The road to Ratnagiri, south-western Maharashtra, is flanked by trees laden with fresh mangoes. This is the land of the Alphonso, arguably the ‘king’ of mangoes, and 67-year-old Tukaram Ghawali owns some 1,000 trees spread over 30 acres across different orchards in Ratnagiri.
One such orchard, spread over four acres, has around 200 trees with mangoes ripe enough to be sold in the market. It’s harvest season and the orchard is littered with several boxes and baskets. There are men too, climbing up the trees with baskets around their necks, plucking the mangoes. There is another group of men shifting the fruits from the baskets to colourful plastic crates. In between all this chaos, Ghawali brings order with his instructions.
In the shadow of the closely planted mango trees — their thick canopies blotting out the harsh sun — the men pluck some 10,000 mangoes and pack them into 100 crates in five hours. Around 2 pm, the mangoes are loaded on to a tempo to be taken to Ghawali’s farmhouse nearly a kilometre away.
Ghawali is already there, to supervise the packing of the freshly plucked fruit. Often he gets down on the floor himself to work with the labourers. Under a tin shed, he, along with sons, 41-year-old Milind and 35-year-old Rajnish, sorts out the mangoes and packs them into wooden boxes. Long years of experience behind him, Ghawali doesn’t take long to determine whether a mango should be sold to the agent or discarded. The answer lies in the skin of the mango, he tells you. “If the skin is squashed anywhere on the fruit, it means it wasn’t plucked but fell to the ground. Such a mango could be infected and is thus discarded. And if there are black spots, it means it was over-exposed to the heat, and would thus ripen before it reaches the market. This kind too is rejected,” he says.
Ghawali has been working in mango orchards since he was 12 years old. During summer breaks, he would help his father, a daily-wage labourer, at a mango farm in order to supplement the family income and, in the process, learnt all about the fruit. Holding a rather large Alphonso, he says, “This should weigh between 300 and 320 grams.” When Milind places the mango on the weighing machine, it displays 320 grams. Showing two mangoes of different sizes, he explains, “While three dozen small mangoes can