Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From the HEART of INDIA

Just before the onset of monsoons, the peacock opens its glamorous feathers and dances in joy. The myriad of color displayed by the Indian national bird is a treat to the eye. It is like a prologue to the coming showers of blessings from the heaven, due to which the countryside springs up to life.

One can spot miles and miles of lush green fields. In the words of my colleague Meghna, “It almost feels as if some eternal source turned up the saturation of the entire nation.” This greenery lasted for most of my journey from Bombay to Harda, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. But as always is the case, looks are deceptive.

The ride from Harda to Bajwara was more eventful than I anticipated. The van which came to receive me was unique. When I walked out of the station, I noticed that it was parked in one corner of the empty parking space, that too on a slope. This seemed odd as to why would anyone do that while there was perfectly good parking spaces available nearer to the station. My doubts were soon answered.

One couldn’t start it by just turning on the ignition. The wheels had to be in motion before it is actually kick started. So the bricks under the wheel were removed, the car rolled down and the car chocked back to life. We were on our way to Bajwara.

Cows are an essential part of rural India. They are as symbolic to the villages as the crowded local trains are to Mumbai. Now, for all those who haven’t visited the small towns too often let me tell you one of the obsessions these holy animals have. They hate mud and dirt. Unlike their family members, the buffalos, who sit, eat and sleep in the same place where they dispose of their body excreta, the cows have a lot of self esteem. As the monsoons had made their favorite places all muddy, these poor creatures had to look for a dry place. And the only dry place they could get was the highway. So proudly they seated themselves in the middle of the busy road. The traffic had to make sure that they avoided hitting them.

Bajwara is a beautiful little place. The picturesque landscape was further enhanced by the fact that it is located banks of the mighty Narmada. And in the middle of this place was situated a small hut outside which Dr. Deepak Suchade awaited to welcome me. At first look, Deepak-ji would remind everyone of the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Thin, tall grey locks and grey beard. Dr. Suchade had been working on the organic farming for over 40 years. He lives in this small hut with his ageing mother and his young son, who lends a helping hand to his visionary father.

Deepak-ji quietly explained me the entire concept of NETECO farming. It is organic farming and much more. It is about spiritually attaching oneself with the soul of the earth. It is about being friends with the plants you grow. It is about allowing the insects and pests infiltrate your farm and enable the land to give rebirth. At first read, all this may seem to be too philosophical and theoretical. It did to me as well.

Dr. Dabholkar, a pioneer in the field of organic farming, had put in 40 years of extensive research. And as I filmed this unique method I realized that not only is it economically more viable but also leads to a higher yield. One of the main principles of NETECO science is that it does not require any tilling. All one needs to do is recycle the soil and the dead parts of the plants which we dispose so disdainfully. The concept of Amrut Jal and Amrut Mitti shows the capacity of cow dung and how it can multiply the fertility of the soil almost 5 times.

Dr. Dabholkar had proclaimed that an average farmer can live a contended life with just 10,000 square feet of land. 10 Guntha Zameen, as it is so named, can provide a farmer with not only food to eat, but also cloth, spices, oils, fruits, water and even medicinal plants to cure basic physical ailments. Dr. Deepak Suchade is a living example of this. In the one week that I stayed with him, everyday the food was made from the output provided by the farm in his backyard.

Another amazing concept for women farmers of India is the Ganga Maa Mandal. Patronized by an Australian Horticulturalist, Bill Mollison, it makes the rural Indian woman capable of looking after her own family and also produces extra for the market. He even has an acre land prepared for cultivation of necessary crops.

Other simple methods like pruning, root treatment and seed treatment ends up increasing the output of the farm. A 50 year old mango farm, in the village had not flowered in 5 years was pruned up to 70%. This led to the mango tree bearing fruit over the past 2 years.

The above mentioned methodologies mentioned are based on proven science. But as Deepak-ji so proudly says, “It is much more than science.” When he walks through the farm one can see that he has a personal relation ship with every plant which grows there. “Plants feel vibrations. If you are good with them, they feel it and make sure that they give us the best results.” Over the one week, many of the local farmers kept visiting Deepak-ji.

Undoubtedly he has a lot of respect in the area. People greet him with Naramada Hare or Ram Ram Guru-ji. Quite a few of them have come to him to speak to him about their agricultural problems. They have confessed to the fact that Deepak-ji’s farm has shown an amazing yield in just 2 years. The bananas and papayas are far greater in number than their huge plantations.

Now one must be wondering that if organic farming is so beneficial, then how come it is not applied nationwide. Well, the answer is quite simple. Politics! This form of farming had been going on for centuries. But the invasion of the British, led to the revamp of the entire agricultural processes of India. The usage of fertilizers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals increased. So much so that despite 60 years of independence we haven’t been able to wriggle ourselves out of the stranglehold.

Majority of the farmers still believe that chemicals are the way to go. The government does not apply subsidies to the vegetables produced out of the organic methods. Why? Well, quite simply because the government officials have to take care of their households, which happens with a large influx of money from the multi-national chemical industries who use us Indians as guinea pigs for their pesticides

This is one fact which is yet to fathom me. The so called pests are living organisms which breathe the same air and eat on the same food. Hence the chemicals which harm them are bound to harm us. Yet, the most of the fields are sprayed with the harmful chemicals. The very vegetables we consume are exposed to this pollution. Hence we too are taking in these harmful chemicals, thereby reducing our immunity.

The past decade has seen an increase in food crisis in India. Farmer suicides have been on the rise. The chemicals are not only harming our health, but also affecting the fertility of the soil. Nature has an amazing ability to recreate itself. It has been doing so for the millions of years. But the addition of artificial substances like genetically modified seeds prevents the natural processes to take place and thereby reducing the output.

With almost a decade gone into the 21st century, us urbanites are eagerly awaiting the time when we overtake the Chinese economy. We dream of booming stock market and a healthy infrastructure. All of this is great, but it seems that it will affect only about 30% of the entire population.

The remaining live in a village like Bajwara, hoping each year that they will be able to get themselves out of their problems. There are a few like Deepak-ji who are trying to help them. But alas, unless our own government wakes up and reintroduces the traditional form of farming, the future is very bleak.
Every year, after the festival of raksha bandhan the villagers in this part of India have a unique celebration called the hariya. On that day they dissolve all the enmities and differences they have with their native villagers. They give a grass of rice to every villager as a token of friendship.

As I stood their on the banks of the Narmada under the sinking sun, I couldn’t help but marvel at the irony. I think its time we dissolved the distance that we have developed between man and nature. Despite amazing the technological and industrial advances, India still is predominantly an agricultural nation. Our true wealth is being squandered.

The peacock called India is dying. It needs to be saved.