Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Walk

Whenever I get a chance, I try to walk to Juhu beach which is about 3 km from my home. The brisk walk makes good exercise to the body during the refreshing morning hours which are supposed to be high in oxygen. I reach the sandy beach which is quite clean these days with squads of cleaners put on the constant call of duty. I reach my regular spot near the coconut trees away from the entrances which bring people in. There are generally less people around that place during the morning time.

Mumbai is an epitome of dense population in India. While I sit there I watch people walking on the beach. The sheer diversity of people always amazes me. There are people who are walking with their sandals, shoes and even barefoot. There are rich, middle class and poor. There are some foreigners intermingled amongst locals. Even dogs are diverse. There are inescapable stray dogs of the city and the dogs which get love and affection of their owners. Some dogs are so fat that you feel sorry for the thin boys who have to carry them being in the service of their masters' houses. Some people walk fast while some walk so slow that it gives a doubt whether they are really there for the exercise. Then there are men and women in their fifties and sixties who congregate in exercise cum laughter clubs, the activities of which I am yet to make any sense.

Today one tall white man catches my attention. He stands near the tidal waters. He does not look here and there but completely concentrates on his Yogic stretches. People pass by him but he continues with his routine. With his bright blue clothes, slim athletic figute, it makes a beautiful site on the background of vastness of the sea, enough to make one want to click a photograph or make a painting by requesting him to be in that pose for a while. But it reminds me of my own Yoga schedule which I am supposed to complete today before heading back home. I hurriedly start on it.

After completing Yogasanas and some Pranayama exercises, I try to sit still, close my eyes and focus on the breath. After a while I start enjoying the sound of the sea. All other sounds which are forming the cacophony go in the background and seem unimportant. Its a sheer pleasure not immediately to the senses but going much deeper to the soul. I sense some people passing by. I hear the kids playing cricket and some dogs barking. All of these sounds are secondary. They do not make much of a difference while sound of the sea remains constant.

I want to hold that state of being for long but I can not. I open my eyes for all the things back at home and work are calling me. I thought I had to answer that call since escaping that would not be a right thing to do. I lose that concentration and start walking back to home while still thinking about the experience. I find that the challenge would actually lie in grasping that peaceful wave of sound at any time amongst the surrounding cacophony. I find that with such human density putting a huge demand of attention on you, it is going to be a very difficult task. Welcome to the new realisation about being born in India, which is also the birthplace of Yoga.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Yoga at Kaivalyadham, Lonavala

01 September 2013

Kaivalyadham is a pioneering institution in Yoga for its research, education and promotion. Swami Kuvalayananda gave Yoga a scientific backing first time in its history and took it to the masses instead of keeping it in the hands of few ascetics. Unlike other Hindu institutions of Yoga, it presents the secular nature of Yoga and mainly deals with its practice, application and philosophy while applying the necessary scientific rigour.

I had read in brief about Swami Kuvalayananda in an old Marathi book on physical exercises. When I decided to take help of Yoga for curing of some health problems, name of this person came to my mind. After searching and pondering about how to go about this Yoga business, I zeroed in on Kaivalyadham since that seemed to be the only best option available.

When I went there on 28th July, I was really pleased to find myself in a peaceful campus spread over an expanse of 100 acres. The weekly health schedule for which I had registered was having a strange mixture of folks who had crossed their fifty and young people in their twenties. I was an odd one in the late thirties. The people were from different walks of life. There were businessmen, high and mid level executives, housewives, students and also some foreigners. Some had registered for a separate cottage while a single person like me was on a budget accommodation without an attached bathroom and toilet. I have to mention however that the treatment and attention which was given to everybody was same. There was an efficient and responsive system in place with the people working there giving a personal touch to their work. Even the person who cleaned my room always greeted me with a smile and did his job well.

My intentions while going there were clear. I wanted to learn Yoga, get exposed to naturopathy (although I did not believe in it) and do some introspection without disturbance. My first two objectives were achieved while the third one was not. But I don’t think Kaivalyadham could do anything about it.

