Friday, December 14, 2012

Time now to gorge on Mangoes!!!

( Malihabad is a town 30 km from Lucknow (India). It is the mango belt of North India and is internationally acclaimed for its mangoes. Among different varieties of mangoes grown here, Dussheri is the most popular variety )

The people of Malihabad are as interesting as the Dussehri mangoes grown here. The frown on his forehead eases a bit as the old man moves for the kill. Check and mate. "Shatranj sharpens your mental faculties, but makes you an addict too," he tells anybody who cares to listen, evidently satisfied with the result of the game. This cannot be contested. After all, Padmashri Haji Kaleemullah Khan is the country's best known expert on mangoes. You could call Khan the ultimate aam aadmi ('Mango Man' - though correctly it translates as 'common man'), He has developed innumerable new varieties of mangoes. 300 alone grow on a tree, in his orchard at Malihabad near Lucknow, which is at least 100 years old (one of these he calls Sachin and another Aishwarya). So, under the shade of mango trees laden with fruit, the peace disturbed only by the chirping of birds, his judgment on chess goes uncontested.
Of all the fruit we eat, mango perhaps is the only one indigenous to India. Soon, the mango crops, in all their splendid colours, flavours and shapes, will come to the market. First will be the Alphonso from the Ratnagiri belt in Maharashtra. Some time towards the end of May, Dussehri from Malihabad, long and sensuous, meant to be sucked and not cut, will hit the market. In a good year, it can fetch up to Rs 150 crore to the 8,000-odd mango growers of Malihabad. It is now sold to mango lovers in faraway Japan and United States also. 
Malihabad, one of the three tehsils of Lucknow, has several claims to fame. It was home to Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi (born Shabbir Hasan Khan, he was close to Jawaharlal Nehru; but he migrated to Pakistan in 1958 because he feared Hindi would kill Urdu) and tennis champion Ghaus Mohammed. Shyam Benegal's celluloid caper, Junoon, based on Ruskin Bond's A Flight of Pigeons and featuring Shashi Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Nafisa Ali, was shot extensively in Malihabad. But it is the Dussehri mango that has put the village on the world map. The Malihabadi Dussehri was granted Geographical Indication registration in 2009. It now sits on the same exalted pedestal as Darjeeling Tea and Coorg Orange (Karnataka). 
The first Dussehri was grown some 150 years ago. That tree still exists, and locals say it is "in good health". There are about 2,000 nurseries here and almost 30,000 hectares under mango plantation. The economy of Malihabad runs on the Dussehri mango; it's the lifeline of the 17,000 people who live here, most of them Afridi Pathans. Legend has it that their ancestors came from the north-west in pre-British times to work as soldiers of fortune in the armies of local rajas and nawabs. In peace time, they took to farming and plantations. During 1857, several locals joined the mutineers against the forces of East India Company. 
The men here are sturdy and handsome, and talk fondly of the Pathan code of honour that revolves around revenge, hospitality and protection. One Malihabad hothead, Nabi Sher Khan, is known to have removed his eye to drive away the fly that was nagging it "Na rahegi aankh, na baithegi makkhi" (Where will the fly sit when there is no eye), he is said to have told his people. 
Now there is a new twist to their ancestry. According to research carried out by Navras Jaat Aafreedi, assistant professor in the Gautam Buddha University in Greater Noida, on the lost tribes of Israel, the Afridi Pathans have Jewish lineage. He started his research work in 2002 and, after his PhD from the Lucknow University in 2005, went to the Tel Aviv University in Israel for this work on the history of the Jewish people. "About half of the Pathans in Malihabad are Afridis who are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel," he says. He prefers to call them Israelite meaning someone related to the ancient times in modern-day Israel which came into existence as a nation for Jews only in 1948. 

But that is the last of the worries of Khan and the other mango growers of Malihabad. Their problems are more mundane. "Production is falling every year and it is sad that aam(mango, pun for commoner) is becoming khaas (special). Falling production and the high prices will keep it away from the common man's plate," says Khan. 
Last year, Uttar Pradesh had produced 3.5 million tones of mangoes. About 40 per cent of that came from Malihabad. This year, Dussehri prices will stay high. It may not be such a bad thing for the farmers though. But they insist profits are down because of the drop in yield. Bugs and pests are regular spoilers here, so are parrots and squirrels. 
A scientist in the Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture at Lucknow says that mango trees have biennial bearing and a regular crop is always followed by 'shy bearing'. But farmers here say that, if the weather doesn't turn inclement, with proper care these trees can give a rich harvest every year. That way, they might end up over-flogging the trees. Scientists suggest the mango plantations in Malihabad be rejuvenated to secure future production. In the early part of the last century, almost 1,300 mango varieties are said to have been grown in Malihabad; this figure is down to 600-odd now. Apart from Dussehri, other famous varieties grown here include Chausa, Langda, Amrapali, Safeda, Husnara etc. 
Some growers rue that the fall in yields has driven their new generation away from the plantations. In the lucrative West Asian market, Pakistan is giving Malihabad a run for its money because it transports its fruit by sea, which works out cheaper than Malihabad mangoes which are sent there by air. Some sharp farmers have even begun to ask for a subsidy from the government to run their plantations! "There are no facilities or incentives from the government for the mango belts," All India Mango Growers' Association President Insram Ali says. What is left unsaid is that farm income is not taxed in the country. 
Some threats are imaginary, some real. Malihabad is only 30 km away from Lucknow. Like most other cities, the Uttar Pradesh capital, too, has seen an explosion in population. Many people dread the day when the lush green mango orchards of Malihabad may have to make way for concrete and glass high rises. 
At the moment, it is business time in Malihabad. Several contractorscome to Malihabad, some local and many outsiders, some on bicycles and others on motorcycles and cars, to take part in the auction of the orchards. Exporters have already had trade enquiries from Japan; besides they will export mango to Dubai, West Asian nations and Singapore too. The sweet taste of success, and money, is unmistakable.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Medieval Persian References to the Putative Israelite Origin of Afridi Pashtuns/Pathans


Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi

A number of medieval Persian texts written by Muslim scholars refer to the Israelite origin of Afridi Pashtuns/Pathans[1], who mainly inhabit the hill country from the eastern spurs of the Safed Koh to the borders of the Peshawar district in Pakistan. They occupy about one thousand square miles of the hill country south and west of Peshawar, believed to be the area where Osama bin Laden has found asylum.

A sprinkling of them are also spread out in certain parts of India like Malihabad (District Lucknow) and Qayamganj (District Farukhabad) in Uttar Pradesh, where they settled in the mid-eighteenth century. Afridi, whose population was estimated to be 275,000 in 1962, is one of the most prominent tribes of the warlike Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans, whose total population was estimated to be 20 million in 1986.[2] Sadly Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans are the same people who largely fill the ranks of the Taliban today.

The ethnic and etymological origin of the name Afridi is obscure. But there are those who connect it with the Persian afridan, which means ‘newly arrived’, indicating that they were immigrants in the land from where they originally got this name.[3] Some find its origin in the name of Afrata, a great intellectual and wife of Hisron (eighth in descent from the Biblical character David).[4] The derivation of the name Afridi in the Hayat-i-Afghani of Muhammad Hayat Khan from afrida (a creature of God) is evidently a modern fabrication.[5]

According to the legend, in ancient times a Governor of the province of Peshawar summoned certain members of the Afridi tribe to his court. With native pride, one such Afridi, took his seat at the entrance to the royal court, and as the Governor paused to ask him who he was, he exclaimed Zah sok yam? (Who am I?); and replied with solid indifference, Zah hum Afrida yam… (I am also a creature of God). Afrida means a created being in Persian (Farsi). From then on, the tribe were known by the name Afridi.[6]

One of the oldest manuscripts in the world is Abu Suleman Daud bin Abul Fazal Muhammad Albenaketi’s Rauzat uo Albab fi Tawarikh-ul-Akabir wal Ansab (The Garden of the Learned in the History of Great Men and Genealogies) written in AH 717, in which the author traces the ancestry of the Afghans to the Israelites.[7]

An outline of the main tribal traditions of the Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans have been chronicled by Abul Fazl (1551-1602 CE) in Akbarnama. Slightly different versions are given in Sulayman Maku’s Tadhkirat al Awliya (allegedly of the thirteenth century CE), and in the Khazama.[8]

A number of Pathan/Pashtun/Afghan historians subscribe to the theory of the Israelite origin of the Pathans/Pathans/Afghans. The first among them to trace the genealogy of the Pathans/Pashtuns/Afghans to Israel (an alternative name of the Biblical character Jacob) in a methodical manner was Khwaja Neamatullah. During a discussion at the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s court about the origins of the Afghans, the Persian ambassador amused the monarch by presenting the following account to support the contention that the Pashtuns/Pathans were descended from devils:

Books of authority recounted that King Zuhak, hearing of a race of beautiful women that lived in far off western countries, sent an army thither, which was defeated by the beautiful women, but afterwards, a stronger expedition being sent under Nariman, they were reduced to sue for peace and gave in tribute a thousand virgins. When, on its return march, the army was one night encamped close to a wild mountainous country, there suddenly came down upon it a phantom, smote and scattered the troops in all directions, and then, in that one night, ravished all the thousand virgins. In due course of time all became pregnant, and when Zuhak learnt this, he gave orders that the women should be kept in the remote deserts and plains lest the unnatural offspring should breed strife and tumult in the cities. This offspring was the race of the Afghans.[9]

Annoyed at the disgraceful account of the origin of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans, an Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan courtier, Malik Ahmad, entitled Khan Jahan Lodi, asked his secretary Khwaja Neamatullah Harawi to compile a complete account of the history of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans. Neamatullah sent five historians, viz., Qutb Khan, Sarmast Khan Abdali, Hamza Khan, Umar Khan Kakarr and Zarif Khan, to the Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan territories in AH 1030/1621 CE to investigate the descent of Afghans. This eventually led to the compilation of Mirat-al-Afghani, according to which Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans are Israelites.

