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’être, 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.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Land of Legends

Padmashri Ghaus Mohammad Khan
Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Azad Academy Journal, XXI, 8

Majestic Malihabad (one of the three tehsils of Lucknow district, UP), known all over the world for the marvellous mangoes it produces and for the great Urdu poet Padmabhushan Josh Malihabadi (ne Shabbeer Hasan Khan Afridi)(1898-1982) it gave birth to, is a land of legends, both of yore as well as living. Apart from Josh, who became a living legend in his own life, Malihabad produced the first Indian to reach Wimbledon’s quarter-finals in 1939, Padmashri Ghaus Muhammad Khan Afridi (1915-1982). Another illustrious son of Malihabad was Wali Kamaal Khan Afridi ‘Aarif Adeeb’ (1916-2003), a genius par excellence. The life of this great philosopher, who was a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge, was a unique spiritual journey in search of the ultimate truth. The saga of this sage seems fictional rather than real. Sunni Hanfi Muslim, Communist, Radha-Soami ascetic, Bahai proselytizer, Christian missionary, Sufi – he was each of these at different stages of his life. Reverentially called “Maulana”, this erudite guru made Malihabad, known for its great literary traditions and vibrant mango economy, a spiritual place, of which he was the epicentre. The spiritual vibrations sent by him were felt far and wide. A great horticulturalist Malihabad produced was Khan Saheb Abdul Bari Khan Afridi (1886-1940) (father of Wali Kamaal Khan Afridi ‘Aarif Adeeb’), who was one of the founders of Uttar Pradesh Fruit Development Board and Sikandar Bagh Botanical GardensLucknow. In 1937, the British bestowed upon him the prestigious title of Khan Saheb for his great contribution to the development of horticulture in Malihabad. The legendary tradition continues and Malihabad still has a number of living legends to boast of, like the world famous Haji Kaleemullah Khan, who has managed to graft three hundred and fifteen varieties of mangoes on just one tree and over two hundred varieties on another. Then there is the ‘Walking Veda’ – Pandit Saiyad Husain Shastri, a Vedic theologian and a great Sanskritist, who received innumerable offers from all over the world, including America and Germany, in recognition of his immense erudition, but declined to leave Malihabad. Yet another living legend is Anwar Nadeem (ne Anwar Kamal Khan Aafreedi) (b.1937) (Khan Saheb Abdul Bari Khan’s youngest son), who holds the world record for having written the maximum number of reportages of mushairas (Urdu poetic symposiums). His award winning collection of reportages, Jalte Tave ki Muskurahat (“Smile of the Burning Pan”) is a rich repository of contemporary poetic traditions and styles. It is priceless for its timeless worth. He is an acclaimed Urdu poet, satirist, humorist, critic, dramatist, theatre and film actor, short-story writer and feature-film/television drama serial screenplay writer – all rolled into one. Anwar Nadeem has written more than thirteen books, which have won rave reviews along with a number of prestigious awards like Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award, Bihar Urdu Academy Award, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad Memorial Committee Award, etc. His poems have been included in some of the greatest poetic anthologies ever compiled in Urdu, and his writings have appeared in some of the most prestigious literary journals like Insha, Shair, Imkan, Laraib, etc. English translations of his poems have appeared in the Sahitya Akademi’s (India’s national academy for literature) bi-monthly Indian Literature as well as in the Azad Academy Journal. 

It is the presence of Afridi Pathans in Malihabad that lends the land its identity and grants an aura of mystery to it. It is believed by many that hundreds of years ago ancestors of Malihabad’s Afridis were uprooted from their place of birth, thousands of kilometres away in Israel, and curbing the tyranny of distance and difficulty of terrain, they finally landed up here in India.

It is just a sprinkling of Afridi Pathans here in Malihabad; the rest of them form part of the world’s largest tribal confederacy in the hill country from the eastern spurs of the Safed Koh (Afghanistan) to the borders of the Peshawar district (Pakistan). The Afridis in Malihabad are largely ignorant of their putative Israelite descent in sharp contrast to the Afridis in Afghanistan Pakistan. It is not difficult to find an explanation for their ignorance. Most probably when the Afridis settled in India, in Malihabad (district Lucknow) and Qaimganj (district Farrukhabad), among non-Afridi Muslims, who were greatly prejudiced against Jews, they hid their Israelite descent, which if disclosed, would have rendered them most unpopular in the non-Pathan Muslim society. As a result, the knowledge of their Israelite origin could not be passed on to the next generation; and subsequently the succeeding generations were left absolutely ignorant of it. This theory about the Afridi ignorance of their Jewish past is substantiated by the fact that with the march of time, they gradually lost all their tribal characteristics; their dance and music traditions. So it is not improbable that they also lost their knowledge of any traditions of their Israelite past.

