We let a week go by after transplanting since the rain gods had smiled at us and every other day it was a rainy evening,
We visited the farm with some compost that Vasantha arranged for us from FRLHT , Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions ( http://envis.frlht.org/frlht.php) and decided to give our little plants an organic boost.
We line up near the main gate right before we go to the farm. While the children line up, the teachers run around collecting our equipment- tools, bucket and usually each other. We should get better and better at this but somehow we don't .
There were some groans and "oh nos!" from some of the kids. 3-4 boys of Class 6 had revolted earlier as well and said they didn't want to come. We decided to give the kids who felt "feverish" and "had sudden stomach aches" an option and stay back but do something constructive with their time. I quipped - let's make them do 20 Maths word problems!
To both actions- Indira, my colleague at APU and the founder of the school , had something to say when I later discussed this with her. She hinted that we should have more time to talk it out with children who refuse to participate in a school activity before we take their 'Nos' at face value and she chided me about demonising Maths as an inferior /harder alternative. hmmm.
Laksh was able to come this time. The farm looked happy and green. The adjoining space also had got tilled (by the tractor) and Ragi and beans were sown by a seasoned farmer that Radha had contracted her land to. We had to walk with care around the plot and leave our shoes behind. He was amused at our efforts and was enthusiastic to talk with us about the varieties of Ragi seeds. Jalaja decided to ask him to come to school and talk to us about his farming experience. She also quickly noted down the cost of farming conventionally which I thought was very useful for our future discussions( the tractor/ the seeds/ urea/ water /labour)
Together we all mixed the compost with the soil (the kids were very enthusiastic about the mix) and filled smaller buckets . We used hands to shovel some of the mix and spread it around the plants row by row. After Seena's intervention, we always stop and look more carefully at the diverse insect population that plays peekaboo with us. All this took us less than an hour to do so. We decided not to water this time as the rains were plenty and also as Radha and Laksh both reassured us- "Ragi doesn't need too much water. Now it will survive!"
As I walked back with Laksh while the students and teachers went to school , Laksh confessed, " I didn't think you guys would make it so far. I doubted the seed quality, your watering was erratic, and the soil needed nutrients. But look at the farm now! Now it will grow and you will surely harvest some Ragi!" And then he went on to mention: "The teachers in the group knew what they were doing.. You didn't need me at all actually!" Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!
Again, I remembered Narayan Reddy's words to Roshni over the phone which were something like -- 'you are doing it all wrong but may God be with you! '
When we had returned from transplanting last week , random conversations in the staff room were about the rural-urban divide. Madhu had poignantly remarked, " Never in my 26 years of existence , somebody even mentioned to me that agriculture is important.. my success in life was all about getting away from my rural farmer identity... "
Sreeja remembered how practices like releasing ducks in paddy were common in her farm when she was growing up, The connections between this gift economy- pastoral communities letting loose their ducks in villagers farms in exchange of a few days of shelter benefited all- their dung added free compost; the ducks got to eat worms, and the farmers' children got duck eggs to eat and if they were lucky got to keep a duckling or two who had strayed behind !
These gently ways then are only romantic ideas now. Or are they? Can we not take the good of the past based on gentle , frugal, sustainable lifestyles and reinvent it in these times? If you have watched "The Story of Stuff", http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ you might remember the hope that the anchor, Annie Leonard, gives at the end...
"Some people say it’s unrealistic, idealistic, that it can’t happen. But I say the ones who are unrealistic are those that want to continue on the old path. That’s dreaming. Remember that old way didn’t just happen by itself. It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it. And we’re people too. So let’s create something new."