According to Mirat-al-Afghani, after their expulsion from their native land of Israel by Bakhtnasr (Nebuchadnezzar), they took refuge in Kohistan-e-Ghor and Koh-e-Firozah, and were later converted to Islam by Khalid-ibn-al-Waleed, who was of the same racial stock as the Afghans. He is said to have invited his fellow Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans to Arabia to embrace Islam. Led by Qais/Kais, the Afghans reached Arabia and after prolonged deliberations ultimately accepted Islam. Kais/Qais married Khalid’s daughter Sara, and fathered three sons from her – Sarban, Ghorghusht and Baitan. Numerous accounts forwarded by Afghan historians tend to favour this theory. Hafiz Rahmat Khan has presented genealogies showing descent from Talut – a prominent figure in the annals of Bani Israil (Children of Israel) in his Khulasat ul-Ansab.[10]

Neamatullah has given detailed genealogical accounts of several Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan tribes, tracing their descent from Qais Abdul Rasheed, who himself is said to have sprung from the line of Jacob (Israel) in his Tarikh-i-Khan-i-Jahani wa Makhzan-i-Afghani (AH 1021/ 1612 CE).[11] Completed at Burhanpur, it gives an account of the Afghans, particularly the Lodis and the Surs.[12] Naematullah writes:

…Khaled sent a letter to the Afghans who had settled in the mountainous countries around Ghor ever since the time of the expulsion of the Israelites by Bokhtnasser, and informed them of the appearance of the last of the Prophets. When this letter reached them, several of their chiefs departed from Medina; the mightiest of them, and of the Afghan people, was Kais, whose pedigree ascends in a series of thirty-seven degrees to Talut, of forty-five to Ibrahim…[13]

Naematullah was the first historian to present a systematic genealogical table of Pathans/Pashtuns/Afghans from Israel/Jacob. However he can’t be given credit for propounding the theory of their Israelite origin. Less than ten years before the compilation of Tarikh-e-Khan-e-Jahani, another scholar Akhund Darwiza had declared the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans to be Israelites in his Tadhkirat al-Abrar (an account of his adventures in Afghan territories) in 1611 CE.[14]

Even before the political rise of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans, Hamidullah Mustawfi had speculated that they were most likely Israelites in his monumental work Tarikh-e-Guzeedah (AH 730/1326 CE), as stated by Neamatullah.[15] This is a general historical account dedicated to Khwaja Ghiyasuddin Muhammad, son and successor of Rashiduddin Fazlullah, and deals with the Mongols of Persia (modern Iran) and modern Trans-Oxiana. [16]

Sheikh Mali of the Yusufzai tribe wrote in Pushto a book on the Israelite descent of the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans between AH 816/1409 CE and AH 828/1412 CE. Another work in Pushto on the same subject is ascribed to Khan Kaju, written in circa AH 900/1493 CE.[17] Upon these two works were based Tarikh-e-Hafiz Rahmat and Khulasat al-Ansab of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Minhaj-i-Siraj Jurjari, who had close contact with the Ghurids and held posts of qazi (qadi), khatib, sadr-i-jahan and principal of the Nasiriya Madrassa, wrote in his Tabaqat-i-Nasiri (1259-60 CE), “In the time of the Shansbani dynasty there were people called Bani Israel living in Ghor,” and that “some of them were extensively engaged in trade with the neighbouring countries.”[18] Tabaqat-i-Nasiri is an encyclopaedic history from the patriarchs and prophets, viz., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the time of Nasiruddin Mahmud. It is an invaluable source of information for the history of the early Turkish sultans and their maliks and amirs.[19] Abu Sulayman Daud’s Rauza-ul-Bab Twarikh-ul-Akbar-wal-Ansab (The Garden of the Learned in the History of Great Men and Genealogies) (AH 717/1310 CE) is considered the earliest work on the subject of the Israelite origin of Afridi Pashtuns/Pathans. It is a history of the Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan nation since the time of Moses.[20] Genealogies of the Pashtun/Pathan/Afghan tribes, right up to King Saul, are given in the second chapter of the book, while Mustawfi’s Majma-ul-Ansab gives a detailed genealogy of Qais (Kish), the tribal head of the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans in a series of thirty-seven generations to King Saul and forty-five generations to Abraham.[21]

We find a detailed account of the journey of Afghans from Israel to Afghanistan in Bukhtawar Khan’s Mirat-ul-Alam, according to which Afghans are descendants of Israel (Jabob/Yacov/Yaqub) through King Saul.[22] It is worth mentioning the names of Syed Jalal-ud-Din Afghani and Syed Abdul Jabar Shah, the ex-ruler of Swat (NWFP, Pakistan), who have given genealogies of different Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan tribes right up to King Saul and conclude that the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans represent the Lost Tribes of Israel.[23]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadia Movement of Islam, draws upon Tabaqat-e-Nasri in his book Jesus in India (1899), where it is mentioned that during the Shabnisi rule there lived a tribe called Bani Israel, some members of which were good traders.[24] He further records that in 622 CE during the prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, his military chief Khalid ibn-al-Waleed converted about half a dozen chiefs of the Jewish tribes to Islam. Qais or Kish was their leader. As neo-Muslim zealots, they fought bravely a number of battles for spreading Islam. As an expression of his appreciation, Muhammad showered gifts upon them and predicted that they would attain even greater victories. He decreed that the chief of the tribe would always be known as Malik and conferred the title of Patan upon Qais (Kish). Patan is a Syriac word meaning rudder. Since the newly converted Qais was a guide to his people, like the rudder of a ship, he was awarded this title.[25] And since then, his descendants have been called Pathan.

