Mango Street Food

The story of the 'Imam Pasand' mangoes of Srirangam

Mangoes at Thathachariar Gardens in Srirangam, Tiruchi.

One of the most scenic gateways to the temple town of Srirangam — with the Rock Fort in the background and the Cauvery bridge ahead — is through Mambazha Salai, or Mango Street. Roadwork may have thrown traffic a little out of gear here, but Mambazha Salai, lined with shops selling mangoes, offers a hint of what the fruit means to Srirangam.

In Melur, not far from the imposing southern gopuram of the Ranganathaswamy temple, is a family-run orchard, Thathachariar Gardens, which has, since the 1940s, been synonymous with the Imam Pasand mango.

The 100-acre property was originally part of a vast, overgrown patch called Nawab’s Garden, which was auctioned in the late 19th century by the British government. “My great-grandfather bought the land in the 1890s, and for many years the family just maintained the garden as it was. It was in the 1940s that my uncle S.R.V. Thatham decided to clear the vegetation and create an orchard here,” says M.S. Nandakumar, who has been managing Thathachariar Gardens since 1989.



Laying down roots

A bank employee, Thatham read up on farming and visited farms in other States to look for the best saplings for his orchard. This was when a friend from Andhra Pradesh gave him a graft of the Imam Pasand mango, native to that region. The variety that would soon go on to win many accolades.

The Imam Pasand has a fibreless, buttery, soft pulp inside its thick peel, which makes every bite a juicy treat. But the fruit is elusive: you will only find it in the market for two months of the year, May and June. It’s grown in a few places in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

Soon enough, Thatham’s transformation from hobbyist to horticulture expert drew hordes of visitors to his orchard. He received the Udyan Pandit award from the National Horticulture Board in the 60s for pioneering the Melur orchard, where he inter-cropped mango with coconut.



Fertile ground

About one-fourth of the 1,000 mango trees in the orchard are Imam Pasand, followed by 25 other varieties such as Banganapalli, Neelam and so on. . “Our soil seems to be ideally suited to the variety, even though the fruit is not native to this area,” says Nandakumar. It is believed that nearly every Imam Pasand tree grown in this entire belt has its origins in the Thathachariar Garden variety.

At the orchard, the day’s harvest is laid out on the hay-covered floor of a mandapam or hall. Helping customers pick the best Imam Pasands from the growing pile is A. Ganesh, who has the contract to protect the fruit and ensure its collection and marketing every year — a job that keeps him busy from April to July.

This year, the yield has been slightly lower. “It’s the intense heat and the lack of rains,” says Ganesh, as he sorts out the fruits with a practised eye, “but the demand is always high.” The big fruits, which can weigh up to 500 gm, are priced at ₹150 a kilo, while the smaller ones are ₹120 a kilo.

Picking the mangoes is no mean feat. Labourers armed with a sikkam — a bamboo pole with a hooped net — have to scale the gnarled trunks and ensure that no mango is bruised from falling to the ground. Another worker, with a sack, collects the fruits that will be finally laid out in the mandapam .



Despite its fame among mango connoisseurs, the fruit is still a local phenomenon. There are no plans yet to export the mango. “Right now, the domestic demand keeps us busy,” says Ganesh.

Imam Pasand means the Imam’s favourite. Nobody knows quite how or when the fruit got this name but it’s easy to see why.

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Printable version | Apr 24, 2022 2:05:12 am |