Delhi’s tryst with mangoes 

In the Delhi we know today, the monsoon is linked to waterlogged roads, mosquitoes, traffic jams, and sweltering days
Representational picture of mangoes
Representational picture of mangoes

In the Delhi we know today, monsoon is linked to waterlogged roads, mosquitoes, traffic jams, and sweltering days. But, there was a time when saawan ka maheena [monsoon months] here was believed to be idyllic. Back in the ’60s, Mehrauli had several mango orchards—these were planted during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II. The generations that have grown up with stories steeped in history will tell you that the love for mangoes flowed from one generation to another, in the Mughal rule. 

A few eloquent stories of the capital’s love of aam can be found in Indo-Persian poet Amir Khusrow’s work. You will also find detailed accounts of the fruit in Abul Fazal’s Ain-i-Akbari, and Emperor Jehnagir’s Tuzuk-e-Jehangiri. 

In City of My Heart, Delhi resident and historian Rana Safvi brings alive four Urdu narratives of the period after 1857, the final days of Mughal rule in Delhi. In the story, Dilli ka Aakhiri Deedar (The Last Glimpse of Delhi) by Syed Wazir Hasan Dehlvi, she brings to life the monsoon of Delhi as enjoyed by princesses and their friends in the baghs of amriya’n—the mango orchard near Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli.

The family of emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar accompanied him every year here for the Phoolwalo’n ki Sair held in the month of saawan. The mighty mango, as you’d see, played a profound role in the Dilli of yore. Even today, you will find the impact of Delhi’s little-spoken love for mangoes in stories of those who grew up in the city.

Rama Kapur, an octogenarian Delhi resident, reminisces how she once had mango trees in her family home at Barakhamba Road. “As kids, we would not even let them get ripe and eat the raw ones!,” she says. In her childhood, the mangoes would be immersed in tubs filled with ice, and as soon as it would stop raining, her joint family would get together in the courtyard and savour them with malpuas and pakoras. “Those days have gone,” she tells me. “The orchards have disappeared, and the joint family system is hardly there. That was our childhood in the Dilli of the yore,” says Kapur.

For those who have moved away, the memories behind mangoes make for an unlikely yet familiar avenue to remember Delhi the way they knew it. Former city resident Pradeep Singh, who has moved to Mumbai, tells me his story. “Our father would bring with him petis of mangoes; the fruit would be transferred to buckets of water to keep them chilled, and we would come together as a family.” 

What you take away from the beautiful, rain-soaked summer stories of the king of seasonal fruits are the memories it created. The tales of the Badshah, and memory postcards of mango orchards in the city, are not so far removed, after all. But, it doesn’t take away that we have come a long way in the past few decades. Trees were chopped down to make way for wider roads, stadiums and flyovers. Somewhere in between all of this, did we forget the experience of celebrating seasons?

Vernika Awal
is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’ 

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