Another theory is that whenever people asked the Pathans/Pashtuns/Afghans about their nationality, they replied in Hebrew phasq or phasht. Phasq means “to liberate”, “to make free”, “to split”, while phasht means “to spread”. The word Pashtun seems to have been derived from this very word.[26] In Hebrew, Pasht is the name of a deity and also of a city in Egypt. In the Pashto language Pastu means an inner room with just one entrance, which indicates that they might have migrated from Israel to their present mountainous country and called themselves Pusht after a village in Israel.[27] Some believe that Pathans got their name from Jonathan’s great-grandson Pithon.

Some Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans believe that they descended from Bibi Qatoora, wife of Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham). According to them, after the death of Bibi Sara, Ibrahim married Bibi Qatoora, from whom he had six sons. After distributing all his possessions among his sons, Ibrahim sent them towards the East. They settled down in Turan in the north-west of Iran, where they were soon joined by their brethren exiled by King Talut. All of them established themselves in Pasht. Pasht is identified with Parthia, which later came to be known as Tabaristan. Their settling down in Pasht earned them the name Pashtin followed by Pashtun, and Pashtaneh.[28]

According to Pashtun/Pathan/Afghan genealogies, Kish married the daughter of Khalid ibn al-Waleed, from whom he had three sons – Sarban, Bitan and Ghurgasht, Sarban in turn had two sons – Sacharj Yun and Karsh. As per the tradition, the descendants of Yun are Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans.[29]

It is noteworthy that the people of Asia Minor and Muslim historians call the Afghans/Pathans “Sulaimanis”, after King Sulaiman (Solomon).[30]

There is a tribal tradition that the Pashtuns originated in Israel in the days of King Saul, from whom they claim descent through a son, Irmia (Jeremiah), and a grandson, Afghana, from whom the name Afghanistan is derived, with its inhabitants called Afghans. Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans maintain that they grew great in Israel, where they were favourites of Daud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon); and where the latter assigned them to guard the temple from the assaults of jealous demons. To aid them in this task, Sulaiman (Solomon), master of djins and afreets, taught the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans the language of hell. At this time there appeared a wicked magician, Bukht-ud-Nasir (Nebuchadnezzar), who scattered the tribes of Israel and sent the Afghans, as the most obstreperous, far to the east, to the land of Sham or Syria. From there they migrated to the mountains of Ghor in western Afghanistan, and settled down, adhering to monotheism, although surrounded by countless idolaters and polytheists. As the legend goes, in the time of Muhammad, an Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan, Qais or Kish, visited Mecca and embraced Islam, receiving the name Abdul Rasheed. He returned to Afghanistan to convert his people, and all the Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans are the progeny of his two sons, Sarban and Ghurghusht, and daughter Bibi Matto.[31]

Fareed-ud-Din Ahmad tries to prove the Israelite descent of Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans from King Talut in his Risal-i-Ansab-i-Afghana.

The Pashtuns or Pathans are the world’s only claimants of Israelite descent whose claim is backed by so many medieval references, spanning hundreds of years.

[1] Pathans, Pashtuns, Pakhtuns and Afghans are names which are often used interchangeably. There is nothing wrong in this usage, but each name has its own meaning. Those who inhabit plains and plateaus are entitled to the name Afghan, which has a far wider connotation than just being a subject of the modern state of Afghanistan, founded only in 1747. The northern highlanders call themselves Pakhtuns, while the southern highlanders are known as Pashtuns. The appellation Pathan is the Indian variant of Pakhtanah, the plural of Pakhtun.

[2] Harrison, “Ethnicity and Political Stalemate in Pakistan”, in Ali Banuazzi and Myron Weiner, Religion and Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran and Afghanistan, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1986, p. 286

[3] Oral Tradition

[4] Aatif, Khan Mohammad, “Sabhyata aur Sanskriti ke Aaine mein Malihabad”, in Naya Daur, Awadh Number, Public Information Department, Uttar Pradesh, u.d., p. 145 [Hindi]

[5] Islam, Zaiton, “Afridi”, in N. K. Singh and A. M. Khan, eds., Encyclopaedia of the World Muslims, Global Vision Publishing House, Delhi, p. 24


[7] Ahmad, M. M., “The Lost Tribes of Israel”, in The Muslim Sunrise, Summer 1991 (Accessed on the Internet)

