The ‘king of fruits’ differs from country to country. In Brazil it is avocado. In Malaysia it’s the big, strong smelling thorny fruit called durian. In India, mango is the king.

“It is also called the fruit of kings,” says A.K. Krishnan Vaidyar, an octogenarian, considered an authority on mangoes here. It was he who introduced the fêted mango festival to the city over two decades ago, the 21 edition of which was concluded at the Gandhi Park here recently.

Mr. Krishnan, who retired as an agricultural officer in 1983, is lovingly called “Vaidyar” by his close ones. He is a treasure trove of scientific knowledge as well as folk wisdom about mangoes and mango trees. “There was a time when selling mangoes was considered shameful. For, mangoes were meant for children to eat free and were not to be sold,” says Vaidyar, who is the caretaker of Gandhi Park, which houses a nursery and a mango orchard.

“Only those without even a remote hope of a decent livelihood would take to selling mangoes those days,” says Vaidyar, who planted rare varieties of mango trees including Nasipasant, Black-and-rose, and Chakkarakkutty at the park, all of which bear fruits after 20 years now.     

An Economics graduate from Farook College, Vaidyar is a resident of Thiruthiad in Kozhikode. He completed his three-year ‘training in agriculture’ from the Government Agricultural Farm at Taliparamba. Jnanpith laureate M.T. Vasudevan Nair was his senior there. Vaidyar’s love affair with mangoes started then.  

Vaidyar, who feels deeply pained about the slow disappearance of certain “very special and sweet” indigenous varieties of mangoes such as Olor, Pandarakkandy, and Kunnathnadan  observes that the Olor variety was endangered by the “pink disease” while others disappeared due to felling for cremation.

According to Vaidyar, the Zamorin was a huge lover of mangoes. He even encouraged mango orchard in selected territories. “Place names such as Mankavu, Mathottam, and Mavoor, is testimony to that,” says the 87-year-old Vaidyar.  

With vivid memories of his childhood spent under mango trees eating the unpolluted fruits Vaidyar is upset about mangoes being poisoned to artificially ripen them. “We would only use the leaves of kanikkonna, pathimukham and hay to ripen them. I am told that it is being done now by certain extremely dangerous chemicals” says Vaidyar.

For the thieves too

He said people would set aside a share of mangoes even for thieves in those days as is implied in a saying, which he said was a sort of a ritual performed during the end of the mango season by the house-owners, throwing a handful of pebbles playfully on the mango trees uttering the lines asking the trees to produce plenty the coming years as well: Pillerkkayiram, Kallarkkayiram, Odekkaranu pantheerayiram — a thousand for children, a thousand for thieves, and a few thousands for its owner. 

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