According to the legend, the Afridi is actually the lost Israelite tribe of Ephraim, which was forced into exile and thus into oblivion in 721 BC by the Assyrians. The Israelite past of Afridi Pathans is mentioned in a number of medieval Persian texts, viz :
· Muhammad Hayat Khan’s Hayat-e-Afghani
· Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama
· Sulayman Maku’s Tadhkirat al Awliya (13th century)
· Qutb Khan, Sarmast Khan Abdali, Hamza Khan, Umar Khan Kakarr and Zarif Khan’s Mirat al-Afghani
· Hafiz Rahmat Khan’s Khulasaat-ul-Ansab
· Nimatullah’s Tarikh-e-Khan-e-Jahani
· Akhund Darwiza’s Tadhkirat al-Abrar (AD 1611)
· Hamidullah Mustawfi’s Tarikh-e-Guzeeda (12th century)
· Minhaj-e-Siraj’s Tabaqat-e-Nasiri
· Abu Sulayman Daud’s Rauza-ul-Bab Twarikh-ul-Akbar-wal-Ansab (AD 1310)
· Hamidullah Mustawfi’s Majma-ul-Ansab
· Bukhtawar Khan’s Mirat-ul-Alam
Amishav (a Jerusalem based organisation, solely dedicated to the task of finding the ‘Lost Tribes of Israel’) wants the Afridis to migrate to Israel. Another Israeli organisation, Beit Zur, too, has welcomed them.

In November 2002, an international research team comprising Professor Tudor Parfitt (Chairman of the Centre of Near & Middle East and Director of the Centre of Jewish Studies, SOAS, London University), Dr Yulia Egorova (a historian and linguist from Russia) and the present author embarked on an expedition to Malihabad and collected DNA samples of fifty paternally unrelated Afridi males to confirm their supposed Israelite descent with the help of genetic research. Now, modern science is providing tantalising clues to this ancient legend.

The Pathan settlement in Malihabad dates back to AD 1202, when the village of Bakhtiarnagar was founded by the invading Muhammad Bakhtiar Khalji. But most of the Pathan population came in about the middle of the seventeenth century, and each migrant Pathan clan secured possession of ten to twelve villages around Malihabad. The latest and the greatest wave of migrant Pathans, comprising mainly Afridis, who fought the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat for the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali, arrived in Malihabad in AD 1761, and made Mirzaganj their base over there. Mirzaganj owes its foundation to a Mughal called Mirza Hasan Beg (also known as Mirza Hassu Beg). There are Pathans of other tribes also in Malihabad, viz., Ghilzai (popularly known as Qandhari), Bazad Khail, Amanzai and Bangash.

Ghilzai (Qandhari) settlement in Malihabad dates back to AD 1753, when a Ghilzai Pathan adventurer, Yusuf Khan, settled in Khairabad, a village of Malihabad.

The Bazad Khail settlement in Bari Garhi in Malihabad was founded by one Sheikh Ibrahim, who was a Mansabdar (a noble with high rank) in the Mughal emperor’s service. They first settled in the Ahma village of Habibpur Nasimabad and are said to have bought their remaining villages from the Sheikhs of Kasmandi-kalan and Sahlamau. A Bazad Khail Pathan, Alaawal Khan, received eight bighas muafi in Badaura, one of the villages of tappa Kathauli Rao, where he built a fort. Subsequently this Pathan family clashed with Abul Nabi Khan, an Amanzai Pathan, and the latter defeated them with the help of the old Janwaar proprietors of the tappa. But they could not stop the Bazad Khail Pathans from capturing most of the Janwaar villages.

The Amanzai Pathans settled in Garhi Sanjar Khan and Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad under the auspices of Nawab Diler Khan, a Subadar of Oudh, in AH 1076/AD 1656. Nawab Diler Khan was the son of that Daria Khan who was a compatriot of Khan Jahan Lodi when he rebelled against Shah Jahan. As the legend goes, Daria Khan, embittered and sad at the ruin that had fallen on himself and family after the rebellion, asked his two sons to take his head after his death to the emperor and save themselves. Then he placed his seal within his mouth and slew himself. His sons complied with his orders, but as they were bearing the head before the emperor, one of the courtiers claimed the merit of having slain the Pathan rebel. Thereupon they pointed to the seal within the deceased’s mouth, and their mendacious opponent was silenced.