When I came to know that there is also an advanced class of Yoga that goes on, in the introductory session I asked whether I could move from basic to advanced class gradually during the week since I already knew some Yogasanas. I received a straight forward answer from Subodh Tiwari, the secretary of the institute, that Yoga is not acrobatics. When I started my basic classes under the expert guidance of Vibha Shah and Sandip Wankhede, I did realise that it was true. I was doing it as an exercise earlier and it was a completely new paradigm of body and mind awareness. I had to do a lot of unlearning in the first three days and the things became easier afterwards.

I have not yet been able to really figure out how this naturopathy works. I went through the treatments which were suggested to me just without questioning anything and having just trust that it would surely do no harm at least. However I thoroughly enjoyed steam bath and the massages. There are so many points in one’s body which can give you relaxation if a positive pressure is applied to them. We in India always have had this body of knowledge but still nowhere it has been brought to the forefront and still there are no systematic training institutes for the same. Something seriously needs to be done about it. I asked this question to the masseurs as well as doctor. All of them answered the same that it is still all about getting this knowledge here and there and it is all on the job.

Outcome of this entire week was stunning. In spite of not controlling my food intake (yes they served very healthy but very tasty food), I reduced 3 kg of weight in mere six days. I felt light and elated even after returning. While I climbed the stairs of the station to catch my daily commuter train, I did not get tired at all unlike before.

The challenge in front of me now is not just how to maintain this state of body and mind but how do I improve upon it in my regular life.

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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Visit to Kadvanchi Part II

18 June 2013

Continued from Part I

We pass through the main village habitation locally called Gavthan. To our initial surprise the Gavthan is full with dilapidated abandoned houses. Only a few houses are open with some old ladies moving around and doing some chores. Some are seen in extremely poor condition. We ask Nandu, the local volunteer youth who is accompanying us, why it was so. “Most of the villagers have gone into their field for staying. They have built houses there and abandoned their main houses in the village. You have to give proper attention to your farm which has very high value assets.” He told. That sounded great sense.

I asked Nandu how much would be the average income of the grape farmers. He said, “average net income per year goes to about 1 million Rupees per farming household in this village. Even the landless labourers here are skilled ones and earn about 2 lakhs in a year. One needs skilled labour for pruning and harvesting of grapes. Most of these labourers are part of the labour groups who take the work on contract basis. Some have gone further and have purchased lands in the village from this income and they are no longe landless. Some of the poor houses which you saw in the Gavthan are actually recent migrants came here in search of work and not the original villagers.”

We visit one farm of Mr. Chandrakant Kshirsagar. The house was completely empty since the entire family had gone somewhere out. Here you can not just go to a house and expect that they would be there available to meet you.This farmer has more than 25 acres of land half of which has been developed into orchards of grape and pomegranate. There is also a greenhouse where he cultivates bell peppers. He has a very big pond which has a storage capacity of 20 million litres. The water is drawn from his 4 wells during the rainy season whenever it is available and stored in the ponds. The irrigation is then given to the land through drip pipelines.

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A lined farm pond with 1 million litre capacity

My scepticism was not completely gone away. I asked Nandu, “What about the small farmers having 2-3 acres of land. How do they manage.” Nandu himself was a young farmer with small holding. He and his brother together manage their 5 acres of land, 2 acres of which is irrigated. On about 0.5 acre, there was a small farm pond. There was about 0.5 acres of grapes. About 0.5 of acre is devoted to Pomegranate and 1/4th of an acre has one shednet covered greenhouse standing on it. Rest of ¼ acre is used for house and animal barns etc. But that did not complete picture. The interspaces in pomegranate had neat rows of rainfed Soybean and we also spotted a patch of vegetables near house. I peeked into the shed net structure. There was a green uniformly grown stand of sorghum. That was sweet sorghum. It gives higher fodder yields under shed net. They would also get some grains for home use. After harvesting he will be planting chillies in there. He showed me an arrangement where all the waste water from the house was getting collected in a tank and then pumped into drip lines. He first started using that in this year’s drought and he could save his pomegranate plot with it. After seeing this, large number of farmers made this arrangement on their own for themselves. That was really a ‘wow’ moment for me as the last bit of my scepticism had vanished then.

