Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Sunday, June 19, 2011

theruvadaichan - the road blocker

a return to the place from where this journey could have all began - cuddalore.
it was a year spent there - between may 1995 and may 1996 - which got me doing two important things - thinking and writing.

and as another example of remarkable coincidences, this is the very city of karpagam's childhood and summer vacations and a very lovely and very old grandmother.

and we visited cuddalore last week to coincide with the spell-binding annual temple festival of the magnificent Padaleeswarar temple. this picture should explain the superlatives.

all temples have wonderful stories behind them. here is the background of the Padaleeswarar temple.

the star feature of the 2 week long festival would be - Theruvadaichan (TV).
the festival deities (utsava moorthis) perambulate the streets daily in special floats.
one of them, is the imposing TV.
as the name suggests, this float is as wide as the street and is the veritable road blocker. here it is in its early trellis stage. 

and here it is all set to roll. (our camera packed up)
image courtesy - Cuddalore Online

it is nearing 11 PM as the decorations and aarati finish and the crowds tense up.
the cymbals and drummers up their tempo and as the priests on the float wave their towels - the float moves.
hair prickles up on its ends. the crowds' collective gasp as they scramble back is music.
it is quite the incredible darshan.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

re-thatching the pavilion

the pavilion was built in april 2009.
built over just under 3 weeks by a team from auroville, it is our residence, our workshop, our lounge and an iconic part of pR.

two years of rain and sun had eroded the coconut thatch (kith), especially the northern face. leaks had developed in around 3-4 places.

it was time to replace the kith.
the same team which laid the original thatch re-did the thatching.

here is an animated time lapse series.

the entire operation lasted less than 5 days. and cost Rs 75K. uncannily, just how much it cost us for digging the well :-)
you must have noticed the mats in the final frames.
that was the masterstroke. karpagam's inspired idea. here is why...
at a cost of Rs 75K every two years for kith replacement, this system just becomes unviable.
the classic rural home use a second layer to cover the kith. it could be palm fronds, rice straw or most commonly, vegil. these would increase the life span of the roof by another 2-5 years, depending on the choice and the quality of the installation.
vegil - a reedy grass that commonly grows on tank beds and borders in this area. to survive the moisture, they develop a waxy outer layer and it turns out to be the ideal topping on the kith.

for the scale of the pavilion, using vegil just was not feasible. it would have cost us an additional Rs 1 lac!
it was just that, the size and scale of the pavilion was taxing us when karpagam came up with the mat idea. mats are made out of 'korai grass' - another type of waxy, reedy grass which also grows near water bodies. the grass is slit and is woven into mats.
the total mat cost was less than Rs 5K.
even if it just increases the kith life by one year, it is a killer solution. eco-friendly, cost-effective and easy to install.
but will it work? we will wait and see.

the removed kith is super mulch material.

in the meanwhile, here is the simple but beautiful method of fastening the kith onto the wooden frame.

and to prevent the mats from flapping in the wind, the entire roof was tied down with nylon rope.

and finally, the team of monkeys who did it...

Monday, June 06, 2011

well done indeed

start digging a well and unleash the ghosts...
so goes a tamil saying which summarises the intense effort and agony involved in digging a well - or getting a well dug.

thus many have started resorting to the use of borewells - which take no more than a day to drill and access the deep tranches of groundwater.

but, a well is unmatched as the preferred personalised water storage device for a farm. just the sheer volume of water it stores gives the farmer many options.

for over 3 years, DV has been steadfast in not unleashing the ghosts.
but as a necessary step towards increasing our agricultural area, a well would be critical and we were ready to take on the ghosts.

first step is place identification - very importantly, it has to be at a place where the underground springs are copious and generous.
we trust that our rain water harvesting initiatives should help these springs and hence our well.
we did this through a water diviner. it could have been a little sham act of sorts, but we just went with some faith and some logic.

then the diggers take over.
spec sheet
1. diameter - 21 feet for the first 15 feet depth.
2. diameter - 12 feet for the second 15 feet depth.
the intermediate 4.5 feet wide annular space (at around 15 feet) will be the base on which the retaining wall will be raised to prevent the top part (item 1) does not capsize through rain and erosion.

the retaining wall is another story.

so here we go with the digging.

as always, we start with the pooja. the yellow shirted gentleman is the lead digger.

the use of the back-hoe (JCB) is now common practice. this monster gouged out around 11 feet deep of the top diameter cylinder.

the dirt is hauled with tractors. top soil to the fields, rest spread for road repair, other future building works.

the hole starts to develop.

in its developed state. around 7 hours of JCB work it took to get to this size.

now we move into manual zone. a crane is installed. 

the dirt is manually loaded onto buckets and craned to the top.

once we hit the rocky substrata, the explosives come out. this is another regular practice to speed up the process. notice the drilling going on, as well as the tubular explosive packs in his hand. they are packed into the drilled holes.

see the spots where the explosives have been packed into the earth.

after the boom , this is the rubble which then gets hauled out.
they used explosives 7 times through this digging.

and at last, the first sight of water. this was noticed at a depth of around 24 feet.
well digging is done in summer for the simple reason that the water levels/springs are at their lowest flow and if you manage to hit a decent water level in summer, you should be well taken care of for the other seasons.

as the last bits of debris is being cleared, the final look.

the final pile of rubble.

after the initial JCB work, it took around 65 person days to complete the digging.
at a total cost of 75K, it is a reasonably modest expenditure for a well.
the digging team - led by the very hard working Mr T Govindan - was very professional and we would strongly recommend them.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

mango mania

we had succumbed to the mango temptation last year, gorging on alphonsoes from the neighbouring farm as well as bingeing at the leo farm picnic.

this year looked bleak as the neighbours had planned well and sold off most to the juicers with minimal wastage.
we just got our obligatory 'friendly' basket.
it was like a drop to quench our thirst.

we thought that this year fruit quota was already completed with the watermelon bonanza.
but not to be...

on a trip to madras, we were re-introduced to an outlet which stocks the widest range of mangoes.
this combined with trips to the neighbouring farms(around 5-7 kms away) - which retail at drop-dead prices - made our mango year a sweet sucess and continues to do so.

the best part was the varieties that we have tasted this year. here is the list.

1. doodh peda
2. jahangir
3. jawahar
4. kesar
5. mancurad
6. rasalu
7. padiri
8. senthoora
9. banganapalli
10. rumani
11. alphonso
12. kili mooku/bengloora
13. malgova
14. neelam
15. imaam pasand

if you are in chennai, do go to Taylors road (enter by taking a right on poonamalli high road coming from ega theater and this place is within 1 Km on the right side) to the retail outlet of the praiseworthy Mr Ramakrishna - his variety and rates should boggle your mind. (call Mr Murugan on 750 268 0715 for details)