The sons were after this received into favour. Bahadur Khan was appointed to Kabul, and Diler Khan, otherwise Jalal Khan, received Oudh (Awadh). But before separating, the brothers founded Shahjahanpur in Rohilkhand, and Diler Khan moving on to his province first founded Shahabad in Hardoi, and finally fixed his headquarters at Malihabad, attracted to this place, perhaps, by his fellow Pathans already resident there. All this time Diler Khan had been followed by two Amanzai brothers – Kamaal Khan and Bahadur Khan (his brother’s namesake), whose father, Diwan Muhammad Khan, had been invited from Banair near Peshawar by the Daria Khan mentioned above. They first settled in Hasanpur-bari in AH 1015/AD 1656, when they shifted to Ahma, a village of Bulaqinagar in Malihabad.

In AH 1105/AD 1693, Sarmast Khan, son of Bahadur Khan, separated, and shifted to Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad. Sanjar Khan, the son of Kamaal Khan, remained in Bulaqinagar, and changed its name to that of Garhi Sanjar Khan. But the hero of the family was Dilawar Khan’s son Sarmast Khan, who raised it to its greatest prosperity. He took service under the Mughal emperor, and rose to the rank of Mansabdar under Farrukhsiyar, and by his many legendary acts of valour, won himself the title of Nawab Shamsher Khan. An instance of his bravery is cherished. It is said that as he was marching with the Saiyyads of Baraha to raise Farrukhsiyar to the throne, the future emperor remarked – “It is all very well when I conquer, but is there any one now that dare use my land measure and money ?” Dilawar Khan stepped forward, and said that he dared, and he went into Oudh (Awadh) and used Farrukhsiyar’s land measure and money coined in his name. He annexed an estate of more than a hundred villages and secured a jagir of three lakh rupees, which he shared with another general, Nasim Khan.

But during the reign of Safdar Jang, this family fell into disgrace. While the Nawab Wazir was in Delhi, Ahmad Khan Bangash of Farrukhabad attacked his dominions, and encamped on the Kanpur side of the river Ganga. The Nawab’s lieutenant went to meet him, and Makarim Khan, a son of Shamsher Khan, dutifully attended with his contingent, but his nephew Dilawar Khan had quarelled with him, and had joined the enemy. The Nawab’s troops finally fell back and retreated to Faizabad, but for some reason or other – probably from distrust of his Pathan contingent – left Makarim Khan on the banks of the Ganga to watch the troops of Ahmad Khan Bangash. Makarim Khan seeing that he was likely to come to no good between these two parties fled to Rohilkhand, and his jagir was confiscated. A few villages were afterwards restored to him through the intervention of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, the Ruhela chief, who at that time lived on terms of amity with Shuja-ud-daula. Amongst them was Bakhtiarnagar, which he received in jagir for the pay of his regiment of Pathan horse, that he was sent to command at Gorakhpur. It was at about this time that the Amanzai Pathan Makarim Khan granted the village of Kenwalhar
to Faqeer Muhammad Khan (circa 1780-1847), an Afridi Pathan.

Faqeer Muhammad Khan’s grandfather, Muhammad Yar Beg Khan Afridi, came to India at Delhi, to serve under the second Nawab of Oudh (Awadh), Safdarjang, who was there as the prime minister of the Mughal kingdom. He also accompanied him to Faizabad. He was an army commander of five companies, comprising soldiers from his own tribe, the Afridi. Faqeer Muhammad Khan arrived in Malihabad during the reign of Nawab Shuja-ud-daula (1754-1775). He then took service in the Qandhari horse, a regiment of the Nawab’s that was commanded by Abdur Rahman Khan of Khalispur. He soon left the regiment to join the service of Nawab Ameer Khan at his state at Tonk in Rajasthan. Impressed by him, Nawab Ameer Khan sent him as his envoy to the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh), Sa’adat Ali Khan, with an elephant and rupees six thousand for his road expenses, Enroute to Lucknow, at Kanpur, Faqeer Muhammad Khan learnt of the death of Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan (on July 11, 1814), and changed his route for his old home in Malihabad. He then got an introduction to Agha Mir, Minister of Ghaziuddin Haidar, and got a place about the court on the pay of Rupees One Hundred and Fifty per month; and eleven horse riders were put under him. He soon rose to become the commander of a cavalry of twenty-five thousand. This became the nucleus of a regiment, which he recruited from his countrymen in Malihabad. In AD 1827 he was granted the lease of the Malihabad pargana by the Amils, Gobardhan Das and Param Dhan. And he held the pargana in different occassions from them till AD 1843, pitching up several villages whose owners had defaulted. He got a lieu on others, and in this way founded an estate, which came to be called Tharri Fatehnagar. Later, he was also the governor of Khairabad. Prestigious titles of Nawab Tahavur Jang and Hasaam-ud-daula were bestowed upon him by the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh). In AD 1850 he died, and his sons, Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan (circa 1828-1903) and Nawab Muhammad Naseem Khan, succeeded to the estate, which they divided. Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan’s was called Kasmandi Khurd, while that of Nawab Muhammad Naseem Khan’s was Sahlamau.

