Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Friday, April 30, 2010

the first rain

from 845pm to 910pm.
as we were about to retire into well deserved slumber, the sound hit us first.
we rushed down, the beautiful blackness was clearly approaching and the patter increasing in intensity.
and then it hit us.
welcome, wonderful and winsome wonderburst of water.

the best part of rain is always to see it approach from the horizon and living in bombay for so many years has allowed me this unlimited joy.
but tonight has to be the best ever.

this is also the first time i experience this feeling as a farmer, understanding the importance of this simple natural phenomenon in the lives of the villagers.

we are just planting a field with finger millet (kezhvaragu in tamil and ragi in hindi) and cow pea (karamani in tamil and chouli beans in hindi).
this is perfect timing for their growth and health.

this is text-book rain fed agriculture.
we are trying it this year.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

unexpected reunions

15 years is almost 40% of my life.
the chances of meeting an old friend after 15 years are quite slim.
the chances of meeting two old friends (unrelated) after 15 years within a week, has to rank up there in the world's top rare events.

i was quite thrilled to have this happen to me (not the record, but the reunions).
one was a colleague from 1995 and another was a volleyball teammate from 1992-95.
one at a marriage and the other at a restaurant.
one in cuddalore and one in chennai.
both initial recognitions by me.
both making me mighty happy.

keep on the lookout, always.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

urban transport - skewed priorities

city transport improvement is usually dominated by road expansions, flyovers, ring roads, etc.
very low impetus is given to public transport (even the famed metro railways that is coming up in many cities dont add up to any significant numbers).

it is usually a simple enough set of reasons:
1. lot of money to be pocketed in road projects and moreso in the maintenance.
2. policy makers never use public transport.
3. the influence of the car/bike manufacturers lobby.

and even less importance is given to the walkers, cyclists (pedestrian in fact means third class).

kalpana sharma details this mayhem over at infochangeindia.

The investment pattern in roads and transport in our major cities clearly illustrates the lack of prioritisation of public transport. Mumbai is probably the best example. In the 1960s, Mumbai had one of the best public transport systems. It had buses, trams and the suburban railways; only very rich individuals could afford private cars in those days. Hence, most people used public transport.

Over the years, this system has not been strengthened at the required pace. Trams were phased out as they were seen to take up too much road space, and roads have become home to the burgeoning population of private motor vehicles. Most of the investment in the last two decades has gone towards making life more comfortable for these private vehicle owners. Roads have been widened and flyovers built, including a spectacular sea link that has only recently been opened to a couple of bus routes. In other words, every effort has been made to make travel easy and smooth for those riding in private cars, even though they constitute a small minority of Mumbai’s total population.
but, there have been some inspiring examples from south america. bogota for instance has a splendid biking route network and bus rapid transit system.
recently, paris had also invested heavily in a novel biking solution.
and just now, the US is starting to make some noises talking about equality of rights between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

will these winds of change hit our shores?
BRTS is being tried in a few cities with some mixed but promising results - delhi, ahmedabad, pune.
every big city has their metro rail project under construction. though i suspect that the delhi success will not be replicated in other cities.
delhi did not have a public transport system at all and the metro filled up that gap admirably. chennai has a good bus system, mumbai has a great train and bus system, bangalore has a decent bus system.
instead of a new metro rail transport system, the focus should have been to strengthen these existing facilities instead of creating a competitive system.
but again, metro rail projects are big money projects and allows significant lining of pockets.

these starts have to be exponentially expanded:
1. the public investments have to be heavily in favour of mass transport systems and non-motorised systems.
2. simultaneously, private vehicle ownership should be heavily taxed (a la singapore). at least those who are buying the second and third vehicles.
3. demarcating vehicle-free zones in high volume/high density areas like t.nagar in chennai, dadar in mumbai and connnaught place in delhi is an option.

hold it.
looking at the overall scenarios, if the population of the cities continue to explode, none of the above will work. and in fact, these factors may exacerbate the explosion.
so parallel and heavier investments will need to be made to stabilise migration, aka improve our agriculture.

that is another discussion...

