The “Mango Man” of India
Eighty year-old Kalimullah Khan is already known widely as the “Mango Man ”of India for having created a magical mango tree that grows more than 300 varieties. But he will like to be remembered more for introducing new mango varieties named after several frontline workers including doctors and policemen, who lost their lives in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Padma Shri awardee Haji Kalimullah Khan of Malihabad near Lucknow says, “I came to know that so many doctors died due to COVID and I thought that they should continue to live, so I decided to name a variety of mangoes after them. Similarly, many policemen too died of the infection while on national duty, so I named a variety after them as well.”
“These varieties will remind people that they sacrificed their lives to save the lives of several others. The varieties named after them will keep them alive forever,” he added.
Khan dropped out of school at seventh standard and took to the family business of farming. Using the asexual propagation technique of grafting, he has developed several new varieties of mangoes, some of which have been named after celebrities such as Akhilesh Yadav, Sachin Tendulkar, Sonia Gandhi and Aishwarya Rai. He has also one variety named after Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Namo Aam).
Khan has created a magical mango tree that grows more than 300 varieties. Each branch’s leaves have a different texture: Others are shiny and bright, while others are dull green or olive green. The mangoes on each branch are also unique, being rectangular, oval, or kidney-shaped, and varying in color from green to yellow to brown, pink, and purple.
Khan tends to cultivate 22 acres of farmland that his grandfather cultivated in the early 1900s, with the aid of his son. Khan dropped out of high school to pursue this as a career, and his family produced only a few local varieties, similar to nearby mango farms. When Khan was 15, he saw crossbred roses in a friend’s backyard, with one rose plant producing flowers in various colors, the seeds of his fascination with mango grafting were sown. It made him wonder if different types of fruits could be produced by the same tree.
When he was 17, he grafted seven different mango varieties onto a single tree. When floods destroyed the oak, he was absolutely devastated, but he was eager to learn more about grafting, which he had learnt about on his family’s orchards. Khan perfected the technique of cutting a branch from one tree, chopping notched angles into it, and then adding the orphaned cutting to a new, hybrid tree over time. He began grafting cuttings of various varieties onto a 100-year-old mango tree in 1987. He gathered samples from all over the world, looking for unusual varieties. According to Khan, the tree now produces more than 300 different mango varieties. It’s known as Al Muquaraar, or The Resolute, by him.
“This wonder tree isn’t just a tree; it’s a whole orchard, a universe,” Khan says. I inquire as to how Khan keeps the tree safe from birds and insects. He says, “I don’t scare them away.” “Nature’s bounty is meant to be shared.” During harvest season, Khan and his son load the farm’s produce in crates to market and export, but they give the miracle tree’s fruits away for free to tourists who come to see it.
He not only grafts, but also breeds new mango hybrids, experimenting with flavor and texture, as well as giving them unusual names. Khan has had superstar guests to the homestead and won various honors, including the Padma Shri, and records in the Limca Book of Records.