[8] Islam, op.cit., p. 20

[9] Kakakhel, Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah, “Origin of the Afghans”, in Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahman Marwat & Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah Kakakhel, eds., Afghanistan and the Frontier, Emjay Books International, Peshawar-Pakistan, 1993, pp. 149-151

[10] Ibid., pp. 150-151

[11] Immamuddin, S. M., “The Afghans: Etymological Analysis”, in Muhammad Tahir, ed., Encyclopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture, Vol. 16, Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1998, p. 205

[12] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., A Comprehensive History of India, Vol. Five, Part One: The Delhi Sultnat, Second Edition, The Indian History Congress, Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi, October 1992, p. xxi

[13] Makhzan-i-Afghani (History of the Afghans) of Naematullah (1612 CE), trans. By Bernhard Dorn, Part I, Oriental Translation Committee, London, 1829, p. 37

[14] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 206

[15] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 205

[16] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., op. cit., p. xxi

[17] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 205

[18] Imamudin, op. cit., p. 200

[19] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., op. cit., p. xx

[20] Benjamin, Joshua M., The Mystery of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India, 2nd edition, Mosaic Books, New Delhi, p. 16

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., pp. 16-17

[23] Ibid., p. 17

[24] Ibid. p. 18

[25] Ibid., pp. 15-16

[26] Imamuddin, op. cit., pp. 206-207

[27] Ibid., p. 207

[28] Kakakhel, op. cit., p. 153

[29] Benjamin, op. cit., p. 16

[30] Ibid.

[31] Singh, Nagendra K., ed., International Encyclopaedia of Islamic Dynasties, Vol. I, Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2000, p. 35

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Anarkali joins orchard of wonders

Padmashri Haji Kaleemullah Khan

Shailvee Sharda, The Times of India, Lucknow, June 29, 2008

Malihabad: It is called Anarkali although has no relationship with either pomegranate or bud. Instead, this variation comes staright from the heart of Padma Shri Haji Kaleem Ullah, father of mango grafting. Anarkali is the latest addition to his collection of ‘unique’mangoes.

“It appears to be a rare of the rarest specie. It is a connoisseur’s delight who swear-in to serve a perfect blend of aroma, taste and appetising sight.
Anarkali has all the three traits,” said the man who took to mango grafting way back in 1957.

Anarkali has a double skin. Haji saaheb peeled off the first green layer finely with a Chinese knife. “Orange is the colour of the first layer,” he said.
He then showed the mango to a group of anxious admirers at his orchard in the heart of Malihabad.

Dilated pupils wondered ‘what is so special about the mango’. But before anyone could give words to the doubt, he made a deeper stroke in the mango and exposed its second yellow coloured skin.

“The show does not end here,” said the man. He carefully sliced a piece from the mango and showed the deep yellow and rusty orange pulp.

What makes Anarkali ‘doubly’ interesting is its taste. “It tastes like a Chausa,” said a visitor after trying the first bite. But minutes later, she took the second slice and corrected herself. “I think it is a luscious combination of chausa and Lakhnavi dashahri,” she said.
Sharing the secret, Haji Saaheb said, “Anarkali comes from the flowers of two distinct varieties of mangoes were cross bred.”

He believes that Anarkali would surely find admirers in Americas and Europe because it is less sweeter than other mangoes.

“But before going off-shores, it will pose a threat to Dashahri,” he predicted. He, however, said it would take about 3-4 years for the commercial production of Anarkali to start.

Mango Khan peels his heart for Anarkali, Ash

Padmashri Haji Kaleemullah Khan

Avijit Ghosh, The Times of India, Lucknow, July 5, 2008

Like a poet describes his sweetheart, Kaleemullah Khan talks about mangoes. He gushes about Anarkali, a twincoloured variety with a twincoloured pulp whose subtle flavour stays even after the hands have been washed. He explains why he named one his mangoes, Aishwarya. And he talks endlessly about his love affair with Al Muqarrar, the tree that has yielded over 300 varieties turning him into a mango-grafting legend and a Padmashri winner.

‘‘Growing mango isn’t just a profession. It is a work of art and a labour of love where the aashique and the mashook (the lover and the beloved) blend into one,’’ says Khan, who has been grafting the king of fruits in Malihabad, the famous mango-growing area in Lucknow district, for over five decades now and who was in the Capital during the inauguration of the 20th Mango Festival (July 4-6) on Thursday. Grafting is a method through which new varieties of a fruit are created.

Books never enthused Khan. After he got zero in English in Class VII, the fourth in a line of 11 siblings abandoned school altogether. Growing mangoes is his family profession for the past 300 years. At a young age, he began visiting his father’s nursery where he fell in love with the fruit. ‘‘I always wanted to improve a mango; its looks, its taste,’’ he says. Then one day, he heard a friend talk about a rose plant that grew flowers of several colours. That got him interested in the art of grafting. He was 17 when he produced seven varieties of mango in a single tree. When the tree died in 1960, Khan was heartbroken.

