicy Chaunsa accounted for 60% of mango exports.

“Chaunsa is a favourite in the Middle East, Europe, America and other countries because of its special taste”, said Waheed Ahmed, a Karachi-based mango exporter. In terms of sweetness, Pakistani mangoes edge out their Indian and Indonesian counterparts in the international market.

Till 2011, when the US had put a ban on the entry of Pakistani mangoes, the fruit lovers would go all the way driving to Toronto, Canada, to taste Chaunsa mangoes.

Need to introduce new technology

Despite its aroma and taste that makes Pakistani mangoes a hot favourite; little attention is being paid to adopt the latest harvest practices to improve their quality further.

Ahmed stressed that adoption to the new technology was necessary to sustain and also to explore new markets. “Even China- the second largest mango producer- wants our mangoes, as their production does not match huge demand they have, because of a large population,” he said.

Past four years, the country’s mango production had slightly declined. “This year, production has shot up, because growers are getting better prices. But still, there is a 30% shortage compared to actual capacity and demand, mainly because of changing weather patterns,” he said.

The exporter added that the trend will definitely improve mango exports. But the impact will be seen on the ground, only by 2021-22. Pakistan plans to export 100,000 metric tonnes of mangoes this year, according to Ahmed.

Mango diplomacy

Using mangoes to mend strained relations is an old tradition in the region. The competing tribes over centuries used the fruit, to defuse tensions.

In 2010, then US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced to open the US markets for Pakistani mangoes, in a bid to dampen anti-American sentiment, marking the latest chapter in the fruit’s curious history of diplomacy.

“I have personally vouched for Pakistani mangoes, which are delicious, and I’m looking forward to seeing Americans be able to enjoy those in the coming months,” Clinton said during her visit to Islamabad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gifted crates of mangoes to the visiting US President George Bush in 2006, when they were discussing the Indo-US nuclear deal. Whether President Bush gave India waivers due to mangoes is not known, but a favourable climate helped India to clinch the access to nuclear technology.

Local chieftains and political rivals have been using mangoes to mend relations.

Pir of Pagaro, famous spiritual leader and head of his faction of Pakistan Muslim League – the second largest party in rural Sindh province – has continued the tradition to gift mango crates to his friends and foes. Another politician from southern Punjab, Nawabzada Nasarullah Khan had also earned fame for sending mangoes of his orchards, to his political opponents every year till his death in 2003.

Almost every year Pakistan’s government sends a box of mangoes to the Indian prime minister and other top functionaries in the Indian capital New Delhi.

The most famous Pakistani mango is known as Anwar Ratol, which has its roots in a village two hours from New Delhi, in the Baghpat district of western Uttar Pradesh province. Many years before Partition in 1947, a mango grower from Ratol had migrated to Pakistani part of Punjab and named a sprig he had transplanted there after his father, Anwar.

Sour memories of sweet mangoes

The sweet mangoes have sour memories as well.

Former military ruler General Ziaul Haq was killed along with several senior military officers and the then US ambassador in a plane crash in August 1988. Minutes before the plane took off; several boxes of Bahawalpur mangoes were loaded in the plane. The conspiracy theory is that mango crates had bombs. Noted Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif has used this episode in his award-winning comic novel titled, ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’, to expose cynical layers of corruption.

Who killed Zia? The bomb in the mango box or a technical error. No one knows, despite several inquiries. The jury is still out on whether to hold mangoes guilty or not. Till then enjoy mangoes and stay fresh.