Never underestimate the power of budgeting well!
In the beginning of this project, never imagining its possibilities, and having a limited vision, I never planned for a public event. "Public event? If that ragi sprouts and we get to eat it, it will be more than enough!" Ah. these low goals got me into trouble soon enough ...
Within a month of our starting the project, when we were exploring culture and Ragi linkages, Roshni sent me the song Ragi Tandira by Vasu Dixit. You can watch it here:
Boy. Oh Boy. What an apt song and what an apt treatment for us. Why not get Vasu to school and get him to perform? Will he come? When do we call him? now? later? significant date?will he charge us? how much do you think these celebs charge? where will we get the money? shall we fundraise for it? should teachers pay from pocket? etc. etc.
Finally, over a few months , we decided that bringing him to the annual mela of poorna will be too chaotic as other things will be going on. "Why not call him on children's day?" Roshni's suggestion was quickly implemented and we started our talk with Vasu (over Facebook messenger!) late October. Vasu was very approachable and agreed to perform instantly. But Money???? The school agreed to pay part costs for this event but a whole chunk of hiring sound equipment costs was a problem to fund. How do we source money for that? With a few tense days, we finally pulled it off as I got an approval to reassign some unspent funds to this from the university. Lesson learnt: Budget with some vision!
So with everything falling in place last minute , the school had a terrific Vasu Dixit show. Vasu was generous with his time with kids and really tried to understand the school's philosophy by talking and meeting people. Vasu came, sang and conquered our hearts! But the real winners were the teachers. Banu's silent leadership in providing space and support, Vanita's Ragi Rangoli and small crafty tokens for Vasu, Samhita's efforts in prepping kids to compere, Kanchana's and Shruti's efforts in getting kids to perform Ragi tandira, Roshni's coordination in getting the kids and parent community excited and best of all Aswini, Jalaja, Radha, Padma, Vasantha, Madhu and everyone else who helped made ragi laddoos for everyone to feast upon.
Sushama Sharma, who runs the Anand Niketan school in Sewagram had once remarked when I told her about the project early on, "you cannot have nai talim education without team work". Her words came alive on children's day. It was pure joy to hear kids hum Vasu's songs on their bus ride home and everyone's hearts were full of a day spent well where we all worked hard and we all worked together!
Have you read the Kahlil Gibran Poem, "Work is love made visible?"
I reproduce an extract in some disorder here:
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better
that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple
and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread
that feeds but half man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a
poison in the wine.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your
weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to
one another, and to God.
There was a lot of love that day and it was a heart warming sight.
For pictures of this day, do visit our Facebook page post here: https://www.facebook.com/ragiproject/posts/506092316426250
"We (Ashwini, Jalaja, Dipika, Reena) accompanied the Zeta (class 4) children to the farm yesterday. It was a welcome break from the classroom sessions and a relief to have an alternative space, in the absence of Ali’s farm. The sun was gentle and it was a perfect weather to enjoy the day on the Ragi field. The field was green and fresh with the recent rains that attracted a lot of butterflies, insects and birds. The kids were immersed in the field in their own ways-some looking at the spiders, ants, the beetles and the little yellow butterflies and dragon-flies that caught all our attention. A few were on the look-out for their friend the ‘gecko’ on the compound wall.
“The plants have grown really tall - as tall as us!" exclaimed the kids. The two acres of sprawling Ragi field (ours and the neigbouring farmer's included) was a beautiful sight, with blades of green leaves swaying in the quite breeze and so much life!
Mr. Shamanna, the farmer growing Ragi on Radha’s remaining land was present in his field while also lending a hand in the construction work at Radha’s. He enthusiastically came over to our field and spent some time with us. He took great pride in sharing his knowledge about the crop that he has been growing for years. He held the Ragi flowers in his hand and told us that they would be ready in about a month’s time for harvesting He showed us the various varieties of Ragi that have come up in our plot. The little plot of ours have about Four varieties of Ragi growing!!!!
