Confessions of a Mango Trader
You can’t tell if a mango has been artificially ripened with harmful agents like calcium carbide. Look for weight. A fruit that is heavy is healthy and ripe. Smell it at the top. It should give off a sweet aroma.
In places like Ratnagiri and Devgarh, mango traders have become mercenaries. They do not care about ethics. There is no authority to check unfair practices.
Generally, mangoes that arrive early in the market are adulterated. This usually happens at the plantation or in storage. There was a time when Gudi Padwa was the muhurat for the first mango of the season. The last few years, though, mangoes have been arriving much earlier.
The compulsion is money. There are rich customers who want mangoes early and are willing to pay up to a few thousand rupees for a dozen. Traders make a neat profit from them.
Mangoes need heat to ripen. That is why they are kept in hay. Calcium carbide generates heat, hastening the ripening process when the weather is not warm enough.
The second half of April and the whole of May is the best time to eat mangoes. Customers should cultivate a retailer so they aren’t cheated. They should come to places like Crawford Market in Mumbai, where they can get the best catch at a negotiable price before it disappears. Our company has customers in various countries. In peak season, our shop sells almost 200 dozen mangoes daily. When the rains arrive, mangoes deteriorate. At times, there is lots of leftover stock. But we find customers for it.
People from different regions claim their mangoes to be the best. The Malihabadis of UP say their Dussehri or Langra are the best mangoes in India. In Gujarat, people are emotional about the Kesar. Down south, the Baiganpally holds sway. But the Alphonso remains the most popular and highest selling category.
I don’t think the use of dangerous elements like calcium carbide will stop just because people have become aware of the practice. People will continue to eat mangoes and those traders who want to cheat will find a way to do so.
(This mango trader has been in the business for several decades and has a shop in Crawford Market)
(As told to Akshay Sawai)