For the next two decades, Khan remained a mango grower working with his brothers in the orchard spread over 22 acres. But his major leap in the world of grafting came only in 1987 when he pruned an 85-year-old tree and recast it as Al Muqarrar. The tree yields over 300 varieties of mango and got his name into the Limca Book of Records. No surprise, former President K R Narayanan once called him, ‘‘a scientist without an official degree.’’ One of his trees is also planted in the Mughal Gardens.

Khan, now 68, says, ‘‘That’s my biological age, otherwise I am almost 22.’’ He has also named several varieties that he has created. ‘‘Three of them, Nayantara, Jahanara and Anarkali were christened by UP Governor T V Rajeshwar,’’ he says. Then there’s Aishwarya. And Arshi Pasand, the latter named after his daughter who won an award for polishing off three kg of mango in three minutes last year.

A couple of years back, Khan saw that one of his photographs had Aishwarya Rai’s snapshot hanging in the background. ‘‘I wondered why. May be this was a signal from someone above to name a mango honouring someone who brought glory to the country. That’s why I called it Aishwarya,’’ he says.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A 'cipher' drove Haji to mangoes

The Father Of Mango Grafting Finds King Of Fruits With Human-Like Traits

Shailvee Sharda, The Times of India, Lucknow, May 16, 2008

Malihabad: He prefers calling himself a ‘cipher’ though he has been conferred upon a Padma Shri besides a host of national and international honours. The ‘zero’ milestone in Malihabad is the landmark of his unique mango orchard. And, it was a duck that drove him to meddle with mangoes. Cipher, it seems, is connected with Haji Kaleem Ullah Khan, the father of mango grafting.

“I scored zero in English following which I left school and developed interest in mangoes,” he said. So, he randomly picked up seven varieties of mango saplings for grafting. In three years, the experiment yielded mangoes of seven flavours on a single tree.

Five decades of passion delivered five new varieties of mangoes and a number
of mango trees bearing fruits of different flavours, shapes, sizes and aroma. The best one is a mango tree having 357 varieties of mangoes. The latest addition to his 22-acre orchard is a ‘slim’ looking mango likely to be named after actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

“The seeds of this obsession were sown in 1950s when a friend narrated the
story of crossbred roses. That very moment the thought of experimenting with mangoes came to my mind,” he recalled. Acclaimed world over for his ‘madness’, Khan misses recognition of his worth on the home front.

“This happened with me from the day one. No one bothered to laud me for my sevenin-one wonder,” said Kaleem. Even nature opposed and washed his efforts away. The patch of land which contained the premier trees turned into a marshland during the floods of 1960. “My daughters are the only admirers in the family,” he said.

Obsessed with mangoes, he shares that mangoes have given him sleepless nights, indicating that his appetite for the ‘king of fruits’ is much above
taste. “Mango has traits similar to those in humans,” he philosophised. Explaining his point, he said, “human race is unique because despite coming from the same parents- Adam and Eve- no two individuals (even identical twins) are the same. So is the case with mangoes. Seeds made from fruit of a specific mango tree, will germinate into a different fruit come what may. This uniqueness of mango, evident in the veins of its leaves, inspires me constantly.” Strangely, Khan has no personal favourites.

Asked to speak on ‘what has the toil given him’, Khan said: “For me, mangoes have paved way for an interface with the Kaleem inside me. He has been making the blue-print of whatever I do for the past 15 years. But, I am sure that he was always with me, it was me who failed to find him earlier.”

Citing an example, he said: “When I had to send a mango tree to former President KR Narayanan, the Kaleem inside me felt awful knowing that the roots of the tree will have to be cut to facilitate transportation.

He wondered of a way out and offered a solution. The remedy was digging of earth around the tree and use of high power sprinklers to separate the soil from the roots. This completely avoided the use of axe and his tree came out unhurt.”

Has life changed after the Padma Shri? Showing the holes and a patch on his kurta, Kaleem said: “Jab ek per phaldaar ho jata hai toh uski daalein jhuk jati hai (when a tree bears fruits, its branches bow).” In fact, he rides a bicycle to commute between his orchard and house, despite owning a four-wheeler. “I get to meet people when I move on a cycle, which is not possible with a car,” he humbly reasoned.

Monday, May 12, 2008

No Language Barrier for this Muslim Scholar

Pandit Syed Hussain Shastri is a Sanskrit scholar who has been in love with the language all his life. Pandit and Shastri have been prefixed and suffixed respectively by people to his name because of his vast knowledge.

In Mirzaganj village, Malihabad, people know him as Shastriji. Malihabad is 20 kilometers northeast to Lucknow city. Shastriji had decided to learn Sanskrit because his father wanted it. “Once I started learning it in childhood, I just fell in love with it. The romance continues,” he says.

The 79-year-old scholar says: “I find French beautiful, but Sanskrit is the most beautiful.” In the last 56 years people came from far and wide — Varanasi, Allahabad and Europe — to learn Sanskrit from him. One of them, Henry Shock, a scholar in oriental studies from Illionis University visited him about two decades ago. On meeting him Shock said: “It is highly doubtful that Sanskrit is a living language, but it is never doubtful that it is living in your body.”