Monday, April 19, 2010

us military warns of serious oil shortages

from the recent guardian article...
The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.
it is interesting that this is coming to the public from the US military - which could be the largest user of oil and not from the energy think tanks across the world.
the entire report is here.
their prediction should seriously alarm a lot of people.

what this implies is that status quo in thinking about energy will lead to drastic price rises across all categories of basic items and obviously chaos will reign supreme...

and the report continues on the big security issues that will hit us in the coming decades (not that one needs the intelligence gathering abilities of the US military to come to this conclusion):
1. demographics
2. economics
3. globalisation
4. energy
5. pandemics
6. cyber
7. water
8. food
9. climate change
10. space
the 5 marked blod are, easy to see, heavily interlinked and cannot be viewed separate from each other.

the solutions may appear drastic, but is inevitable within our lifetimes itself, it is time we closely pare our consumption-led lives.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

things are afoot

while we manage through the scorching summer, a quick look into what is happening out here at pR.

1. vegetables - radishes, snake gourd, bitter gourd, cucumber, bottle gourd are in a good growing stage. there has been a growing lull after the winter harvest - maybe beginners luck!
2. solar oven - we have been building a solar cob oven over the last 2 weeks and will commission it in the coming week. will result in new cooking patterns and considerable saving of fuel wood.
3. millets - we are preparing a field for growing ragi. sowing will happen in a week and transplating in a month and harvest in 100 days from now.
4. wind turbine - we are off-the-grid with respect to electricity; we are augmenting the solar power system with a wind turbine. this will ensure than come rain or shine, we will be powered up.
5. trees - we are going to plant around 400 trees this year. this will happen after the first showers of the october-december monsoon rains.
6. irrigation - we will be installing a treadle pump to assist in irrigation of the aforementioned millets and other grains that we will grow.

more actions will be added as the year progresses.
all in all, an action packed year ahead.
watch this space.

Friday, April 16, 2010


auroville is an universal town nearby puducherry.
shri aurobindo and the mother are the leading spiritual inspirations and the latter has played the pivotal role is creating auroville.

it is a happening place, teeming with naturalists and some wonderful projects and inspiring people.
1. pitchandikulam forest
2. pebble garden
3. nadukuppam
4. sadhana forest
all these and many more have converted an once desolate landscape into a green oasis.

and there is so much more that goes on in art, culture, education, etc.
planning a holiday, this could be an alternate location to work, learn and grow.

pRis luckily just around 60 kms from auroville.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

3 things to avoid

following the diet tips and edible oil warning, here is another warning - vegetable/fruit warning...

please avoid:
1. cauliflower
2. cabbage
3. grapes
all the 3 are highly overdosed with pesticides.
the first 2 are heavily attacked by the diamondback moth - which has the potential to wipe out the entire crop withing the first 3 weeks. hence farmers spray the pesticide every day to kill the DBM.
i heard that while loading into the trucks, cauliflower is dipped in a solution of pesticide which prevents the black mould formation.

so kiss goodbye to the gobi manchurian, aloo gobi, all chinese fried rice and noodles.

Monday, April 12, 2010

quenching the thirst of mega cities

cities develop around rivers/lakes, i.e., assured perennial water sources.
delhi - yamuna
mumbai - mithi
chennai - cooum
kolkata - hooghly
and so on.

in addition to such water sources, there were innumerable tanks and wells which served individual homes and small clusters.

over years of neglect, accumulation of sewage, crunch for space, etc., these water bodies have been corrupted beyond imagination.

this has mandated cities to reach out to the hinterlands for their water supply. and this usually gets done by damming rivers.
for e.g., mumbai gets its water from over 150 kms away.

and now it is delhi's turn to head out even further - to himachal pradesh.
and dams (regular readers will recognise that i am anti-big dams) will cause people displacement and displacement will cause discontent which one cannot control.

cities need to work towards storing the water they receive via rain, clean up and maintain their rivers/lakes and i think most critically, stop flushing down clean drinking water down the toilet.

else, big pipes are easy targets for venting discontent...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

sikkim - the place to be in 2015

sikkim has a mission 2015. it is very impressive list of objectives for the state.
do check it out.
i was totally impressed by agenda item 2:
- to make sikkim an organic state by 2015
(am sure they meant organic farming).

