Love and Work in December 2017

As much as 2018 started with a bang, it was no way preceded by any lull or silence. There was furore of activity in December as well. As I sit down to write I have forgotten half of things that happened in this month. Thankfully my flickr  photostream comes to my rescue.

Work travel in December was a continuation of the one that begun in November. The things I did in December are:

  1. International Permaculture Conference (IPC)  in Hyderabad
  2. Meetings ( with a new team) in Maharashtra
  3.  Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region
  4. Andaman Islands on a holiday
  5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tiratgad, Chhattisgarh

1.IPC 2017 in Hyderabad

I went to this conference based on my mentor’s instruction to attend this workshop to know more about organic farming and natural farming. It was quite nice to see people from so many countries who practice permanent-agriculture ( permaculture) there. But somehow it felt like these people although they are doing their bit of good by practicing permanent agriculture had not really given enough thought on how to take it to the world. It is not that every organisation working on a issue take the onus to thinking for the entire world. But the sense I got from sitting through some of their sessions was that the folks who are practicing or endorsing permaculture seem to be living in a bubble.

The key speakers in the conference were Vandana Shiva and Rajendra Singh. They spoke in their oratory fashion boxing the criminals ( corporations ) and victims ( the farmers ) in clear containers. As usual  such simple narratives beget thunderous  applauses form the audience. But they gave a signal if they were serious about their  in the press-meet. There was this young journalist from Economic times who drilled these people on their speeches and asked what they thought was the way forward to address the problems they mentioned in their speeches.  The responses they provided were highly disappointing and made me feel sincerely sad about the state of activism in this country. None of them had a plan to solve the problem they have been shouting about for decades. All of them in their sixties and seventies were still regurgitating the same things they spoke a decade or more ago. The discourse is anti-state, anti-corporation and pro-poor/farmer. But they could not articulate WHAT should be the pro-poor steps to address the problems of the people they stand for. I wonder if they were really serious about solving the problems at all??

2. Meetings with ( new team) in Maharashtra: One of my volunteering work  on an environmental project took me to few meetings in Maharashtra, in the role of a policy professional.  Unlike my usual work routine where I am either alone or  with just another colleague ( most an old friend), I was not with a team composite of people with experiences 20 years more than mine and one other guy who is just a year older than me, but a veterans whose experiences can be easily pegged to be 10 years more than me, especially with respect to people management and running a big department. I must say I have never smiled or laughed so much in my work life before. These guys were just fantastic. With lifelong experiences and having being in very key positions in big Multinationals or having made change to lakhs of farmers or forest dwellers, they were just normal people. No baggage, no gloating images of themselves. Earlier my commitment to the project was because of my mentor and the environmental cause of it. But not its gotten only better. I have walking talking libraries of experiences embodied in these humble people. These people have seen how things happen in the ground , the hurdles and issues in solving any problem. But they are interested in solving the issues , quietly and consistently without making much noise.

I know this coded post with very little work details may not be a great interest to a reader, but this part is a reminder about the fun time I had with this team and exciting times that lay ahead.

3. Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region: The work in Maharashtra gave me an opportunity to meet the people in two parts of Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region. Maharashtra can be loosely divided into Western, Maratwada, Vidharba and the Konkan region. The project I mentioned above took me to the meetings in these two regions. The saying about India is that every few kilometers the culture, customs, language and flavour of food change. If one were to take this statement seriously, the observations I am about make will look obvious. But think about it, even within a state how people work, the resources  distribution,  limelight a region gets  and access to skilled manpower differ and there is a clear advantaged and disadvantaged region. If anyone wishes to work in a region, understanding these aspects become imperative. The time spent on understanding the background of a region will go a long way in designing and setting expectation from any work done in a region.

Larger characteristics of a two regions within a state that are quite stark.Western Maharashtra due to historical context and importance and proximity to Mumbai has strong hold of government establishments, political clout good number of educational institutions and therefore skilled manpower, established and professional Voluntary organisations, good access to both government and non governmental funds, good set up of technical agencies that work on development issues.

