Is there an Indian mango or a UP mango and mangoes from the South?

Most mangoes owe their origin to grafting of different mangoes from different regions.There are 300 varieties, which is also grown in Florida! So, is there a uniform Indian mango, asks Mrinal Pande

Is there an Indian mango or a UP mango and mangoes from the South?

Mrinal Pande

Asked recently by the media about his choice of mangoes, Rahul Gandhi said, “I don’t like UP aam (mangoes). I like Andhra’s.” While the media might have Prime Minister Modi’s famous interview to Akshay Kumar in mind, in which he was asked if he preferred to suck on mangoes or to bite into them, Rahul Gandhi’s reply triggered a storm in a teacup.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister took umbrage and castigated the reply as “divisive” (Vibhajankari). Yogi Adiyanath tweeted in Hindi solemnly reminding people of Rahul Gandhi’s ‘divisive Samskaras’. “Remember,” he added, “from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the taste (swad) of India is one.”

In a country where even currency notes carry the denomination in over a dozen Indian languages, it’s hard to see what attracted the outrage which spilled over by evening to TV studios. Soon it was making headlines in both English and language channels: Hindi vs English, North vs South and Hindi-HinduHindustan supporting BJP vs a diglossic Congress represented by an MP from the South with a mixed parentage. Feminists, who have long been saying ‘all that is personal, is ultimately political!’, felt vindicated.

It was difficult to conclude with any certainty whether the discourse that followed was a reflection on the country, on mangoes, on politics, on Uttar Pradesh, on the media or on Rahul Gandhi. With elections coming up in Uttar Pradesh, however, it certainly made sense to insinuate that Rahul Gandhi had no love lost for Uttar Pradesh, that he did not even like mangoes from the state. Goodness gracious!

The English word for Aam (Aamra in Sanskrit) comes not from the north but from ancient Tamil that refers to it as Manga or man-kai. The fruit originated neither in the north nor the south but in the forests of the North-Eastern states. Soon it was being grown from seeds all over India. But each tree raised from a mango seedling is potentially a new type, since the seed is ultimately formed only from cross pollination. Frequently avid horticulturists have added to the newer varieties by grafting one exotic type with another.

Legends maintain that the Langra was grafted by a lame (Langda) sadhu or ascetic from a carefully cut branch gifted to him by an unknown donor. From modern varieties of northern Langra and Dusseri to southern Bainganpalli, Benishan, Suvarnrekha to the Alphonso, all mango varieties are northsouth hybrids. A recent variety of Amrapalli mango is a cross between Neelam from the South and Dusseri from UP! So much for UP ka aam and Dakshin ka aam!

In her book Wanderers, Kings and Merchants, renowned professor of linguistics Peggy Mohan describes India’s language wars. Her conclusion is that the English language has been steadily gaining ground, increasingly getting adopted by multiple users from multiple backgrounds. So much so that she writes the indigenous languages are under severe threat of becoming extinct.

Our Brahminical elite once wanted a language that would set them apart from the Aam Admi. So, Sanskrit segued smoothly from being the language of Aryan intruders from the West into becoming the language of the ruling class here. Then gradually Persian, Urdu and then English replaced it. After Independence, the access of poor Indians in the Hindi belt in particular, has been confined to poorly funded, state-run schools that teach in Hindi. With rapid privatisation of schools in recent decades, a new generation of upwardly mobile Indians began to send their children to English medium schools. This led to a wonderful, though sometimes amusing, convergence.

In small towns in the Hindi belt, bill boards that earlier read ‘Kesh Kartanalaya’ or ‘Kirana Store’ have given way to ‘Hair Cutting Saloons’ and ‘Grocery Shoppe’. Even ‘Pooja ki Dukan’ is now called ‘Pooja Store’.

The actual language loyalties of the younger generation in India are remarkably different from their multi-lingual parents’ as Narendra Modi realises. Unlike Yogi of UP, he uses Hindi peppered with English, the way language is spoken by young, ambitious Indians.

But as Peggy Mohan shrewdly observes, with Cheer India, Make in India, May the Force be with You slogans resounding all over, language play by our leaders indicates we are moving into a danger zone. The situation throws up uncomfortable questions over ethnicity, race, and democratic freedoms that transcend technology.

Personal views of all sorts regarding what we read or write or can freely discuss in public, the food we eat, the clothes we (especially the women) must wear, are being filtered through an unwritten but officially sanctioned canon. It is not just India’s shrinking language base that is worrisome. What is worrisome is the co- option and socialisation of the one- size- fits- all philosophy.

All we can do is to follow the advice of a wise old rabbi, who said in a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.

( Mrinal Pande is Group Editorial Advisor of National Herald. Views are personal)

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