Interestingly, Nawab Faqeer Muhammad Khan was also a notable poet of his time, who assumed the takhallus (pseudonym) of ‘Goya’. His collection of poems, titled Diwan-e-Goya, consists of different styles of Urdu verse – ghazal, nazm, qaseeda (ode), naat (poem in praise of the prophet Muhammad), noha (elegy), salaam, etc. He translated the Persian masterpiece Anwaar-e-Suheli into Urdu. The translated version became popular as Bustaan-e-Hikmat, several editions of which have been published till now. The subject of more than thirty books, Goya is considered one of the greatest classical Urdu poets.

His son Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ (1828-1903), grandfather of Josh, was a prominent poet of his age, who published a diwan (collection of poems) of six hundred and eighty-six pages. His collection of poems, titled Makhzan-e-Aalam, was published in 1860 at Naami Press, Lucknow. It comprised of ghazals, qaseedas, marsiyas, salaams, sehras, etc.

A son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ rose like a meteor on the poetic horizon, but died at the young age of twenty-eight, leaving behind a collection of poems which was published in 1890. It contained naats and ghazals. His name was Ameer Ahmad Khan ‘Ameer’

Another son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ – Basheer Ahmad Khan ‘Basheer’Diwan-e-Basheer, was also published
(1874-1916), Josh’s father, earned great repute for his poetic genius. His collection of poems,

Malihabad’s Afridi Pathans have a penchant for poetry. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every Afridi is born with a poetic potential, but only some of them use it.

It is impossible not to mention the great poet Muhammad Murtuza Khan ‘Wasl Malihabadi’ (1820-1903),Anwar Nadeem’s great-grandfather, when talking about the tradition of poetry among the Afridi Pathans of Malihabad. His diwan (collection of poems) titled Gulshan-e-Wasl was published in 1896. His absorbing poetry is distinguished by an unusual choice of words and a specific style.

His son Abdul Rauf Khan ‘Lutf Malihabadi’, Anwar Nadeem’s grandfather, was the author of the famous work Naerang-e-Khayaal. He also translated the Persian classics Guldast-e-Najaat and Maulana Rum’s Munajaat into Urdu. His language and diction is still admired for its lucidity, its transparent structure and unparalleled precision. The translations done by him have been considered splendid mixtures of clarity, precision, grace, sophistication and wit.

The Afridi Pathans of Malihabad took active part in India’s First War of Independence in 1857. Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Naseem Khan, the Afridi taluqdars (feudal lords) of Malihabad, fought the British at Kanpur and Lucknow. The arrest orders issued for them were revoked only after Mirza Hasan Beg (a ziladar of their father) who had immense political clout, intervened. Malihabad was among those first places where the first seeds of revolt against the British rule germinated.

The corresspondence between the then Chief Commissioner of Oudh (Awadh) and the then senior British officials shows that the Afridi Pathans of Malihabad loved freedom and fought for it since 1857.

A son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan, Khwaja Ahmad Khan, emerged as a prominent Congress leader of the time of freedom struggle।

An Afridi zamindar of Malihabad and famous horticulturalist, Khan Saheb Abdul Bari Khan(1886-1940), father of Anwar Nadeem, attended the Surat session of the Indian National Congress in 1907, and is still remembered for a revolutionary Urdu weekly,Falaahat, he published against the imperialist rule, from 1919 until it was banned by the British government in 1923. A senior to Josh Malihabadi, he was Josh's local guardian when he was a student in Sitapur.

The great Urdu poet Padmabhushan Josh Malihabadi (ne Shabbeer Hasan Khan Afridi) was exiled from the state of Hyderabad in circa 1925 for writing a poem against the Nizam’s being a feudatory of the British. He then shifted to Delhi and started publishing a literary journal Kaleem, in which he openly wrote articles in favour of freedom from the British rule. His Delhi sojourn brought him close to Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, which led to his joining the freedom struggle. Now, he would mostly write about patriotism. His endorsement of the Progressive Writers’ Movement also altered his ideas about poetry. Instead of ghazals (romantic poems), he started writing inquilaabi nazmein (revolutionary poems).

My mission is change
My name is youth
My slogan is revolution
Revolution and revolution !!

The revolutionary nature of his poetry won him the title of Sha’ir-e-Inquilaab (“the Poet of Revolution”). The belief that one moment of freedom is far better than years of existence under bondage formed the core of his philosophy.
Oh, dwellers of the planet Earth
The thundering sound which is coming from the heavens
One solitary moment of life in freedom is better than eternal life of slavery !!

The feeling that Josh’s poetry creates in its readers is nothing short of revolution. A number of his poems were banned by the British government. In recognition of his valuable contribution to India’s struggle for freedom, the prestigious Padmabhushan award was conferred upon him by the grateful nation.