In the case of Vidharba region (infamous for its farmer suicides) is literally one of the backward regions of the country. This region is far from the capital, little urbanisation and industrialisation in comparison to Western Maharashtra, has access to plush government funds to mitigate farmers’ plight but little access to big non-governmental funds. The skilled manpower in the region is also not many , except some very conscious individuals who have by choice moved and set up small organisations in the region to work on the issues of the region. But the lack of access to big funding to voluntary organisations has lead to NGOs working with each other like friends and the informal networks are quite strong here. The lack of funds is a necessary condition but not sufficient condition for such kind of behaviour in the region. So to see such friendly, networked way of functioning that is facilitated by whatever means is worth noticing and lauding.

4. Andaman Islands on a holiday

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 A holiday that was totally organised by the  brotherinlaw to Andamans was an awesome break. We just had to pack our bags and make ourselves present in the island. The natural beauty of these islands made me dream about working from these islands for a year or so. The island looks like coastal towns of India from a decade ago.  The ride across the Baratang island to experience the closed Jarava territory was revealing and made one raise a lot of questions about this tribe.

The apparent  functioning of government system (from the interaction one had with the locals) seem far superior to the functioning of the state in the mainland. I would like to dig deeper and read more about it. But it seems, one need not look outside the country  for a functioning welfare state, it is right here in these islands. I am making this statement, mainly due to one stark fact. Everyone  use the ration shops. Everyone gets their rice and sugar from the ration shops for their personal consumption. Everyone who is well to do or not uses the ration shops. May be I am wrong in making this observation centric to my conclusion about functioning of the government in this state. I will validate this in a post when I get time.

While visiting the Marine Bio-reserve and recollecting about tsunami effect on these islands , the thing that kept coming back to me was, the issues of environment are so difficult to perceive. The islands look beautiful, green and lovely. Where is the biodiversity loss, who and what are being harmed due to changing climate. As a lay tourist, I cant see it so why will I believe it? If we really want our people to be conscious of the vagaries and loss of biodiversity and be responsible in our act in fragile regions, the issues of environment need to be made felt.

5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tirathgarh, Chhattisgarh

This is the magnificent #chitrakootfalls. It is magnificent. Returned to this place after a decade or so, was beautiful. Can you make out the #rainbow formed by sun rays falling on the dispersed water particles (#prismaticeffect ) been so long since I use

 This should have been the first note on the month. The month started with a long motorcycle ride with my partner to Tirathgarh and Chitrakoot falls from Raipur. These falls is quite beautiful and the ride was definitely worth it. Some observations on the state from the ride is , most of the roads from Raipur to these falls are good, towns and villages that we crossed are kept clean and compared to most other tourist places these falls are kept really clean and well. At Chitrakoot falls there are shops with art works from the state. The Bastar art work from this state is simply classic, subtle and of course beautiful. These art works are mainly from the Kondgaon region that one crossed on the way to these falls from Raipur. One can also drop by and meet the artisans and artists who produce these art works.

So thats was December and thus ended 2017.

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Field work and its shades of emotions

Field Work, interviewing a natural farmer in his shop, while he sells his non-chemical vegetable produce from his small outlet in Tanjavur

Interview with Murugan, a natural farmer in his vegetable shop

I usually try to keep my emotions aside when writing posts here at the TMN wordpress. But I have been flooded by many emotions during the field visit and also day after it. But I think emotions have been fundamental in most of the decisions I have made , especially regarding my career, work or study. I have never been practical , i.e. I never calculate “return on investment” on any activity of my life. Field visits have always made me more sensitive. But this time around the experience was very intense. I don’t know why! I am  unable to point to, what is ,what is it that I am experiencing. But , back in the city listening to myself complaining about the weather and other petty things , I  feel irritated. I want to hold on to those feelings evoked in the field even in my very urban and comfortable surroundings. I also feel lost in the city and there is a deep yearning  to  go back to places of feeling sensitive and being receptive and taking things as they come with little judgements.  This is a repetitive experience. I am trying to write down here to reflect, become aware and be conscious of the internal process.

