Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fallow Land

I went to Kerala in October for a few days. The billboards confused me, so many of them. Gold and Money Deposit seem to be the only interests the Malayalis have these days, seemingly. No wonder Mr Tharoor thought IPL would do well for the Gulf diaspora as entertainment. The  advertising bill boards are so huge that the dwarf coconuts are quite hidden. One just cannot see Kerala anymore, the Kerala one knew. We are often told to Adapt or Die. I am not sure that's an ideological option. Because of commercialisation, the Malayalis were quick to see that their future lay in professional careers and that is an option that many of our families chose in the early 20th century. Why we expect slavery  and rice agriculture to continue is anybody's guess, except that a new generation of Agricultural officers in Kerala are interested in red rice and biodiversity.  Agriculture and love for nature are still ingrained in many of us, and the job of the farmer is one of the hardest that we can imagine.

When I first shifted to my new house in JNU after ten years in a very tiny cozy flat on the highest point of the Ridge called Poorvanchal, I was delighted by the garden the previous tenant had left behind, following a twenty year stay. Mrs Rao, wife of Prof D.N. Rao the economist, had planted hibiscus, (for her pujas perhaps) and drumsticks, tamarind, curry leaves, lemons, plantains, mangoes, neem....That garden delights me even now, and when some plant dies from old age or termites, I quickly replace them. Mrs Rao visits the house once every year, out of nostalgia though she lives in Canada now, and it's always lovely to see her because she has lots to say about gardening. And ofcourse about the Snake which would visit the house on 23rd September every year. "He just slides in and looks around, he never harms anyone." I looked basilisk at her and said "Yes, I noticed the large snake holes in the garden, so I blocked them with large rocks, and planted garlic all around the house, singly in pods..I heard him say " I live here" and I replied to him  "Ofcourse you do, but now we do too, so don't disturb us." Sometimes I hear the kindly snake at night, and the squeal of the dying mouse he has caught. If I did not hear voices would I be a novelist?

Gardening and farming are completely different exercises. The fact that Logan's Malabar extolls the Malayali's passion for gardening is a historical phenomenon. Where ever they find even a small pot, they will immediately set about to plant something, whether it is a grain of mustard seed, or coriander or mango or curry leaf. They do this in New York and in Dubai, and very likely in Brunei. Intensive Agriculture has depended on this imagination of the Malayalis, which makes co-existence a natural part of life.
And ofcourse Malayalis like all other peasants in India famously went to their fields to defaecate. Fukoka wrote about it, Indians practised it...organic manure was readily produced every morning by agriculturists and their labourers.