and more interestingly, it appears that already decently vast tracks of land are already fully converted into organic farming.
and they have already passed some remarkable laws to safeguard the environment:
  1. Banned smoking & Pan Parag in 2001.
  2. B the use of non-biodegradable materials like plastic, poly-bags, Bio-medical / chemical waste in 1997.
  3. In 1995 banned the Green felling in forests & no clear felling, only dead, dying and diseased trees allowed to be removed for the bona fide use.
while the need to be like 'other countries' is a bit laughable, i will blame it on some over-zealous mckinsey-type consultant (am sure they nominate their lowest level consultants to sikkim).

Friday, April 09, 2010

modern agriculture - an insight

at pR, we are hoping to be become 'do nothing' farmers a la fukuoka.
'do nothing' is difficult to explain and define in a single post. pointing to 'natural way of farming' by fukuoka to those interested readers.

to understand this philosophy, one has to start with some perspective on current agriculture with some historical background.
here is a useful article - modern agriculture - which efficiently addresses the above.
recommended reading for all.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

greedy farmers

thats us.
thats what we became after this boast.

thereafter, we planted each seed with eager anticipation of how much yield we would get, and how impressive it would look as a blogpost.

the seeds must have sensed our greed and have boycotted sprouting, quite rightfully.
and even those who have sprouted seem to be taking their own 'sweet time'.

even in the simplest of surroundings, it is tough to relinquish years of indoctrination - maximise results!!
the gita says - perform your duty without any expectation of the results.
the exact translation uses"fruits of labour", etc.
in our case it should have been fruits and vegetables of our labour.

the move becomes pointless if we indulge in the same excessive thought process.
we have to become greedless.
simple to understand intellectually, a life-long journey to practise.

Friday, April 02, 2010

edible oil - warning

continuing the theme from the earlier post on diet tips.

here is the dope on cooking oil.
as per GOI rules, a content of 60% of oil X allows the oil to be sold as oil X.
i.e., rules indicate that sunflower oil has at least 60% sunflower oil, it can be sold as sunflower oil.
so what is likely to be the other 40%.
you guessed right. any other oil which is cheaper.
correction note - the adulteration can be up to a maximum of 40% bcos of the rule..
some of the big brands might be satisfied with 25%.
am sure that the details mentioned in each pack (please do look and tell) will not have this difference marked.

the bad news. the common and popular gingelly oil (nalla ennai in tamil and til ka tel in hindi) is likely to be mixed with 40% of cottonseed oil.
and with BT cotton almost entirely replacing natural cotton, we are already ingesting BT products since 6 years.

addendum - as a rule any Refined oil is bad for health! try and source locally from the old/known oil mill/chekku/chakki. It can max have some impurity which goes with filtering.

i could not verify the above information, but can vouch for ananthu, my source.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

3 diet tips + 1 bonus

1. drink 2 glasses of water first thing in the morning after waking up. even before brushing.
please do not trust the toothpaste ads. the saliva in the morning is very alkaline and is useful in neutralising the acid build up in the stomach. and more importantly, it has gazillions of beneficial enzymes & microbes which is best sent back into our system.

2. eat dinner by 7 PM.

3. use jaggery (do not use sugar in any form) for all required sweetening (including tea and coffee). sugar is manufactured by a process which extracts only the sweet part of sugarcane and discards a decent amount of minerals. and the gross part is that the decolorisation (from brown to white) involves charcoal made with bone (sometimes human).
amongst jaggery versions, use the dark brown coloured ones. some manufacturers use detergents (like surf/ariel) and/or hydrogen peroxide for bleaching.

the above should keep away/control diabetes, blood pressure situations and healthify your heart.

4. BONUS - No drinking of water up to 1 hour after eating. Since digestion is 'agni' and also you don't dilute/disturb when the metabolism is at its peak.

all tips courtesy my friend - Ananthu - from the epic Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita - a epic tome on Ayurveda from 500AD by Vagbhata.

keep tuned out here for more such tips.
i follow 1 and 3 since 2009.