Fruits of Mizoram: a lost case

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One of the most popular fruits of Mizoram is sapthei, or passion fruit, which looks more like a small mauve brinjal from the outside. The fruit is yellowish in the inside and is scooped out and eaten, seeds et al. People talk about the late Rajiv Gandhi's partiality towards the fruit when he visited the state after signing the Mizo accord. But rarely is the fruit found outside the state, which comes as no surprise given the poor communication facilities the state has with the rest of the country.

"Eat one and get hooked," is the phrase used for the zobalha, or the Mizoram hill banana. Sweet without being over-ripe and gooey as bananas tend to get. While officials at the horticulture department sing praises of the non-local Cavendish banana, "No other balha is as sweet as the zo balha that grows in my village Kawnpui, 50 km off Aizawl," challenges Zaihmingthanga, principal of the Aizawl Theological College. Sample the fruit and you will admit, "There is no competition".

Hatkora, art extremely sour orange belonging to the citrus family, is also native to Mizoram and mainly used as a spice or as a cooling drink in summer. The semi-wild variety of the fruit also grows in forests in lower Assam and Meghalaya. The fruit has a ready market in Tripura and Bangladesh. In June, traders come by boat up the Tlawng river to Hartoki village and buy the entire produce from plantations.

In 1996-97, some 300 hatkora farmers made Rs 47 lakh from the sale of this fruit. Interestingly, most of the fruits are named after their appearance or colour or even a story associated with the fruit. Kawrthindeng is so named from where it is found, that is on kawrs or the banks of rivulets. Legend has it that when raiders from the plains came to Mizoram, they would rest under the trees on the banks of these rivulets. While they rested, the fruit would fall right on their livers. Hence the name kawr(bank of a rivulet), thin (liver), deng (struck).

Vuakdup is so named because to relish the fruit, it has to be hit (vuak) till it is soft (dup). Tuajtit is a strong favourite, especially among followers of Bacchus, consider-ing that in Mizoram there is a ban on the sale and production of liquor. Small berries of this fruit, deep purple when ripe, are fermented in a pressure cooker for a week. The more the fermentation, the higher is the alcohol content. "This fruit is no stranger here," says Lalthlamuana of the horticulture department, sporting a broad grin.

Tawitaw, which resembles an egg, is very sweet and a favourite among animals like the barking deer. The deer pay for their sweet tooth - the fruit is often used to trap them. Theichhungensen is another favourite of animals like the gibbon. Deep red in the inside and sweet when ripe, the fruit colours the hands red when pealed. It is a potential vegetable dye.

Here, too, deforestation has taken its toll on the fruits. "Many of the fruits I ate as a child are no longer available. I don't even know the English names for them," rues Rosanglura. "Take vaw-mavapui, for instance. I have not seen the fruit for a long time now," he says.

"I don't even know some of the fruits Rosanglura is talking about," confesses a young field officer of the horticulture department. This just about sums up the state of the fruits in this small state.