Winning VIPs' hearts through fruits

Winning VIPs' hearts through fruits

Robert Vadra may have unintentionally cracked a joke on aam admi by its literal translation: Mango Man.

But at Sultanganj in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, some 300 km away from state capital Patna, is one person Ashok Choudhary, who is fondly called Mango Man. For, he has been cultivating one of the best qualities of Zardalu aam (mango) in his orchard for the last several years. No wonder, agriculture department mandarins rush to him whenever Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wants to send tastefully decorated cartons of mangoes to all those who matter to him in New Delhi.

The list includes Robert Vadra’s mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi too and she  is one of the 600 VVIPs who have been sent fruit packets on behalf of the Bihar
government from the orchards of Choudhary.

“People call him Mango Man but he is no aam admi. How many people will quit the lucrative profession of a lawyer and grow mangoes? But Choudhary did exactly this. Initially, he started on two acres of land but eventually spread his orchard on 10 acres,” said Subodh, one of his acquaintances.

Not only the famous Zardalu, Choudhary grows 12 other varieties of mangoes which include Keshar, Surya, Lal Mohan, Arvin, Sensation and Arunima. But the best quality is Zardalu for its unique essence, sweetness and is easily digestible, unlike Malda of Digha.

The Zardalu variety is known for its unique flavour, luring mango connoisseurs from far and wide. Nitish too apparently thought of winning the hearts of Delhi’s VVIPs through their stomach. So the Agriculture Department officials were put on the job. Orchards in Bhagalpur were scoured meticulously to ensure that only the best quality of Zardalu mangoes find their way into the gift pack.

Little wonder, district agriculture officer Dinesh Prasad Singh swooped down on Choudhary’s orchard which had the best quality of Zardalu aam.

Nearly 600 packets, each consisting of 24 pieces of Zardalu mangoes, which were wrapped in glossy papers and laid therein properly to last for a while, were prepared.
These baskets were then despatched to the VVIPs in New Delhi, including President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on behalf of  Nitish Kumar.

Apart from these packets each containing 5 kg of mangoes, another packet of the same number was prepared. Now, each of these baskets contained 5 kg of “shahi litchis”, specifically brought in from Muzaffarpur.

More than 70 per cent of India’s litchis are produced in Muzaffarpur and the
region’s Shahi fruits are known for their aroma and taste worldwide. The summer gifts have been aimed to promote Bihar’s two special fruits.

Agriculturists in Bihar feel that prior to rains, which resulted due to depression in the Bay of Bengal, sweltering heat this year had helped yield a bumper crop of the two favourite summer fruits in Bihar mango and litchi. “We expect to reap a rich harvest of popular mango varieties, including Malda, Bambaiya, and Fazli,” said a senior official of the Agriculture Department. Horticulturists say that for mango every alternate year is a lean year. Fruits are growing in full bloom in large parts of Bihar on an estimated area of one lakh hectare.

Similarly, the litchi crop, with orchards spread over 30,000 hectares in Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Darbhanga, Champaran and Sitamarhi in North Bihar, was likely to be good as it thrives in dry weather condition. In Muzaffarpur, which is famous for producing luscious litchis of international standard, orders have been placed by the Gulf countries for the best and costliest varieties. “The litchis with small seeds and intoxicating aroma have fetched a handsome price from the overseas market,” the official added.

But the recent rainfall may pour miseries on those growing litchis. The fruit requires high temperature and westerly winds for its natural growth just before harvesting.

But the unseasonal rain and the increased humidity have resulted in the attack by borer insect. This has not only weakened the grip of the fruit over its plant, the fruit itself has started rotting quickly. Similar is the fate of China variety of litchi, which, much like Shahi litchi, has started dropping from the trees on massive scale from orchards. Little wonder, the litchi season has been reduced from 25 days to 15 days.
And so has reduced the earnings of those who grow litchis.

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