Antral. How this village of 280 plus families, 15 kms from Jath taluka in Sangli district (Maharashtra), came to be known so no one is able to tell you. (By the way Antral in English means ‘breathing space’).
In this medium-sized village resides one Kakasaheb Sawant, a former automobile mechanic who after having worked for automobile majors like Bajaj, Telco, Kinetic and others for decade and a half decided to return to his native village in order to grow mangoes and encourage others too.
“In the last job I held I was working as a faculty member with Kohinoor Technical Institute at Sangli. As I was transferred elsewhere I decided to return to my village and take care of the family’s farm lands,” he told me on the phone.
In a district famed for its vineyards and pomegranate farms 43-year-old Kakasaheb, always dressed in a full- length white shirt, is famous here for his nursery of fruit-bearing plants and a mango tree with varieties of mangoes. His one-year Kesar mango sapling is available for Rs 50.
Awarded the title of ‘Udyan Pandit (2018-19)’ by Maharashtra government, Sawant reminiscences: “When I began planting mangoes a decade back people laughed at me saying ‘This isn’t Konkan.'”
Sawant’s family, which includes his two brothers who are teachers own 20 acres of land in a place considered drought-prone. The Sangli district is situated in the Southern part of Maharashtra and is a part of the Deccan plateau. It is gifted with fertile black soil.
Sawant’s farm plots are equally divided into the mango and non-mango ones. The Kesar variety occupies 10 acres while the rest farm plots have chickoos, pomegranates, custard apples, guava, tamarind and others.
Farmers from far and near visit Sawant’s farm with dual purposes– to pick up the fruit saplings and to have a dekho at the horticulture wonder: a three-year-old mango tree with 22 varieties grafted on it which at this time of the year is laden with fruits of different sizes and colours–from teal to bottle green, from parrot green to moss–and with names (yes, they are labelled for the viewer’s sake, like a museum exhibit) like Sindhu, Dudhpedha, Kroton, Dasheri, Vanraj, Niranjan, Lalbagh, Taiwan and 14 others including Amrapali, Alphonso, Baramashi and others.
Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined to continue their growth together. The upper part of the combined plant is called the scion while the lower part is called the rootstock. Sawant has introduced scions of 22 varieties to the desi rootstock.
Though all are from the Mangifera Indica family some fruits are bulbous, some spheroid and some skinny. You also come across mangoes as long as one’s palm and some the size of an apple. This summer 16 of them have fruited.
Farmers return home nursing a desire to replicate Sawant’s miracle, one day. I too nurse such an ambition.
His nursery, called Banashankari, is spread on an acre. “I sell around two lakh mango saplings a year alone besides custard apple, jamun, chikoo, guava and lemon,” informs Sawant.
Having sourced most of the mother plants from Dapoli-based Balasaheb Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth over the years he has so far grafted them on a desi mango variety plant, known in Marathi as Rawal. When I tell him about Katimon, a dwarf-sized Thai mango variety that fruits thrice a year and is now a rage among West Bengal orchard owners who source it from neighbouring Bangladesh Sawant asks me to provide contact details. “I’ll try to acquire some,” he tells me.
As he runs a large nursery Sawant sources skilled workmen to make the grafts and saplings who come from Dapoli, 225 km away from Sangli, to work at the nursery from June to August living with the family and having their meals together. “They’re very skilled and the saplings are a hundred percent success,” he informs. “I’ve picked the techniques from them. In fact, among them is one sixty-year-old man who has been grafting plans since the age of 12 and he is a master.”
Last year as they were unable to come to Antral riding on State Transport buses from Jalagaon due to lock-down Sawant sent a car to pick them. Each day these ‘graftsmen’ ready around 800 to 1000 saplings, earning Rs 3 each.
Eager to share the technique of growing mangoes without expecting anything in return, he says,”I’m always available on and enjoy talking to strangers and willing to share what I’ve learnt over the years.”
Sharing the secrets on what, how and when of grafting, Sawant elaborates, “When choosing the branch to be grafted make sure the leaves on it are not over four months old and the branch is tender with green skin. The day temperature should be between 25 to 30 degrees C which is during early May here,” he informs, adding that in a couple of years he plans to reach the magic figure of hundred grafts on the same tree.
Having seen a video of the luscious-looking mangoes hanging from wire-thin branches I inquire: “Who gets to eat the 22 varieties of mangoes?”
“My family members, of course,” he replies. “Our family has 16 members.”
Reach Sawant on +91 82753 91582.
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