(This article has previously appeared in Scroll, Quartz India, The Express Tribune and Dawn in the summer of 2014 and 2015.)
I am telling nothing but the truth when I tell you that Indian mangoes are better than Pakistani mangoes. It infuriates me when Pakistanis don’t agree. That makes mangoes an India-Pakistan dispute just like Kashmir. Like a good Indian, I don’t think this needs a referendum. Of course our mangoes are better. How could anyone even think that isn’t the case?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Pakistan. I am a card-carrying member of the candle-light-at-Wagah-border club. I think India and Pakistan should make love not war. I am all for solving Kashmir, demilitarising Siachen, ending terrorism, increasing trade ties, visa on arrival and so on. Since I have zero interest in cricket, India-Pakistan matches fail to arouse any anti-Pakistan sentiment in me. Pakistan is a place where I have my roots and some very dear friends. Yet there is this little thorn between us: their claim that their mangoes are better.
What annoys me further is that there are Pakistanis who claimed to have tasted Indian mangoes and still think Pakistani mangoes are better. The problem with such Pakistani mango lovers is that they are Pakistanis first and mango lovers second. Which is not to say I have tasted Pakistani mangoes. Why would I do that when I get to eat the world’s best mangoes? India has over 1,200 varieties of mangoes, Pakistan only 400.
Pakistani mango nationalism is not limited to Pakistanis. The Pakistani government uses it too. Almost every year the Pakistani government sends a box of mangoes to the Indian prime minister and sometimes the president and top ministers too. Under the guise of being thoughtful, they are actually conducting sub-conventional warfare against our egos. It is practically a way of saying that Pakistani mangoes are better. Killing the enemy with sweetness! The Indian government’s silence on this is most unacceptable.
The most famous Pakistani mango is known as Anwar Ratol. Half of Pakistani mango nationalism is based on the claim that Indians haven’t tried the Anwar Ratol. It is as if Partition was a conspiracy by the Clifton-Defence-Bahria elites to retain the privilege of the Anwar Ratol. What most Pakistanis don’t know is that the Anwar Ratol has its roots in a village two hours from Delhi, in what is now Baghoat district of western Uttar Pradesh. The village is called Ratol, and its first Ratol tree is just over a hundred years old. Many years before Partition, a mango grower from Ratol migrated to what is now the Pakistani part of Punjab and named a sprig he’d transplanted there after his father, Anwar.
So the mango on whose basis Pakistanis claim their mango superiority, even that is from India. Doesn’t that settle the India-Pakistan mango debate?
In 1981, Zia ul Haq sent Anwar Ratols to Indian President Sanjeeva Reddy and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A week later, the angry citizens of Ratol went to Indira Gandhi and presented her a box of the original Ratol mangoes. Seven years later, the case of mangoes that exploded with Zia were probably Anwar Ratols from Bahawalpur.
Having established in my head that Indian mangoes were thus better than Pakistani ones, I wondered why this was so important to me? How could I call myself post-nationalist and believe in mango nationalism?
The over-rated Alphonso
Discussing the issue of mangoes with several people gave me the answer. I realised that even within India people fight over which mango is the best. There’s a great Delhi-Bombay divide over the Alphonso. The expensive Alphonso, we north Indians feel, is over-rated. It is too sweet, too perfect.
My favourite mango is the Dasheri. I grew up in Lucknow and because the Dasheri orchards of Malihabad are next door, the markets are flooded with Dasheri every summer. When I went to Ratol and tasted its signature mango, I felt it was like a better version of the Dasheri. But I censored the thought lest I betray my loyalty to the Malihabadi Dasheri. There lies the answer. Mangoes are such a part of our childhood memory that the mangoes we grew up with define who we are. We are the mangoes we eat. Anyone claiming that another mango is superior is assaulting our very being. That is why, I realised, I took such strong objection to the Pakistani claim of their mangoes being better, or for that matter the Bombay arrogance about Alphonsos.
Yet there’s one point which we can all agree about: those South Asians who claim not to be fond of mangoes are to be pitied.