Who doesn’t love the indulging sweetness of mangoes? It is the most-loved fruit, in whatever form it is—raw, ripened or cooked— any day. A Delhi-based heritage enthusiast, Sohail Hashmi, has given this love a shape with his initiative of organising a trip to Rataul in Uttar Pradesh that is an annual affair.
Last Sunday, Hashmi, 67, successfully conducted the sixth trip to Rataul—50 km from Delhi. The trip serves two purposes—it gives mango lovers the chance to sample rare varieties of the fruit and helps raise funds for Salma Public School, run in the ancestral haveli of septuagenarians Professor Zahoor Siddiqui and his wife Nishat Apa in the village. Their family orchard Noor Bagh is thrown open to the public for this trip.
Hashmi, who is famous for organising Heritage Walks in Delhi, says, “I met Zahoor saheb when we used to work for the CPI(M) more than a decade-and-a-half ago. He taught history at the Kirorimal College, Satyawati College and later at the School of Correspondence Courses of the Delhi University. He used to invite people to his orchards and I was fortunate enough to be included in the invitees’ list.”
Nishat Apa taught at a Government school in Delhi, before they settled down in Rataul. They started Salma Public School in the late 90s with 35 students and the number has now increased to 400.
The idea of introducing people to the lesser-known varieties of mango occurred to Hashmi on one such visit. “I took some people along, six years ago and we drove down to Rataul. Some lost their way due to bad roads and traffic congestion.
Next year, I hired a bus and everyone reached at the same time. Gradually, I learnt how to organise the trip better and also included a fee that would take care of travel and other costs. The success of this trip can be measured from the fact that this year we took three buses full of people to Rataul,” says Hashmi, who is also a writer and filmmaker.
The funds saved from the trip and donations by the guests are routed to Salma Public School to help make the school better. Principal Sheeba Sultana has to face the biggest challenge of preventing drop-outs. The fee is just `200 per month, and children from the poorest sections are provided free education.
“One of the factors behind the high dropout rate among boys is that they join sweatshops in the garment industry. For their parents, the need to educate children loses out to having a meal on the table,” says Sohail.Nishat Apa says the trip makes people aware of our school, the work we do and about the school infrastructure that often needs outside support.
Prof Siddiqui, whose ancestors are credited with developing Rataul mango, says, “We face daily issues like lack of funds for the fuel for our generators, which are operated only during the peak summer season to run 16 fans in the school. The annual trip contributes a lot. Some, who come here, support a child’s fee for a year, some pledge to support their higher education, while others donate funds for repairs or provide uniform, each having its own worth.”