When Akhilesh Yadav, not yet the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and known only as ‘Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son’, visited Haji Kaleemullah Khan’s 22-acre mango orchard in Malihabad, Khan was impressed with Akhilesh’s command over English and calm demeanour. “It was uncharacteristic of a Samajwadi leader. He left a lasting impression on me with his enthusiasm and will to listen,” says the 85-year-old, who has received a Padma Shri for growing more than 300 types of mangoes on a single tree using horticultural grafting.
Nearly a year later, Yadav junior was appointed UP Chief Minister. Around the same time, Khan noticed that a five-year-old mango tree in his orchard had begun to bear fruit. He named the mango after Akhilesh and plans to present four specimens of the fruit to the Chief Minister.
“The peel has a tinge of red and [the fruit] smells sweet. I immediately thought of our young Chief Minister and decided to name it after him,” says Khan, who has earlier named a hybrid guava after actress Aishwarya Rai, and other mangoes after cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Sonia Gandhi. “The mango is young, fresh and promising due to the qualities of its parent grafts. [Likewise], Akhilesh too is our future.” Khan didn’t want to reveal the identities of the parent grafts.
Khan says that the four Akhileshs on the tree are too young and delicate to even touch right now. Once they are ready, they could weigh 1kg each. “I am waiting for them to ripen,” says Khan. “The climate this year has been bad. The crop is affected. But this mango should be something to look forward to.”
Khan dropped out of school after failing his class 7 exams and joined his father’s mango business, where he got interested in hybrid grafting. Sceptics, however, say this is no big deal. SS Negi, a retired horticulturist from Lucknow, says that it is common for fruit growers to graft fruits on branches of parent trees. Insram Ali, president of the Mango Growers Association, says that the crop of such grafts is rarely sustainable.
Despite his reservations, Ali hopes the ‘Akhilesh aam’ gets the young leader’s attention. He says, “Hopefully, the Chief Minister will take notice of our plight and provide us better facilities.”