The flowers (or infloresence) with long thin petals are called kadimurukinna Ragi (given by the ‘paramathma’ or God himself, as Shamanna puts it), which is the oldest and the first variety, the second one being Indaf 9, long, thin and straight petals in the inflorecence, the Indaf 5 that is curved inside and slightly longer than Indaf 3 where the inflorecence is more stout and curved. The petals in each inflorecence vary from five to seven depending on the variety. He also pointed to the ones with disease. He then explained the process of harvesting either manually or through machines. With so many enthusiastic young farmers and the limited size of our plot, we will harvest manually. Mr. Shamanna certified that our Ragi is of better quality - thanks to the methods that we’ve adopted( applying Jeevamruta/ composting/ mixed cropping) . It takes effort and planning and maybe that's why organic products are more expensive?
Shamanna also brought to our attention, the several visitors to the field and the fact that they have already tasted our Ragi before us - the rats, the rabbits, the ants and other insects. (He showed the Rabbit's poop in a corner, for proof :) He counted the poop balls and only then declared it to be of the rabbit's ) He says that the ploughing, sowing, reaping the harvest are all very humbling as the nature provides not just the sower his food, but also invites the others to partake in the produce. Translating his words, “only after all these creatures have eaten their fill, then what is left is what we (humans) are entitled to. That’s the way nature works”.
What a beautiful concept of giving and taking!
Shamanna also told us the story of the scare-crow, how the scare-crow takes the role of a son-in-law, who is entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the field. We took a video of him telling us that story.
We thanked Shamanna for his time and did a quick recap of what we learnt .
We then observed a few minutes of ‘Silent time’ for reflection. Amidst giggles and humming, we ended the silent time and went out of the field and sat down on the tar road to do some writing and sketching.
The kids wrote down their observation, drew pictures and also sighted the usual visitor the ‘Gecko lizard’ on the compound wall. We ended the session by guessing the quantity of yield that our plot would produce. We got some very conservative figures of two kilo grams to a highly optimistic figure of 2000 kilograms and a few of them came up with a figure of 50-90 kilograms!!!
Ashwini announced a gift for those whose guesses would be close to the actual figure. The kids are waiting to see if their guess turn out right and are keeping their fingers crossed!
When Asha took the class 3 kids for weed hunting, we observed so many things on the farm apart from Ragi, Tuwar, and Beans that we had sowed. I was really keen that we introduce the kids to the idea of Foraging on the farm and went back home to search for resources online.
As usual, the internet resource pool is amazing - a very quick search revealed so many useful ideas.
Here is what I explored: 1. https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/may/09/how-to-teach-foraging
Roshni also found a nice resource called a handbook on weed identification by Dr. V.S.G. R Naidu and made a list of all what we had seen on the farm with Asha and Laksh a week before.
1. Nella Nelli https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllanthus_niruri
2. Catnip https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catnip
3. Crowfoot Grass https://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Crowfoot%20Grass.html (I think this is what looked like ragi the other day?)
4. Touch me not Mimosa pudica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimosa_pudica
5. Creeping woodsorrel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxalis_corniculata
A lesson plan (see the relevant section on the website for it) , a worksheet , and full of ideas Roshni was all set to take the Class 5 kids! It was fantastic-- GowriShankar was excited to find manathakkali or wonder berry at the farm; Chandan showed us how to check if ragi was ready;
(these are kids of parents who are actively farming)( I often get asked in interviews if kids know the source of their food. I have to really smile at the question, these kids are our teachers, they know much much more than what we think we need to teach them.When we explore ways where we can value their knowledge- everyone learns!); we all compared berries and tasted ragi flowers; Manju saadhya and Gawri measured tallest Ragi and Tuwar plants ; There was a bit of discussion on plants and medicinal value. And the Homework was to write & illustrate one home remedy/kashaya/kaadha recipe.
Roshni designed a clever worksheet around the timeline of Ragi's growth and of writing down observations with a nice space for them to draw their favourite moment on the farm!
Of course there were some "ouch" moments- In order to spend some quiet time observing, and stepping barefoot on soft sand , we soon came to realise they were home to red ants!!! EEKS!