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Nandu with his 2 acre land

This much is the physical part of the story. There is a great philosophical and theoretical angle to it about which I shall post in coming two days. Keep reading. Your comments are most welcome.

Continued in Part III

Visit to Kadvanchi Part I

18 July 2013

I visited Kadvanchi village in Jalna district of Maharashtra yesterday. The village has been in the news especially since its success of showing Maharashtra how a large number of farmers in a single village can have millionaire farmers. It is not just the simple money brought in through grape farming but how community based efforts for soil and water conservation work have helped to develop and sustain that prosperity in the village.

I visited the village with Mr. Pandit Vasare, Agricultural engineer from a local NGO, Marathwada Sheti Sahayak Mandal. In spite of watching the video documentary on YouTube, I was very much sceptic about it. “It might be just the story of some few handfuls of rich farmers in the village who have prospered due to improved water availability”, I was thinking.

As we entered the village boundary, Mr. Vasare started explaining me about the watershed, its ridge lines, drainage lines and where do they start. Nicely done and well maintained field bunds had not allowed water and soil to go out of the fields. Many of the cotton plots were seen with vigorous plants with drip irrigation lines provided to them. Then he showed me one distant grape farm. Near to the farm is one farm pond which has been lined with plastic. My scepticism was still persisting. But as we moved further this scheme of grape plots accompanied by plastic lined ponds seemed to be just scattered all across the area.

While we were standing there, some farmers stopped by as they are passing by. More than greeting an outside officer like me, that was to say hello to Mr. Vasare. They start talking about grape and cotton crops and recent weather advisories. I ask them about how their watershed is doing these days. They tell me the story of how they could maintain their grape farms during the drought period this year in even lesser water quantities than the ones recommended to them. The village has about 500 households of which approximately 300 have grape plantation of at least half acre. There are few who have grapes planted on more than 20 acres. Every farmer having grape is also having a farm pond as per its own requirement. They told me about the periodic work they undertake through their watershed committee. They want to undertake some major maintenance work with the funds available with the committee. One person who is active in the committee tells Mr. Vasare, “This time We do not want anything from you, no funding support or even your technical expertise. But please just be there when we start the work.”

We finally reached one last highest spot in the village which is a large stretch of sloping land and is community owned grazing land locally called as ‘Gairaan.’ Mr. Vasare showed us the treatments done in that area and how it has helped to increase the ground water levels downstream. The treatments have not just helped percolation of water in the ground but it has improved the vegetation in the area. Apart from the plantation done, due to proper protection a large number of native plants and trees have started to grow in spite of the free grazing allowed in the area these days.

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‘Gairaan’ treated with vegetational and soil conservation treatments 

--------- Continued in Part II-------

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Some Glimpses of Drought in Maharashtra

Day I 11 March 2013
Agro-climatically speaking the central part of Maharashtra is drought prone. With average rainfall of 400 mm per year that too distributed only for four months of the year, there are chances of some years getting less than average. This year ie in the monsoon season in year 2012, the rainfall received in this region was below 200 mm. The area has never been assured of a certain amount of rainfall every year but history has it that it has rarely gone below 200 mm. The soil type commonly found in this area is called black cotton soil and has very high clay content. The soil does not allow the percolation of water in the ground easily making ground water resources very scarce.
I visited this region this week and spent 3 days in this drought affected area speaking with people and visiting their fields. Here is reportage and my commentary on the same.
My first stop was Karmala. Though technically this Taluka in Solapur district falls in drought prone area, a larger number of its villages are not affected by the drought since they get benefit from the backwater from the dams which surround this Taluka. Then within those generally unaffected villages there are those households which get water and those which do not. Because of abundance of water that is available in the reservoirs surrounding this area, sugarcane farming has picked up a lot and there are 4 sugar factories which provide a ready market for the farmers’ produce. Farmers find it remunerative not because it offers good prices and good productivity but it is the easiest crop to grow. It requires less labour and marketing is not a problem. Sugarcane factories employ workers to harvest sugarcane and take it to the factory. Farmers just go and collect the payments. It is known as a lazy man’s crop, with a large number of farmers falling for this crop.
I meet some farmers who belong to a nomadic tribe called Dhangars. Dhangars have been traditionally engaged in sheep herding. These days they have settled and do not practice nomadic lifestyle. Their crops have failed this year and their wells and borewells used for irrigation have dried up. Thanks to their large herds of goats and sheep maintained by them, they still have some source of income left alive. With two hand pump operated tubewells still giving out water, their demands of water for home use and feeding livestock are being met.
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A Dhangar farmer with his sheep and goats.
I meet one more farmer from Dhangar tribe who does not keep any livestock these days. His well has almost dried up. He can no longer irrigate his sugarcane crop. The meagre quantities of water that become available after 7-8 days are used for survival of his lemon plantation. He is not sure about the availability of the water in the coming months. Still he thanks for the soil conservation work that was undertaken in the area. The well which could have dried two months back like the others in the village has not still completely dried up because of that work.
We meet an officer from the local agricultural department to understand agriculture under the drought conditions. A local political leader comes there to meet him. He wants a copy of the plan developed by the agricultural department for the area so that he can go to the minister and do some advocacy for the same. I found that the leader was talking a lot about his connections to leaders like Sharad Pawar and Ajitdada Pawar and boasting about his not minding to go to ministers from other party for getting drought mitigation work done in his area. At no point he discussed what actually needed to be done as solution for the drought.

