Author: Mohsin Aziz
Mango enjoys an exalted status among fruits. It is for nothing that it is called the king of fruits. Being a popular fruit, mango has not escaped the attention of Urdu writers and poets. Urdu literature and poetry are full of couplets and stories about mango.
One of the finest exponents of Urdu Poetry, Mirza Ghalib, was a true connoisseur of mango. Ghalib’s love for mango was legendary. There are several stories about Ghalib related to mangoes. It is said that once Ghalib was eating (rather gorging) mangoes. Along with him was sitting a Doctor friend Hakim Raziuddin Khan. Hakim Sahib saw a donkey sifting through garbage. The donkey did not touch a heap of mangoes which was in the garbage. Hakim Sahib immediately pointed that “Look Mirza, even the donkey does not like mangoes”. Not the one to go let an opportunity, Ghalib replied in his imitable style “True, Hakim Sahib, only a donkey would not like a mongo”.
Once in a letter written to the Mutawalli (caretaker) of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Imambara, Ghalib wrote “Not only am I a slave to my stomach, I am a weak person as well. I desire that my table be adorned and that my soul be comforted. The wise ones know that both of these can be satisfied by mangoes”. This was further stressed by the request to the caretaker to remember Ghalib twice or thrice before the end of mango season, though he worried that this may not be enough to comfort “your humble servant”.
Even at old age he had healthy appetite for mango. At the age of 60 he writes in a letter that he can no longer “eat more than ten or twelve at a sitting” and “if they are large ones, then a mere six or seven”. He also lamented that “Alas, the days of youth have gone, indeed, the days of life itself have come to an end”.
There is another beautiful story of Ghalib with Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal Emperor of India). Once Ghalib was accompanying Bahadur Shah Zafar in Baagh e Hayaat Bakhsh (Garden of Life. To be more precise Garden which increases life). The fruits of the garden were reserved for the nobility. Bahadur Shah Zafar saw Ghalib looking at mangoes with quite intensity and asked what he was looking at. Ghalib replied in Persian that he has heard the elders say that:
Bar sar-e har daana ba navishta Ayaan
Ka-een fulaan ibn e fulaan ibn e fulaan
(On every piece one can see written quite clearly
That this is for so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so)
He told the Emperor that he is trying to spot if any of his ancestor’s name is written on any mango. The Emperor got the message and the same day Ghalib got his share of mangoes from the Royal Orchard.
There is another story of Ghalib and mangoes. There was a gathering where virtues of mangoes were being discussed. One of the attendees, Maulana Fazl-e Haq asked Ghalib about his opinion about mangoes. Ghalib said that mangoes should have two qualities:
“Aamo main buss do khubiyan honi chahiyen, ek methey hon aur bohot sarey hon” (For mango to be good, it should have two qualities. One is that they should be sweet and secondly, they should be plentiful).
It is not without reason that Ghalib even composed a masnavi (poem in rhythmic couplets) on mangoes. The masnavi is entitled “dar sifat e ambaah”
Mujhse poochho, tumhen khabar kya hai
Aam kea agey neyshakar kya hai
Ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se
Baagh baanon ne baagh e Jannat se
Angabeen ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas
Bhar ke bheje hain sar ba mohar gilaas
(ask me! for what do you know?
a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane…
perhaps from the great heights above
the gardeners of heaven’s orchards
have sent, by the order of God
wine filled in sealed glasses)
Similarly, there are stories of Akbar Allahabadi related to mangoes. Once Akbar Allahabadi sent a box of choicest Langra (Langra means Lame in Urdu. It is also a variety of mango from Uttar Pradesh, India) to Allama Iqbal in Lahore. As a receipt, Iqbal sent Akbar Allahabadi a couplet:
Asar hai teri aijaz e masihaee ka ae Akbar
Allahabad se Langra chala Lahore tak pahuncha.
(Akbar, this is the miracle of your Jesus like healing powers. The lame traveled from Allahabad and has reached Lahore)
Akbar Allahabadi has written a whole poem called Aam Nama on mangoes wherein he is requesting a friend to send mangoes to him in Allahabad. The poem clearly shows how much Akbar Allahabadi enjoyed mangoes. He writes:
Nama na koi yaar ka paigham bhejiye
Is fasl main jon bhejiye bas aam bhejiye
Aisa zaroor ho ke unhen rakh ke kha sakun
Pukhta agar bees to das khaam bhejiye
Maloom hi hai aap ko bandey ka address
Sedhey Allahabad merey naam bhejiye
Aisa no ho kea ap ye likhen jawab main
Tameel hogi pahley magar daam bhejiye
(O beloved do not send any messages
This season if you want to send just send mangoes
I should be able to keep them and eat
If twenty are ripe ten should be raw
You know the address of yours truly
Send them directly to my address at Allahabad
It should not so happen that you reply
That you will follow my order but first I should send the money)
Other poets or Urdu have also paid their tribute to mango and have shown their love for the king of fruits. Contemporary Urdu poet Munawwar Rana describes how he does not eat sweets during the season of mango through this couplet:
Insaan ke hathon ki banayi nahin khatey
Hum aam ke Mausam main mithai nahin khatey
(I do not eat what is made by mere mortals
In the season of mango, I do not eat sweets)
At another place, Munawwar Rana compares his love for mangoes to that of Ghalib:
Allah jaanta hai mohabbat hamin ne ki
Ghalib ke baad aamon ki izzat hamin ne ki
(Allah knows that only I fulfilled the conditions of love
After Ghalib, its me who gave honour to mango)
Another pre Independence poet Akhtar Shirani has written a whole poem on mango. He has described life of an exile away from home who is missing mango in its season. He writes:
O des se aaney waley bata
Kya aam ke unchey pedon par
Ab bhi wo papihey boltey hain
Sakhon ke hariri pardon main
Naghmon ke khazaney gholtey hain
Sawan ke rasiley giton se
Talab main amras gholtey hain
O des se aaney waley bata
(O the one who has come from home tell
On the tall trees of mango
Does the cuckoo still croons
Does the magic of song melts?
In the silken curtains of the branches
Do the songs of rainy season still
Melt like the sweetness of mango in the pond
O the one who has come from home tell)
Urdu literature and poetry are full of poems, letters, stories and phrases on mango. This only reflects the importance of mango in the popular Indian Culture. According to Saghar Khayyami:
Aam teri ye khush nasibi hai
Warna lagnron pe kaun marta hai
(Mango it is your good luck
Otherwise who loves a lame)
Note: It is very difficult to represent the subtleties of Urdu poetry in English translation. I have tried to be as literal as possible. I hope that I have somewhat managed the task. Readers are requested to suggest improvements. I shall be grateful.