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The earth and water connect: On a trip to fulfil old wishes

I arranged to fulfil an old wish, which was to drop by on Padmashri Haji Kaleemullh Khan, the ‘mango maharaja’ of Malihabad

columns Updated: Jun 16, 2017 21:27 IST
She Baba,Malihabad,Padmashri Haji Kaleemullh Khan
Padmashri Haji Kaleemullh Khan, the ‘mango maharaja’ of Malihabad(Raj K Raj / HT Photo)

I had the opportunity recently to visit friends in Lucknow and so I arranged to fulfil an old wish, which was to drop by on Padmashri Haji Kaleemullh Khan, the ‘mango maharaja’ of Malihabad, about an hour’s drive from Lucknow. I’d met him twenty years ago at the Delhi Mango Festival and he’d told me to come by, so I did, though it took a little time as you see. Regrettably, I was too early for the Dussehris. But it was charming enough to drive past heavily-fruiting mango orchards. My UP friends turned up their noses, however, and said “This year’s harvest is low”.

Given the old tradition of naming flowers and fruit after political leaders and famous people, it was perhaps to be expected that Haji Saheb had named mango varieties ‘Akhilesh’ and ‘Sachin’ and a bright red guava ‘Aishwarya Rai’. He showed me photos of a bright red mango called ‘NaMo’ and a lean, green one called ‘Yogi’ that he wants to present to their namesakes. And of course, I got to see the wonder tree on which he has reportedly grafted 300 varieties of mango.

Pleased to meet this pleasant, down-to-earth artiste again, I was also refreshed by the delicious lassi served in a gigantic clay cup. So on the way back to Lucknow, I got to stop at a roadside potter’s and fulfil yet another wish: to buy a small surahi with the pretty pattern of flowering vine that they make in the region. I remembered that ‘su’ is the Turkish word for water, hence ‘surahi’ for ‘water-holder’ (and ‘susu’ for you-know-what). Thrilled with this buy, I began to remember that water from a clay pot is supposed to have several scientifically-endorsed health benefits. But my reasons were very simple. Surahi-water (filled from the RO) is just so perfect to drink in the hot weather and tastes a zillion times nicer than machine-ka-pani which is a bore and a chore to mix every time. I mean, how useless is life if you can’t even get a glass of water cooled just right? It was a sobering, gratitude-inspiring thought. Also, my tiny personal surahi looked incredibly chic and elegant, and all for a measly forty rupees. That surahi was my hand-luggage on the way home, wadded up with a few brown paper packages of chikan-embroidered clothes from the textile heaven that’s Lucknow.

I also got to see other marvels of the local earth and water, though the river Gomti itself was a sadly diminished sight. One very atmospheric place was the newly-restored Sibtainabad mausoleum built by Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Lucknow, for his father. The interior was decorated with jolly mermaids on an arch. Fish were the symbol of nawabi Shia Lucknow, so a mermaid, being half-fish, half-‘gopi’, seemed a symbol of syncretic culture to me. Inside the sanctum stood a baby’s cradle, like ‘Krishna’s cradle’ at Janmashtami, which symbolized Hazrat Hassan’s baby who died at Karbala. My precious take-home from this short dash was a fine jumble of interesting culture, the almost spiritual coolness of a maestro’s mango orchard and sublimely pleasant drinking water.

First Published: Jun 10, 2017 21:38 IST