Day II, 12 March 2013
I was told on the earlier day that approximately 20 plus villages have been severely hit by the drought. We visited that area to develop a better understanding of the situation.
Village of Sode has a small hamlet of Pardhi people. This tribe is the one which has been engaged in robberies and theft. They have a unique dialect of their own which cannot be easily understood by the other people. These 20 families are amongst the few who have received permanent houses. An NGO called Mahatma Phule Samajik Sewa Mandal has undertaken the work of their settlement. We talk with them about water, they start complaining that the local borehole is discharging very little quantities of water. For filling one pot of 20 lit it takes them 1 hour. If that water stops, they are going to have very hard time since the disputes between the main village and their habitation have not stopped.
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A hamlet of the Pardhi community
Neighbouring village of Salshe hosts a fodder camp. Visit to the camp brings one to the realisation how severe is the condition. The camp is run by the local dairy co-operative with financial support from government. Farmers were not complaining much about the fodder camp and were thankful for their services. There were total of about 1000 animals tied in the camp. The farmers were also staying in the same camp looking after their own animals. The animals were fed sugarcane which is not a natural fodder for them but there was no other option since large number of farmers have started cutting down their sugarcane prematurely because of lack of irrigation water. Farmers were telling us that after prolonged feeding on sugarcane the mouths of the animals get wounds. It was very sad to see the high milk yielding cross bred cows, strong bullocks and beautiful young calves tied in that fodder camp but there was no other way they could be saved. The grants that are given to the organisations running those camps is very meagre being only 70 Rs per day per animal, in which they have to manage the entire fodder and water supply for the camp.The local dairy cooperative is doing its best to help out the local people. Farmers questioned, "we can go anywhere in this world and survive somehow, but how can our animals do that? Something will have to be done for them."
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A Fodder Camp
We come back to Sode to visit farm of Sanjay Chaudhari. He shows me various water harvesting structures developed in the village. Most of these have been built at wrong sites and do not store water for long. Many of these have faulty construction with most of the water getting leaked out within a short period of time after entering in the dams. Sanjay Chaudhari’s farm has some green patches that stand out from the parched landscape. He uses only drip system to irrigate his fodder plots which are being used for his cattle. His well has already gone dry and his borewell is giving very slow discharge. He told me that while all the farmers neglected their Sorghum crop, he cultivated it by using drip irrigation. By that way he could get 18 quintals of grain from 0.8 ha of area. He tells me that had the water supply been proper, he is sure that it would have given him 40 quintals of grain. I believe him.
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A dried open well
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A lone surviving fodder plot of Sanjay Chaudhari
We visit a village called Nanavare vasti, where Dhanaji Nanavare and many like him had planted guava, lemon and pomegranate orchards. All the borewells which were being used for the irrigation had completely gone dry. The entire orchards had dried up and dead. One lone surviving lemon orchard of Dhanaji was also on the verge of death as the last water source had just dried up four days back. With still three dry months to go farmers had lost their hope. The village is also suffering as it has become dependent on the supply of water from the government, which sends a tanker every four days. Many of them do not have bigger storage tanks and face difficulty. The excess of water that is not taken by the villagers is poured in the village well and later on pumped to the village tank. It results in huge losses of water but nobody can help with it.As we left Nanaware vasti and started on the main road towards Solapur, a dead stray buffalo lying in the field catched my eye. There was nothing we could do about it and just kept driving further.
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A dried Guava plantation of Dhanaji Nanavare
Day III- 13 March 2013
I visited a residential school run by an organisation called Jnana Prabodhini. This school having more than 600 students tried to run on the meagre water supplies bought from other people in the viscinity. They had to close the session early because of early water storage. The campus has huge orchard spreading on 50 acres and with lack of irrigation, the story is the same as was seen before in the villages. The lemon orchard has dried up. Ber and guava orchards cannot produce fruits this year. Their only hope is 300 mango and some tamarind trees which has a good bearing because of use of water conservation measures such as drip irrigation and mulching. Dr. Anna Tamhankar, the founder of the school, had grafted a number of varieties on a single seedling originated mango tree some years back. This beautifully shaped tree still stands strongly and majestically on the dry black landscape just like Dr. Tamhankar who has been able to manage such big school in spite of the huge difficulties in front of him.

