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