It’s August, the middle of the summer “silly season” when there’s a dearth of news with most politicians and newsmakers away on holiday, so journalists in London welcomed a rare treat. They were invited by Pakistan’s High Commission to a mango festival as part of a series of events to mark the country’s 62nd Independence Day. Assembled journalists at Asia House in London were offered a tantalising selection of mango creations to taste: chicken and mango salad, spicy mango soup, light-as-a-feather mango cake, mango mousse and platefuls of succulent cubes of fresh mango.
As Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, remarked of mangoes,“ It is a fruit that towers at every feast – of the rich, the poor alike. In the 19th century the greatest Urdu/Persian poet, Mirza Ghalib, by extolling its tasteful qualities, its exotic aroma, its honey-sweetness immortalised it in his beautiful verses. He described it as the King of fruits.”
There are 1,300 varieties of mangoes in Pakistan. Slice it or suck it – either way a mango tastes sublime. Eaten with a paratha, it makes a complete meal. A mango lassi (curd shake) in the morning provides an energy boost to see you through the day. A mango salad for lunch and another glass of mango shake in place of afternoon tea will pep you up. Commercially mangoes are used to make ice-cream, squashes, juices, chutneys, pickles, mango puree and sold in slices in syrup. And you don’t have to travel all the way to Pakistan to enjoy these delicacies, they’re readily available in most food stores in the UK.
According to Mr Hasan, mangoes are a special favourite with the Queen, a passion she shares with her son, Prince Charles. After learning of Her Majesty’s partiality to the fruit, the High Commissioner had mangoes sent to the Palace and to other important dignitaries. A few days later the High Commissioner attended a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.
“ When I was introduced to the Queen, Her Majesty made my day when she said she was very fond of mangoes and was very pleased to know – for the first time – that Pakistan produced top class mangoes. His Royal Highness Prince Charles too disclosed that he had the pulp removed, frozen and made ice cream for his children. It was the beginning of Pakistan’s mango diplomacy.”
Mr Hasan recalled another occasion after he had just been appointed High Commissioner for the first time in 1994. “I received a call from my Prime Minister martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on her way to Ireland asking what she should get for me from Pakistan. Since it was the beginning of the season I said ‘mangoes.’ Being a great lover of the fruit herself, when her plane stopped over in London it had 200 boxes of the finest Pakistani mangoes.”
Several journalists, included myself, were the beneficiaries of Ms Bhutto’s generosity when she was alive. Every summer, on her instructions, a box of delicious mangoes from Pakistan would be delivered to our doors – another example of mango diplomacy in operation.