Shastriji says: “I was barely four when I took admission in Dharm Sangh Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Lucknow, and began my journey in Sanskrit. A Hindu priest initiated me into Laghu Kaumudi (beginner’s Sanskrit grammar) and then I continued with Sanskrit studies at Aminabad High School, Government Jubilee Inter College and then the Lucknow Univeristy. In 1952 I graduated in Sanskrit.” He has a post-graduate degree in the language. All of his teaching lessons begin with chants from the Vedas.

He says: “I am waiting for my death to tip toe...” in the same breath he recites: “...And not a stone to tell where I lie...Just let me live and let me die.” Now most of his time is spent in reading Bhagwad Gita in Sanskrit.

The Muslim scholar is a firm believer in Brahminism. He says, “Take away Brahminism from Sanskrit, and nothing would be left in it.”

“Shock has been the only person who interviewed me in Sanskrit. Many times during the interview I attempted to drift to English as I knew he was from the US. But he continued in Sanskrit. When I asked Shock from where he learnt Sanskrit, he said ‘Germany’.”

For some people languages know no barrier — of caste, creed, religion or nationality.

Mango Mania

Packing for Malihabad, the mango hub of India? If you don’t want to be deemed deadwood or fumble with your mathematics, carry an abacus. Abacus? Why? Because you’d have a lot of counting to do— 700 different varieties of mangoes; 300 varieties on one tree; countless orchards; riches multiplying at the auction, the innumerable nails hammered on planks to make mango boxes. If you want to dig into history, perhaps that’s where you would need the abacus the most. For most of Malihabad was seeded centuries ago by an Afghan, Afridi Fakir Mohammad Khan Sahib Goya, who married 11 times and had 52 children. And when an impetuous history buff started rattling off the names, I was serene till count six, edgy by name 11, and much before he reached Child No. 20, I was puffing and bordering on the impolite. Even my abacus looked infuriated and completely bushed. When there was silence, I caught my breath and wondered how Khan Sahib Goya dredged up the names. Whoa …

But the mud-spattered village of Malihabad has its temptations (forgive me for this digression, I’ll come to the mangoes in a trice): the men are really handsome, they all have beautiful smiles peeping from behind their spruced-up beards. Some even practice the dying art of chivalry!

Okay Lord, I apologize for transgressing the path of duty and getting tempted. But my bones were creaking and I needed some distraction to forget the ache. On the map, Malihabad looks like Lucknow’s coquettish neighbor sitting barely an inch away. Even the cartographer’s legend would have you believe that it is only 21 miles away, but when you have to travel on a terribly rutted road and in a heat that can singe a dainty damsel, those 21 miles seem like the Devil’s alley. As if that wasn’t enough, the car’s air conditioner died on the way and wind raked up all the dirt from the streets. If I did not roll up the window, within a mile I would have looked like a sack of Fuller’s Earth and a bone or two would have fallen off. I beckoned all the patience from my repertoire and looked around—Sadhvi Panchi Devi was promising a confirmed ticket to Heaven, there was Mighty chilled beer, a drug rehab center, and an Exhort Grammar School. Yes, there were the statuesque mango trees and the whiff of the luscious fruit.

If you are a stranger in Malihabad and don’t know which names to drop or what addresses to look for, just hop off at any dhaba and ask for Kaleemullah Khan or his Abdullah Nursery. They all know about him, they are all arrogant about him. And why not? So puffed-up is this conceit that its most famous mango grower once got a letter from Jeddah that only had “Kaleemullah Khan, Malihabad, India” on the envelope. Says something about the man, doesn’t it?

There’s something about the place, too. Though the mangoes are highly prized, surprisingly, most nurseries have no mustachioed, baton-wielding security guards; forget a gate, there is not even a barbed-wire fence. When I say prized, I mean utterly profitable too—in a good season Malihabad sells mangoes worth Rs 150 crores ($34 million). Once you see the beige signboard of Abdullah Nursery, turn left and drive straight into the nursery. Khan is not there; but there’s Afsak Ahmed, a friend who also runs errands for Khan. Before you blink Ahmed scampers on his rickety bicycle and returns with chilled cola. Meanwhile, Nazmi, Khan’s son, is already showing the family’s prized possession—the 90-year-old tree on which grow 300 different varieties of mango. The tree is huge and the canopy awfully dense; it also finds mention in the Limca Book of Records. When you bend, set the branches aside, and wriggle near the main trunk, it feels like the world of Willy Wonka; except that instead of chocolates there are mangoes. Everywhere you look there’s an unusual variety of mango staring back at you. Asroor Mukarar is almost heart-shaped, Glass is petite, Prince is stout and handsome, Karela looks like the eponymous bitter gourd, Aamin Lamba is so long it kisses the ground …

Once Khan returns to his fiefdom, he spews more information—how angry parrots peck the fruits, how naughty squirrels fatten every summer on mango juice, and how the bhoonga bug is any orchard’s most frightening nemesis. But according to Khan, these are mundane traits. Every mango, like a human being, has its intrinsic virtues, he says. Khan is so passionate about mangoes that he almost gives them a human garb. Khan inherited the 20 acres of mango plantation from his father Abdullah Khan and years ago started experimenting with crops and breeds. That’s when he grafted one variety on an Asroor Mukarar tree, then another, then another … . Now he nurtures 300 varieties of mangoes on that one tree. Such is his love that he refused an offer by the Iranian government to settle in Iran and do what he loves—grow mangoes. Khan is not willing to leave Malihabad, it is his love; it is his fiefdom.