“Rosy and fair to the eye are the daughters of the Afridis,” wrote the seventeenth century Pathan warrior-poet Khushal Khan Khattak. Afridi women are celebrated for their beauty. No wonder it is an Afridi damsel from Malihabad, Raushanara, resident in Kuwait, who was adjudged the most beautiful girl there for the year 2005.

The Afridi Pathans of Malihabad have always been a law unto themselves, and even today they remain as unconquered as ever. During the later Mughal age it became virtually impossible to circulate the Mughal currency in the region – let alone – realise tax from the locals.

The Pathans, including the Afridi, are a people who have built up an ethical code – Pathanwali/Pakhtunwali/Pashtunwali, the essence of which is honour. “I despise the man who does not guide his life by honour,” wrote the great Pathan poet Khushal Khan Khattak. “The very word ‘honour’ drives me mad.” Although it is nowhere written down or formalised, yet every Pathan knows what is required of him.

There are three main canons of Pathanwali/Pakhtunwali/Pashtunwali :-
· Badal (revenge)
· Nanawatai (assylum), and
· Maelmastya (hospitality).

The workings of Badal have led to innumerable feuds and brought Malihabad as much notoriety as its mangoes have brought fame. The obligation of Badal is nicely summed up in a Pathan proverb : “He is not a Pathan who does not give a blow for a pinch.”

Nanawatai requires a Pathan to offer protection to anyone who asks it of him. Its biggest manifestation was seen when Begum Hazrat Mahal took refuge with the Afridi Pathans at Mawai Basantpur in Malihabad. When about three hundred British soldiers reached Malihabad in her pursuit, they were massacred by the men of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’, taluqdar of Malihabad. The site of this incident came to be known as ‘Gumsena’.

Maelmastya is best reflected in the Malihabadi Pathan practice of feeding mangoes to everyone with the same munificence, from the ordinary villager to the President of the country, from fakirs to aristocrats. Even the richest and proudest Pathan personally serves tea and biscuits, or sometimes a full-scale meal to his guests. Their hospitality has few parallels, but it does not take long for the violent streak in their nature to manifest itself at the slightest provocation. Lieutenant Governor Havelock, at one time considered an honoured guest by Nawab Muhammad Is’haaq Khan, taluqdar of Qamandi Khurd and Thari in Malihabad, had to flee for his life from Malihabad, when he made the near fatal slip of the tongue by telling his Afridi host that the area was a stronghold of wicked scoundrels. For the proud Afridi Pathans, for whom bravery, strength, and courage are highly valued qualities, there could not have been any insult greater than this.

Legends abound in Malihabad, and the anecdotes of Nabi Sher Khan are still recounted with characteristic laconism by locals. As to how the hotheaded Nabi Sher Khan smashed an eye of his out of existence, just to get rid of a fly that kept sitting on it. “Na rahegi aankh, na uspe baithegi makkhi”, was the unassailable logic that prompted him to such drastic action. When hospitalised for medical treatment, he proceeded to chew up the thermometer, which the nurse kept inserting into his mouth to his great annoyance. That he survived despite all this speaks volumes for his hardiness. But then, Malihabad is a land of legends, synonymous with unimaginable things.

Malihabad: An Oasis of Poets

Padmabhushan Josh Malihabadi

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Azad Academy Journal, XIX, 3

The real flavour of Malihabad, 25 kilometres from Lucknow, lies not in its delicious mangoes, but in its lifestyle soaked in traditions. The Pathans of Malihabad have always been a law unto themselves and boast an impressive pedigree of great Urdu poets. Name of Josh has attained the distinction of a synonym for Malihabad. Today, Malihabad is known as much for the great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi it produced, as for its mangoes. So it would be most apt to talk about the great tradition of poetry among the Afridi Pathans of Malihabad, still so alive.

Afridi Pathans have always been lovers of poetry. It would not be wrong to say that every Afridi child is born with a poetic potential, but only some of them use it. Malihabad has producedc many famous Urdu poets, the most acclaimed being Josh Malihabadi, who dominated the scene of Urdu literature for over half a century. He emerged on the literary horizon of India as a personification of revolution or inquilaab, and won for himself the title of Shair-i-Inquilab (the Poet of Revolution). The belief that one moment of freedom is far better than years of existence under bondage formed the core of his philosophy.

Oh, dwellers of the planet Earth,
The thundering sound which is coming from the heavens
One solitary moment of life in freedom is better than eternal life of slavery
He was impressively articulate against the British rule:
My mission is change,
My name is youth,
My slogan is revolution,
Revolution and Revolution.

The British Government banned many of his revolutionary poems, such as ‘To the Sons of East India Company’ The quality and quantity of his compositions have secured for him a distinguished and permanent place in the galaxy of great Urdu poets.

