She walked away from her hut, into the brisk breeze settling in outside. His dusty feet dangled on her waist. Hers broke into sores. And yet, she walked. Her feet, seared from the heat, scurried along lanes that led to erstwhile farmlands. A horde of fledgelings squawked in her path dodging her goats astray. She never stopped. Like a lily on a heath, she rose; rose high above the desolation of her broken spirit…
Jagallurappa paused awhile in rapt attention. His languid gaze fell upon the goat herder who disappeared into empty fields. “There’s very little left for us. Everyone is fighting hard to survive. Our hearts may be filled with helplessness but somewhere there lies hope too. So, we strive to keep it alive. Ade namma kathe,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
His sullen jowl gave away his despair. Upon seeing his grandchildren step towards him wearily, he wore a pleasant smile and asked them to join him.
It was almost noon and we decided to head back. We thanked Devaraj and Jagallurappa for their kindness and left. En route, Arun suggested that we meet one of his old friends Marallusidappa S, a natural farmer, who resided in Nagarakatte. “His work is a stellar example of what could be achieved if a farmer puts his heart and soul into agriculture. He has dedicated his life towards nurturing organic farming and instilling the importance of such practices in the agrarian sector,” he said pointing at a tiny road that swerved to our right. The car lurched over the unpaved narrow road lined with a myriad of tiny buildings. We pulled over at the end of the street beside his house.
His wore a questioning look as he spotted us walk towards him. Arun stepped forward and greeted him with a big smile. “Aarama iddira?,” said the farmer urging us to step inside. As we settled in, Marallusidappa left the main door ajar and sat beside us.
Across the room, stacks of rice were neatly piled on the eastern side. An old woman with silver streaks in her hair bent over examining the scattered grains in great detail. Her frail hands trembled. The entire room was shrouded in faint whiffs of uncooked rice.
“It’s all organic,” he said breaking our reverie, “I have had a decent harvest this time around but not better than last year. Rains have reduced and the weather is turning volatile by the year. We cant blame anyone but ourselves. We did this to ourselves. And, the only way we can bring about change is together.”
His mother listened to him glumly and occasionally nodded as she heard him speak. Her calloused fingers strummed a mindless tune on the wooden chair. Soon, her grip slackened as she stood up to attend to someone. Beneath the frailty of her physical features, lay the spirit of a survivor.
“Appaji passed away when I was in 10th grade. So, I had to take up the responsibility of running the household at a very young age. However, in reality, it was my mother who worked every single day to ensure that we never slept hungry. I would always accompany her to the fields. I learnt how to sow a seed and nurture a sapling to life from her. She has always been a sensitive human being and therefore it’d reflect in her work. She taught me how to use a weed cutter without harming the plant whilst ensuring their roots aren’t tampered with. Plants feel everything, she said. We don’t use any heavy machinery even today,” said the farmer as he instructed his son to prepare some tea. “She finds her solace in tending to plants,” he added.
Above us hung several photographs and certificates of honour bestowed upon him by the the state and central government. His progressive ideologies with respect to natural farming have been adopted by farmers and institutions all over the country. However, many in the region are still quite apprehensive about adopting traditional farming methodologies for they fear they might run into severe loss.
“I have complete faith on the earth. You have to trust nature. You need to give the land time to heal itself. You need to be mentally strong to take losses for the first few years. It takes three years to replenish the soil once it is free of chemical contamination. We cant just give up after trying for a few weeks. One can always start with a small patch of land. That’s what I did. I realised that excess usage of fertilisers and chemicals had destroyed the soil cover over the years. I couldn’t understand its character anymore. So, in 2005, I started making fundamental changes to my life and that included altering my perspective on farming. Agriculture has always been an integral part of my life and it is imperative I understand and respect the synergy of our co-existence with nature,” said Jagallurappa.
They had gone through it all, together. His mother and him. Some days, there was happiness. Some days, they dealt with loss. Then, there were days where every moment was a struggle. But they had each other. “Those were tough times,” he recalls setting his cup on the table. “Perhaps, our situation augmented the need to make changes in our existing practices. For the longest time, our home wreaked of pesticide and chemicals. I could smell them everywhere. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Besides, the continuous rise in prices wasn’t benefitting our economic situation at all. And, that’s when I started improvising my existing techniques and adapting new technologies that would result in better yield and clean food. I wanted to do something that would not only benefit my family but farmers in general. How long would we consume food laced with toxic substances?” he asked.
His mother stood up once more. Her gait staggered but her steps didn’t falter. She moved steadily towards the heap as a villager walked into the hall. Ajji, they called her. And, she answered with a smile. “It’s the least I could do for us,” Marallusiddappa whispered, “It’s the least we deserved. Clean food. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for now, is it? If we need to bring about a massive transformation on a larger scale, we need to start with ourselves. That’s where we must find our beginning. Within ourselves.”
(to be continued)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.