I am back from the field visit from south of Tamil Nadu, in Thanjavur, I am lost. Its been more than 10 days away from this city and I feel lost. I am frozen. Going into field and begining work in different geography and in the rural setting happens quite seamlessly. But the switch from rural to urban settings takes effort. A conscious effort. At least one day goes in trying to understand the trouble in switching to the routine of the city.

As I try to gather myself to do work and study, I am trying to catch hold of some of the myriads of feelings that have engulfed me.

The lady : This time around in my field visit for my dissertation I had a lady volunteer come along with me from the day one until I finished it to help me get to all the farmers I had to interview. She was doing such efficient coordination, my work got done seamlessly. I was weighed down by the sense of gratitude towards her, the way she took interest and facilitated in meeting the farmers. I was so weighed down by this help of hers, I cried. I cried thanking her by the end. Just the way she was, made me wonder , if I will ever be like her ever. Offering to a cause with such dedication and intensity although it may not mean much to me. It looks like she was having a beautiful experience just being involved, although the task she was up to may or may not be of much consequence to her endeavors.

It was hot and satisfying:, 40 degree Celsius in the region, we were on a motorcycle, going from farmer to farmer meeting, interviewing and taking notes. It was tiring, physically fatiguing. On top of this I was also menstruating in this period. This was making the effort even more physically taxing. But I was satisfied, by the end of everyday, I was dead from work . What better way to end a day other than getting worn out by work!

The farmers:  were so generous with time and their offering us food, whatever they had to eat themselves, coconut water, buttermilk, bananas, and what not. This was as a part of interactions for my research where I am trying to understand the math of what farmers earn from toiling on their small land in a year.  I have not known anyone of them from before, this was the first time I am meeting them all.But without fail every one of them was offering something for us to eat or drink. One farmer meets me in between selling his fresh vegetable produce and answers my questions in the gaps between his customers, handing us some bananas to in between all the questioning. Another mechanic-farmer meets us in between his shop hours and answers patiently and shares his passion for the farming and pulls out and shows excitedly book by Fukuako’s natural farming, saying he wants to move to that form of farming next.  These people have small pieces of land,  3 acers or 4 acers. Not much really. But they have a passion to do something right. They are patient enough to share their experience between their business hours too.

Some of us may want to rationalize their willingness to meet me as a “small town phenomenon” or a “village phenomenon” where people from these regions are happy to meet us because we are from the “CITIES”. But this rationalization of the behavior can’t explain all aspects of their behavior, but the element of curiosity alone.

The hosts: I was living in a household of a doctor-teacher couple, who hosted me and took care of me so well. This is the first time I am meeting them. When in field, all of us know, a place to rest and write by the end sometimes is a luxury. They gave me a room for the entire period of stay. They were happy to host me, just because I was studying farming and its viability etc. Again I was feeling overwhelmed by the ease with which they let me into their house and handed me their house keys without batting an eye lid.

This is a repeated experience with my work, especially in rural areas. People are generous and welcoming and caring. Whereas they need not be this way. There is certain amount of guilt for getting the hospitality from the people who are vulnerable than myself. I don’t know if I can really work towards addressing even part of ONE of the issues they face.

Can I be at peace if I get all this support for my field work by paying up the services I received from the lady, farmer to the hosts? I don’t think so, even then  I can be at peace. Even I were to pay for all these services, their way of being kind and generous in non material aspects cant be paid for at all, this was the majority portion of what these people offered.These people are doing whatever they are doing without any expectation.

When I turn back look at all my visits in the past, I see there are so many people, so many of them who have made my work happen seamlessly over the years. I am weighed down heavily by all their support over these years. I don’t know, how to go abut this feeling. The feeling of indebtedness, the feeling of guilt of not having done enough, the feeling of wanting to do all the wrong right.

All of these feelings eventually are forgotten when the awkwardness of the cities is eroded by daily living in it. I wish I don’t forget the generosity of all the people and just do my work even more sincerely and meticulously and be of some consequence to all the effort and help offered by so many people. I want to wake up everyday with a sense of gratitude and love and devotion to all of the people who have come to nurture me in so many ways. I would rather want this sense of gratitude to drive me to do my best, to do what is possible.  I sincerely want to give my best. Lets see how long this bout of gratitude from the field remains.