Another poet whose name immediately comes to mind when talking about Malihabadi poets is Nawab Faqeer Muhammad Khan ‘Goya’, whose brilliant poetic career spans over the first quarter of the nineteenth century. He was an accomplished litterateur as well as a deft warrior, and is the subject of more than thirty books. He translated the Persian masterpiece Anwaar-i-Suheli into Urdu. The translated version became popular as Bustaan-i-Hikmat, several editions of which have been published till now. His own collection of poems was also published as Diwaan-i-Goya, which consisted of different styles of Urdu verse, viz., ghazal, nazm (in free verse and blank verse), qaseeda, naat (poem in praise of Muhammad), noha, salaam, et cetera. Nawab Faqeer Muhammad Khan ‘Goya’ is considered an avante-garde and one of the greatest Urdu poets.

Nawab Faqeer Muhammad Khan ‘Goya’’s son – Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ (1820-1903), grandfather of Josh, was a prominent poet of his age. He had a published diwan of 686 pages. His collection of poems titled Makhzan-i-Aalam was published in 1860 at Naami Press, Luccknow. It comprised of ghazal, qaseeda, marsiya, salaam, sehra, et cetera.

A son of Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ rose like a meteor on the poetic horizon, but died at the early age of twenty-eight, leaving behind a collection of poems, which was published in 1890. It contained naats and ghazals. His name was Ameer Ahmad Khan ‘Ameer’ (1858-1886).

Another son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ – Basheer Ahmad Khan ‘Basheer’, Josh Malihabadi’s father – earned great repute for his poetic genius. His collection of poems was also published, titled Diwan-i-Basheer.

An aunt of Josh Malihabadi, Ali Begum, was a popular poetess of her time. Urdu language will always remain indebted to her for her great contribution to its poetry.

A niece of Josh Malihabadi and daughter of famous Urdu poet Abrar Hasan Khan ‘Asar’, Jameela Khatoon ‘Tasneem Malihabadi’ achieved much fame and popularity as an Urdu poetess.

Yet another famous Malihabadi poetess is Safiya Khatoon ‘Shameem Malihabadi’ (b. 1920). Her published works include Aahang-i-Shameem and Giriya-o-Tabassum.

No list of Malihabadi poets can be considered complete without a mention of Muhammad Murtuza Khan ‘Wasl Malihabadi’. His diwan (collection of poems) titled Gulshan-i-Wasl was published in 1896. His poetry is distinguished by an unusual choice of words and a specific style. His poems are absorbing.

His son, Abdul Rauf Khan ‘Lutf Malihabadi’ was the author of a famous book Naerang-i-Khayaal. He also translated the famous literary works Guldast-i-Najaat and Maulana Rum’s Munajaat from Persian into Urdu. His language and diction is still admired for its lucidity, its transparent structure, and unparalleled precision. The translations done by him have been considered splendid mixtures of clarity, precision, grace, sophistication and wit.

Lutf Malihabadi’s grandson Wali Kamaal Khan ‘Aarif Adeeb’ was a well acknowledged poet and essayist. He contributed readily in Urdu literature’s philosophical and metaphysical spheres.

Lutf Malihabadi’s youngest grandson, Anwar Nadeem (ne Anwar Kamal Khan Aafreedi) (b. 1937) is a well known Urdu poet, satirist, humorist, critic, dramatist, broadcaster, actor, and short-story writer as well as film and television-drama screenplay writer, who has more than thirteen books to his credit, including Jalte Tave ki Muskuraahat (collection of mushaira reportages), Safarnama (poetry), Kirchein (film-script), Maidaan (collection of ghazals), Jai Shri Ram (collection of nazms), Paani (collection of ghazals), et cetera. Recipient of Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award, Bihar Urdu Academy Award, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad Memorial Committee Award, et cetera, his programmes are broadcast regularly on the All India Radio and Doordarshan (National Television network). His works have been published in some of the most prestigious literary journal like India’s national academy of letters Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly Indian Literature, Urdu monthlies like Insha, Shair, et cetera. A few of his better known poems are as follows:

How is it?

The governments do not function in our country
The parties
After winning the elections
Have a bed of roses
Orgies, animal gratification
Passing days and nights
In Luxurious enjoyment
And perchance –
If they lose the elections
There’s a wrangling jade –
They finally go to Jericho!

The Only Poet

Just caught hold of Iqbal
And stuck to him
Once for all –

Keeping themselves away
From a camel’s hold
And a dog’s spring!

They took it for granted
That religion
The social issues
As it were –
No longer demand
To think over
And understand again

Let India
With its latitude
And amplitude
Remain in tatters!!

