Little bite of India-Pak history: Zia, Indira and mangoes

Little bite of India-Pak history: Zia, Indira and mangoes

Little bite of India-Pak history: Zia, Indira and mangoes

There is really nothing 'aam' about India-Pakistan rivalry, even when it comes to mangoes.

A not-so-humble variety of mango -- called Anwar Rataul in Pakistan and Rataul in India, both named after this Uttar Pradesh town  -- had people in the two countries fighting for ownership of its legacy.

And the dramatis personae in this little bite of history were none other than Pakistan president Zia ul Haq and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The year was 1981. As leaders often do, the Pakistani president presented a basket of Anwar Rataul mangoes to the Indian premier. It was a gift she much appreciated but the news reports that followed got people in Rataul so riled that they went in a delegation to meet her in Delhi.

The prime minister of India had been gifted "fake" Ratauls, claimed the group from Rataul, about 35 km from Delhi in Baghpat district.

Suddenly, a number of 'aam' people came to the fore, and much was made out of that gift of mangoes, recalls cultural activist and mango aficionado Sohail Hashmi.

"The farmers from Rataul actually made a presentation before Indira Gandhi, explaining how the Rataul mango's roots were firmly in India and not in Pakistan," said Hashmi, as he led a group of people on a mango walk in Rataul's Noor Bagh last weekend.

The story of how the Rataul mango became Anwar Rataul deserves a chapter by itself in the complex saga of two countries divided by partition but united by history and culture.

"The mango is called Rataul because it was developed here in this village. Clearly, some people who migrated to Pakistan carried along a few cuttings and started cultivating the Rataul variety in Multan," Hashmi said.

One grafter, he said, named the variety after his father. And so the Anwar Rataul was born, worthy of being gifted by a head of state to a prime minister.

Anwar Rataul is to Pakistan what the Alphonso is to India. Both the countries swear by the taste of the rival sub-continental kings of fruit and each claims the crown for its own product.

Sadly, Rataul mangoes in India don't make their way into the market like the Langda, Chausa and Dussehri because most of it is exported. But Anwar Rautal, while also widely exported, is a big hit in Pakistan.

Their common progenitor, an over 100-year-old tree -- which had all but died -- was cut down earlier this week.

"I feel sad that no initiative was taken by the government to preserve this tree. Though I had written to the administration, I don't think anyone was bothered about it," said Zahoor Siddiqui, owner of the Noor Bagh.

As the group ambled along in the mango orchard, an old gardener, Nisar, recalled his childhood days when large and juicy Rataul mangoes were an everyday sight.

Nisar said the falling water-level had taken its toll. "The water level has plunged below 100 feet now. This is why you don't get the same big Rataul mangoes here," he said.

Told that Pakistan produces a better variety of Rataul mangoes, Nisar, who has always cheered for the Indian team in those much hyped encounters on the pitch, was quick to retort: 'Toh kya hua? Liya toh yahin se hain na unhone?' (So what? They have taken it from here, after all)."

In 2015, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, too, sent a box of mangoes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Eid.

Nisar would like to match it with some original Ratauls, an enduring symbol of the sweet-sour relationship between two neighbouring countries who were once one.

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