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A mango tree, still lush green in spite of the drought
I move further to a town called Umarga. I am speaking with the local staff of the organisation called Samaj Vikas Sanstha and they tell me that the town gets water supply every 15 days. The electricity supply is also erratic and majority of the times the job of pumping water from the borewells has to be done in the mid night. The women laughingly told me that because of that it has reduced the number of robberies in the town as people remain awake and the town remains lively till late after midnight.
My last conversation with the local community takes place at a village called Handral which lies on the border with neighbouring Gulbarga district of Karnataka. It is placed on a higher rocky ground from where gently rolling hills slope down towards a northern dry plateau of Maharashtra. Being far away from both the headquarters, the village receives little attention from the district as well as taluka administration. The village had received number of awards for their well managed drinking water supply scheme. The open well has gone dry there and the neighbouring bore well is giving out small amounts of water. The villagers can not pump water directly from the borewell and link it to the village supply because of smaller capacity of pump and lesser discharge. They pump it and take it to the well. After four to five days, once there is enough water available in the well, they lift it to the main water tank and supply it to the village. Out of the 165 families in the village, almost 150 families have some or other person gone to the cities in search of manual labour work. They say that if water situation worsens further, we might find the village completely empty after a month. 
The villagers show us a spot where there are two springs which are emitting tiny flow of water which have made a muddy puddle on the ground. There might be some more springs down there in the ground and clogged due to mud. They request us to help for its development. The NGO people tell them to do some voluntary labour and clear that muddy spot, after which they will be bringing in some help for them. Villagers are not sure but they say it might be possible. The NGO head, Bhumiputra Wagh tells them that they would come again and the villagers will have to tell them their decision. Villagers agree for that. They might come together for that work or might not. Whether the solution will help them or not, I don’t know. 
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The mud filled spring in the village
On my way back to catch the train to Mumbai, we visit one more fodder camp, , a totally private philanthropic initiative, in a village called Kavatha. Here they have numbered each animal. No wastage is allowed here even for a single piece of grass or a drop of water. They have people employed day and night to supervise the work on the camp. There are no government run fodder camp facilities in the Taluka and this single facility is the last hope for farmers from the villages in the 20 km periphery around it.
I board the train with my mind full of thoughts and images of the last three days spent in the area. I still don’t know many things and I know some things now for myself and for sure. I know now that one needs to act. One needs to use one’s water account properly. It cannot be overdrawn any longer.

My thanks go to following people for facilitating my visit to these areas,
1. Mr. Pramod Zinjade, Mahatma Phule Samaj Seva Mandal, Karmala, Dist. Solapur
2. Dr. Anna Tamhankar, Jnana Prabodhini, Harali, Dist. Osmanabad
3. Mr. Bhumiputra Wagh, Samaj Vikas Sanstha, Umarga, Dist. Osmanaba