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India’s mango man, father of 300 varieties

#Indias #mango #man #father #varieties

Every day, Indian octogenarian Kaleem Ullah Khan wakes at dawn, prays, and then strolls about a mile to his 120-year-old mango tree, which over the years he has trained to produce more than 300 varieties of the beloved fruit.

His steps quicken as he gets closer, and his eyes light up as he peers through his glasses at the branches, stroking the leaves and sniffing the fruit to see if it’s ripe.

“This is my price for decades of hard work in the scorching sun,” said the 82-year-old from his orchard in the small town of Malihabad.

“To the naked eye, it’s just a tree. But if you see through your mind, it’s a tree, an orchard, and the largest mango college in the world.”

The high school dropout was still a teenager when he conducted his first experiments with grafting, joining parts of plants to create new varieties of mango.

He grew a tree to produce seven new types of fruit, but it was blown down in a storm.

But since 1987, his pride and joy has been the 120-year-old specimen, which has produced more than 300 different varieties of mango, each with its own taste, texture, color and size, he says.

One of the earliest strains he named “Aishwarya” after Bollywood star and 1994 Miss World pageant winner Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. It remains one of his “best creations” to this day.

“The mango is as beautiful as the actress. A mango weighs more than a kilogram, has a crimson outer skin and tastes very sweet,” Khan said.

He named others in honor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and cricket hero Sachin Tendulkar. Another is “Anarkali” or pomegranate blossom and has two layers of distinct skin and two distinct pulps, each with a distinctive aroma.

“People will come and go, but the mangoes will stay forever and years later, whenever that sachin mango is eaten, people will remember the cricket hero,” said the father-of-eight.

– Famous Fruit –

His prized tree is nine meters tall with a sturdy trunk and wide, thick branches that provide pleasant shade against the Indian summer sun.

The leaves are a patchwork of different textures and smells. In some places they are yellow and shiny, in others dark green.

“No two fingerprints are the same and no two types of mango are similar. Nature has endowed mangoes with traits like humans,” Khan said.

His method of grafting is complicated and involves carefully cutting a twig of one variety, leaving an open wound into which a twig of another variety is spliced ​​and taped shut.

“I’ll remove the tape once the joint becomes solid and hopefully this new branch will be ready by next season and bear a new variety in two years,” he explained.

Khan’s skills have earned him numerous awards including one of India’s top civilian honors in 2008, as well as invitations to Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

“I can even grow mangoes in a desert,” he says.

– climate threat –

India is the largest producer of mangoes, accounting for half of world production. Malihabad in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has more than 30,000 hectares of orchards and accounts for nearly 25 percent of the national harvest.

The orchards, mostly owned by families for generations, are a mango lover’s paradise, with arguably the most well-known variety being the melt-in-the-mouth dasheri, named after the nearby village where it originated in the 18th century.

However, farmers are concerned about climate change as a heatwave destroyed 90 percent of the local crop this year, according to the All-India Mango Growers Association.

Varieties have also declined, which Khan attributes to intensive farming techniques and widespread use of cheap fertilizers and insecticides.

Growers are also planting too many trees too close together for moisture and dew to settle on the leaves, he says.

But he still has a good life, he says.

“I recently moved to a new house within the farm to be closer to my beloved tree, which I will work on until my last breath.”

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#Indias #mango #man #father #varieties

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