There are many other reputed poets as well, while many from the younger generation are coming up; thus keeping their great Pathan legacy of poetry alive and taking the tradition forward.

An Ode to Mangoes

Picture courtesy: Little India

Saurabh Shukla, Academy Calling, August-October, 2005, pp. 5-7

Just as the monsoons start from the south of India and flow northwards to cover the whole country to bring much needed succour from the summer heat, the mango season begins early in the summer in Kerala and western ghats slowly sweeping the entire sub-continent to give us something to look forward to despite the heat of the summer. What’s that they say about the best pleasures being the ones inflicted with a certain amount of pain? Part of the pain is the long wait for the seasonal fruit and the other the summer heat that signals the start of the mango season. Well, not that long, really. India’s mango ‘season’ begins in March to end in August. And right now the markets are flooded with mangoes of all shapes and sizes, and like every year they would have captivated the hearts, minds, taste buds and digestive tracts of a sixth of the world’s population. Mangoes happen to be native to the subcontinent, and over the millennia have woven themselves intricately into the life and culture here. The word mango itself comes from the Tamil word for the (unripe) fruit, mang kai, which the Portuguese and Spanish first started taking to Europe, and then the new world. They are now also grown in places like California, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras. However, when it comes down to satisfying the taste buds, none can come close to the mangoes produced in India. India probably has more varieties of mangoes than it has languages. Each region has its own unique variety of mango, and regional pride insists that their mango is better than theirneighbours’ mango. At the beginning of the season Andhra Pradesh sends out at least six varieties. The most famous probably being the Safeda or Banginapalli, which has gained tremendous popularity even in North India. The other early varieties from south India are the Totapari and Sinduri, with its unique colour. The Alphonso, which most people swear by is also an early variety grown in the western ghats, most notably in the Ratnagiri area of Maharashtra.

However for somebody like me who has literally subsisted on a diet of Dussheri’s in the summers, nothing can beat them. The release of the juicy flavour as a ripe dussheri melts in the mouth is almost to die for. The early varieties merely act as appetizers before the dussheri hits the market.The Dussheris from Malihabad tehsil in Lucknow are almost legendary. The Dussehri is part of Malihabad folklore. Local mango legend is that the original Dussehri tree was on the Nawab of Lucknow's property in Malihabad. For years stories of its amazing fruit did the rounds but the Nawab refused to let anyone make a graft from the tree. Infact, the old original tree still exists in Malihabad and is somewhat of a tourist attraction. Malihabad also boasts of the Chausa village, from where the chausa variety of mangoes originated. However, the best mangoes that I remember having are not the Alphonsos’ or the dussheris’ that my father used to bring from the market, but the ones that our gang of friends had plucked from our neighbourhood gardens. Even if these desi mangoes were raw, to our young minds, they tasted much better than any alphonso that our parents bought after paying a hefty price.

Connoisseurs assert that even the way in which the mango is eaten affects the taste. Some swear by peeling and dicing mangoes and serving them chilled, by keeping them over ice. Others say that the act of peeling itself takes away from the taste of mangoes and one should simply cut a mango into two or three slices and serve them. However, in my mind the best way to eat mangoes is to so simply sit around a bucket full of mangoes, the mangoes being cooled in the water and squeeze the juice straight from a ripe mango into the mouth. And to eat till the mango juice starts oozing out of one’s ears. Mangoes, is one subject which can lead to heated debates between close friends and even family members. Every person has his or her favourite variety, which they swear, is the perfect variety. Haji Kaleemullah Khan of Malihabad has managed to graft 315 varieties ranging from Totapari to Alphonso into a single tree, in his search for the perfect variety. But, is there something like a perfect mango? Probably every variety is as perfect as the next, bringing a uniqueness that no other variety can.

Mad about Mangoes

A non-descript muddy street leads straight into the Abdullah Nursery. There are no mustachioed, baton-wielding security guards; forget a gate, there is not even a barbed fence. You drive straight into the nursery where red plastic chairs and an old table await you. The sun is sharp and I scurry under the prized tree for a little shade. I perch myself on a gravel pathway, sip on the cola, soak all the information and let hedge-sparrows flirt with the breeze. Within minutes there are other Khans being kind and spewing information - how angry parrots peck the fruits, how naughty squirrels fatten every summer on mango juice and how the bhoonga insect is any orchard's most frightening nemesis.

