India’s ties with Pakistan may have hit a new low with the recent terrorist strikes, but for those in India wanting to have a bite of mangoes, there is no turning away from the pulpy golden yellow Chausa from Pakistan.
India’s mango season gets over by the middle of August with the last arrivals of the Fazli from Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, and till the southern varieties arrive in December, the only ones available are those from Pakistan’s Sind and Punjab provinces.
The Pakistani Chausa, sweeter but less flavourful than the Indian variety, is now selling at Rs200-300 per kg.
However, there is a sense of unease among traders and fruit sellers in and around Delhi. So much so that traders from the Azadpur wholesale market in the national capital refuse to describe the taste of the Pakistani Chausa, because that would mean they had actually eaten them.
Imran, a fruit seller from Noida, says he sells about 10kg every day but won’t admit they are from Pakistan, insisting they are from Hyderabad instead. “May be they come from outside India, how do I know? I get them from Azadpur mandi,” he said.
“Yes, they are from Pakistan,” said Surinder Khanna, a trader from the Azadpur mandi. “But I do not trade in them, nor have I eaten them.”
“I have met vendors who even say the mangoes are from Afghanistan,” said Sopan Joshi, a Delhi-based journalist who is working on a book on mangoes commissioned by the Aleph Book Company.
“Chausa from Pakistan is a late crop which comes to India till November. It’s more pulpy and less juicy than the Indian Chausa and due to the hard pulp, likely, has a longer shelf life,” adds Joshi, a fellow at the New Delhi-based Gandhi Peace Foundation.
He recounts the jingoism around mangoes going back decades. In 1981, when Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq sent a famous variety called Anwar Ratol to prime minister Indira Gandhi, there was furore back home. It turned out the variety originated in Ratol, a village near Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh.
The situation isn’t any different in 2016. Indu Khanna desribed a recent visit to the market: “A few men asked the vendor where they came from because mango season had ended. When the vendor said they were from Pakistan, the men left saying they didn’t want anything from Pakistan.”
Om Prakash Ahuja, a mango trader from Azadpur discounts both the sweetness and volume of the Pakistani Chausa. “The way things are, we feel bad trading them. They don’t taste good, but it’s the only variety available now.”
According to Ahuja, every September and October, about 500 trucks carrying mangoes reach Azadpur, a low volume compared to the 400 trucks arriving daily during India’s peak mango season.
Mangoes have played a key role in ties between Indian and Pakistani leaders. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was also the PM in the late 1990s, sent mangoes to his then Indian counterpart Inder Kumar Gujral in 1997.
The tradition was unbroken even when the two countries had troops massed against each other along their border in 2002 following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.
The neighbours suspended flights but Pakistan, headed by General Pervez Musharraf, sent boxes of mangoes to India via Dubai to be delivered to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and several of his cabinet colleagues, including external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.
Bilateral trade between India and Pakistan through regular channels amounts to $2.6 billion a year.
According to a Pakistani diplomat based in New Delhi, there was no reduction in this trade noticed in September despite a spike in tensions.