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“To you, a mango might just be a fruit, but for me, it’s a testimony of my cherished past and a promise of the future. It is a sweet legacy wrapped in a thin sunshine yellow skin that only improves with time,” observes India’s famed horticulturist, Haji Kalimullah Khan, popularly known as the ‘Mango Man of India’.
Khan grows more than 1,600 varieties of mangoes in approximately 8-acres of land, out of an entire 20-acre mango orchard run by the family. One of his most outstanding accomplishments is growing over 300 varieties of mangoes on a single tree using grafting technique. It is no wonder then that Indian government honoured him with the Padma Shri in 2008 for his contribution in preserving and expanding the varieties of the ‘King of Fruits’ in addition to other noteworthy contributions in horticulture.
Apart from experimenting with the fruit, Khan is also famous for dedicating his mango varieties to prominent public figures as a gesture of appreciation for their good work and success. And this summer’s speciality? His mango orchards now boast of two new flavours – ‘Police Aam’ and ‘Doctor Aam’.
“I have named two new varieties of mango after those at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19. They are the true heroes who are putting their lives at stake to save thousands. Their dedication and selflessness moved me to name my new varieties after them. It is truly an honour for me to be able to do so,” Khan tells The Better India (TBI).
Spreading the Love
“I dedicate my mangoes to people who I feel are doing amazing work in their respective fields. It is my way of appreciating their positive impact on the world and immortalising it through the mangoes,” says Khan, who had named his mangoes after individuals like Sachin Tendulkar, and Aishwarya Rai, among others.
From politicians to celebrities, he hopes to immortalise their inspiring work through his mangoes. One of his well-known mangoes includes Anarkali named after the famous role played by actor Madhubala in the Magnum Opus – Mughal-e-Azam. It is a unique variety of mango that has two different skins with two separate layers of pulp, each with different flavours.
His famed mango tree bearing 300 varieties of mango is a true marvel that he has been tending to since 1987. Every year, since then, Khan has been trying to use his knowledge to create new varieties.
“For me, the act of growing fruit as beloved as mango is very sacred. The sheer joy I see every time a person eats a ripe and sweet mango is unparalleled. My goal is to spread a bit of happiness and sweetness in the world and what better way to do so than with mangoes!” adds Khan.
Cultivating a Legacy
Born in Malihabad, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Khan practically grew up in mango orchards – a part of the family legacy for the past four generations. The mango connoisseur claims that his ancestors used to grow beautiful hybrids of mangoes in humungous orchards for the royals.
“Throughout my childhood, I spent most of my time in the orchard. My brothers and I would play hide and seek there, and when tired, we would lounge under the shade of the tall trees. Summers were the best! After each game, we would climb up the same trees and pluck ripe yellow mangoes. The messier, the more satisfying,” laughs the 80-year-old who joined the family business in his pre-teens, after dropping out of school in Class 7.
“I was never too fond of studies and realised that I was learning much more in the open, working at the orchards. So, after I failed my Class 7 exams, I decided to follow my true calling – growing fruits, especially mangoes. And I was in love,” says Khan.
Source: Facebook/ Farmtalent(L); Vipin Nair (R)At 17, he cultivated his first mango tree with seven varieties of mangoes, all of which had different flavours. Since then, by using asexual propagation technique of grafting, he developed various new types of mangoes on his journey to becoming the “Mango Man of India”.
Grafting involves joining two plant tissues to aid their growth together as a new plant. The scion (stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits) or the upper part of variety A is joined with the stock, the lower part of variety B to create a hybrid based on their characteristics.
And although the lockdown and the ensuing restrictions on the domestic and export market is a cause of concern for many large-scale growers like Khan, he is still hopeful of the positive outcome.
“This is a time when we all need to come together and do everything in our power to help the country cope with this calamity. The market situation indeed worries us, but I’m sure we will overcome this with time and patience,” smiles Khan.
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(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)