There is something very supercilious about Malihabad. You might call it conceit, but it really has no identity crisis; it has no uncertainty about its reputation. It is the mango capital of the country, within its 20 sq. km. radius grows about 700 varieties of mangoes that fetch roughly Rs 150 crores each season. Here you don't need to be beatified as an orchardist, everyone is born with a definite occupation - Thou shalt own an orchard! Ask anyone what makes it so special and the inevitable answer is: Mitti ka masla hai (it is all about the soil). So puffed up is its confidence that its most famous mango grower once got a letter from Jeddah that only had Kaleemullah Khan, Malihabad, India, on the envelope. It is also all in a family. In Malihabad the same blood seems to run in everyone's veins; the blood of an Afridi Afghan called Fakir Mohammad Khan Sahib Goya who married 11 times and had 52 children. Not just the blood, all of Malihabad shares the same aroma too, on its street waft the whiff of mangoes - lush, luscious and blessed.

They say a pilgrim's path is always strewn with perplexities. And so truly said. If you are a mango aficionado on a pilgrimage to Malihabad, carry a little forgiveness for the terribly rutted and mucky 35 kms from Lucknow. If you don't roll the car windows up, you might soon look like a sack of Fuller's Earth and if you don't fasten the seat belt, a bone or two might just fall off. Add to all this, the beyond 42 degree Celsius heat. Stack water, patience and like me, if you are a stranger to Malihabad, stop anywhere and just ask for Haji Kaleemullah Khan or Abdullah Nursery. That's where the mango narrative can begin and end and there would be no missing links.

A non-descript muddy street leads straight into the Abdullah Nursery. There are no mustachioed, baton-wielding security guards; forget a gate, there is not even a barbed fence. You drive straight into the nursery where red plastic chairs and an old table await you. There's Afsak Ahmed too, a friend who also runs errands for Kaleemullah Khan. Khan is not there, but 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 grows 300 different varieties of mango. The sun is sharp and I scurry under the prized tree for a little shade. I perch myself on a gravel pathway, sip on the cola, soak all the information and let hedge-sparrows flirt with the breeze. Within minutes there are other Khans being kind and spewing information - how angry parrots peck the fruits, how naughty squirrels fatten every summer on mango juice and how the bhoonga insect is any orchard's most frightening nemesis.

There were stories about how Khan's home was laden with trophies and citations. Shoaib Khan, Khan's nephew, is worried about the heat and takes us to Khan's home where the shelves are literally burdened with trophies and shields. A few minutes later Kaleemullah Khan walks in. The first thing you notice is his genial smile and good looks; the next he mesmerizes you with his mango tales and his metaphors about how mangoes are like human beings, each mango has innate virtues. Khan inherited the 20 acres of mango plantation from his father Abdullah Khan and years ago started experimenting with crops and breeds. On one tree he has nurtured 300 varieties of mangoes and that feat garnered him a place in the Limca Book of Records. He also 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 experimentation and an attractive smile are genetic with the Khans. Kaleemullah's younger brother Hamidullah who owns nearly 50 acres of mango orchards has 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 would shiver by the fireplace and eat his special variety of mango in December. Like the elder Khan, he too smiles beatifically.

Ask any mango purist from the North to choose one variety and he would invariably pick the Dussehri. It has dark flesh and takes its name from Dussheri, a small village about 25 kms from Lucknow. The village's claim to fame is the original 300-year old Dussheri tree which some would have us believe was not planted by humans; it rose from the earth as a blessing.

For centuries the tree has been the property of the Nawab of Lucknow and even now the fruits of this tree are picked and sent to the Begum who also owns the palatial Dussheri House. They are never sold in the market. This summer the tree was laden with at least 1,000 kgs of gorgeous fruits.

There's more to the mango narrative than spraying insecticide and plucking the fruits. Much before the fruits ripen, the orchards are auctioned. I sat through an auction of 200 trees that began with a bid of Rs 50,000 and ended at Rs 1.33 lakh. Not for them the gavels on a mahogany lectern, the bids are screamed by a man whose decibel level can demolish a weak roof. He perhaps ends up with a sore throat every night because every day he screams for nearly 10 orchards and gets paid anywhere between Rs 200-500 per deal. Then there are the peti (box) makers, who buy mango timber for nearly Rs 100 a quintal, out of which they carve 10-15 petis, selling each for Rs 8-10. The carpenter who hammers 50 nails in each peti gets paid only 50 paise for the work! Sikander whose family has been in the business for three generations informs that each season they make about 15,000 boxes. Once the mangoes are packed, transporters like Kamaal Khan 'Guddu' rev their trucks and take the famous Malihabadi mangoes to various mandis, including Azadpur in Delhi. Guddu alone ferries nearly 100 trucks to Delhi; he is not the only one, there are 20 other transporters from Malihabad. It is after so much fuss that the mango finally lands on your dinner plate. Imagine that!

If you want to see Malihabad in its magnificence, go there between June 10 and 20. That's when the mangoes wear their fineries, scatter their scent and sway elegantly in the breeze. You might call it conceit; I would call it the closest approximation to ecstasy.

Published in Swagat magazine, June 2005.