Perhaps an experimental streak and an attractive smile are both genetic traits with the Khans. Kaleemullah’s younger brother Hamidullah, who owns nearly 50 acres of mango orchards, slogged seven years to develop a late variety of mango that would yield fruits even in winter. Hamidullah has not christened the tree yet, but he dreams of a day when people will sit by the fireplace and eat their winter variety of mango in December. Like the elder Khan, he too smiles beatifically.

During the mango season, this experimentation of varieties is shelved, as are the trophies and awards. Summer is the time to rake in the moolah. Much before the fruits acquire that golden yellow tinge, the orchards are auctioned. But it is no ordinary auction where a rag-tag of ordinary mortals gather and holler their bids. There is a method to this madness. Days before the auction, a man with a gargantuan amplifier on a rickshaw scours through the muddy lanes announcing the date, time, and venue. Then the prospective buyers are allowed to preview the “for sale” orchards. They move around in groups, assess, and finally huddle in the evening with the elders to decide a price cap.

Just before the auction there’s a flurry of activities—plastic chairs are arranged, tumblers are cleaned, water is spattered on the ground for the rowdy dust to settle. Then the buyers start arriving in rickety bicycles, fancy cars, and sleek motorcycles; some just meander on foot. The seller sits with knitted brows, twiddling his thumbs, while buyers tick off the who’s who and mull on their strategy knowing who they are pitched against. Look at Guru Prasad in striped shirt and gray trousers, you’d assume there wouldn’t be too much stashed in his coffers. Or Baba, in a red robe and stringed rudrakash; you’d think Baba’s truth is God, but wait till he raises the bids by thousands. And in the midst of all this is the master screamer—Ramzan Ali, unkempt and uncouth, but with a decibel level of Mach 3. He is Malihabad’s master hollerer, and for the hours he spends screaming he sure ends up with a sore throat every night. I sat through an auction of 200 trees that began with a bid of Rs 50,000 ($1,150) and ended at Rs 1.33 lakh ($3,000) all in about two hours. There are neither gavels on a mahogany desk nor any digital displays. The most literate among those present scribbles the bids on a piece of paper and once the deal is struck, jalebis and laddoos seem to emerge out of thin air. Not really; Afsak Ahmed and his rickety cycle do the trick again.

If Malihabad had its raison d’ĂȘtre, another village barely six miles away has its own reasons to celebrate. Essentially, just one reason. It is a mango tree that they say rose out of the earth as a blessing some 300 hundred years ago. The tree borrowed its name from the village of Dusseheri on whose soil it has livedand borne fruit for centuries. And of course, the mango purists would always vouch for the delicate taste of a ripened Dussehri. They'd say even the manna from from heaven would pale in significance.

The tree, which attracts mango aficionados and curious onlookers from all over, was, and remains, the property of the Nawab of Lucknow. No ordinary mortal can enjoy the fruits of this tree—it is never up for sale in the market. The fruits are hand-picked, arranged in a basket and sent to the Nawab’s family who, interestingly, also has a mansion called Dusseheri House.

I had been in Malihabad for two days, my ears were buzzing with all the mango anecdotes; perhaps my iris rented the colors of the mangoes, too, and I could barely see anything else; I had also probably fattened like the squirrels. I did not want to count the numbers of mangoes I had eaten or the sinful calories I has ingested; I ignored the abacus merrily. Believe me, it was heavenly to be sinful that one afternoon in Malihabad.

Preeti Verma Lal has worked as a journalist in India and the United States. Now based in New Delhi, she writes, edits, shoots with her camera, and runs her website:


* Getting There

By Air: Take a flight to Lucknow’s Amausi airport. From there you can hire a cab for Malihabad, which is 21 miles away.

By Rail: Take the Shatabadi from New Delhi to Lucknow.

By Road: Take a bus or cab from Lucknow to Malihabad. Buses headed to Hardoi will also drop you at Malihabad. Remember, it is a rough ride.

* Where to Stay

There are no hotels in Malihabad. Lucknow will have to be your base camp.

* Must See in Malihabad

- Kaleemullah Khan’s Abdullah Nursery

- Hamidullah Khan’s Nursery

- The house where poet Josh Malihabadi was born. His relative Asif Hasan Khan has some rare photographs of Malihabadi and his handwritten letters.

- If you are a history freak, go to ancient palaces of Sayed Khan and Qazi Kamaal Khan; movies like
Umrao Jaan, Kalyug, and Junoon were shot there.

- Look for Kakori kebabs in the neighboring village of Kakori.