LOCKDOWN IN COVID-19!
Inward Positivity reflects Outwards!
In the Silence of deep Meditation, even the regular bird orchestra was silent. Purifying fires from 6 Agnihotra kits, added to the fragrance of the Farmhouse Garden, where our Sri Sri Natural farming, Kitchen Garden and Holistic health Course was being conducted.
I had brought some Desi Cow dung cakes from our farmers in Maharashtra. These emitted no smoke. The nearest desi cow Gaushala being a kilometre away, the hastily obtained Buffalo or Holstein cow dung used in other Homa Kunda, emitted an acrid smoke that irritated the throat after the meditation was over. This was an experiential proving of our natural farming course point, to use only Desi cow dung so as the benefits of this boon from the Gods are added.
As the course progressed over three days, more and more people from different walks in Karnal, Haryana, heard and joined, adding to the special exuberant energy; which they still remember today. There was a tremendous response from all Art of Living groups, Naturopathy hospitals, farmers, doctors, faculties from the University, homemakers and members of the Aparna Trust.
A model farm in Dutta Flower Farm, opposite Madhuban Farms which is a part of Aparna Trust, has been created by our friends, over a span of the two previous years. The hospitality and live location of the farmhouse was extended for the course. Our friends who are otherwise working professionals have 10+ acres where they do chemical residue-free farming. Out of this, Prashant has leased and converted 2 and a half acres as a study and successful model for natural farming, as inspiration for all. He has been intercropping Bansi Wheat, Black wheat, Sonamoti wheat, barley, marigold flowers, Black rice and desi seed vegetables, as per rotation.
We (Ruchi and I, as SriSri Natural Farming teachers and as included in our natural farmer outreach through our social enterprise Taru Naturals) had connected them to SriSri natural farmers for heirloom indigenous seed varieties. Prashant built up his model natural farming section by reviving age-old traditional methods, for which he expanded his own knowledge by integrating techniques from SriSri agriculture, (as guided by us) and SPNF, Subhash Palekar Zero-Budget Farming. Nagpalji, a SriSri Natural Farmer, from Fazilka, Punjab had provided them Sonamoti wheat seeds after we connected with him. Heirloom Sonamoti was a lost variety until recently revived by Sri Sri Ravishankar. This is very rich in Folic acid, a nutrient which is completely missing in hybrid wheat. For indigenous Bansi Wheat seeds, he tapped Kheti Virasat Mission from Punjab and we had mutual discussions on related techniques and planting methods.
Desi seeds require only natural traditional methods to grow. Jeevamrut, Beejamrut, Neem astra, Agni astra, mulching, crop rotation, Inter-cropping, integrated with Permaculture techniques. Agnihotra which is also integral, they had found difficult without a practical, which was now implemented. Eco-enzymes are an important learning which had been missing. We started the course with intensive practicals in different kinds of eco-enzymes which have multi-purpose applications, including crop fertility and pest control. Now...They are still reaping bumper harvests of natural produce, more precious than pure gold, increasing the cultivated acreage and indigenous varieties.
In the surrounding 8 acres, Alok does residue free farming on a commercial scale. This was an unfamiliar subject to us and we learned from him. He uses Urea and commercial bio-pesticides in a strictly disciplined application. Their soil is healthy due to implementing crop-rotation, mulching and green manuring. They check soil health before planting and do not feed Urea if not needed. If they do, it is in minimum quantity and only once per crop cycle, as against a lot of farmers who go into unnecessary excesses.
According to Alok (which we as environment saviours totally agree), there should be plant doctors appointed by agriculture departments, in governments, universities and rural Panchayats. This can encourage residue-free farming; required to curb the excesses of urea and pesticide sprays, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, where it is overdone. Every district should create, appoint and pay a department of qualified agriculture scientists, educated volunteers or internships for agri-students, in this sector. They should be on call after every harvest to check farms in their sector and specify recommendations of how much urea or DAP etc. to administer. And as the crop grows, to check the pest attacks and advise on innoculating only that section, and not the whole field, as is the current normal practice in chemical farming. Besides this, techniques similar to natural farming should be advised to bring down the over-use of water eg. mulching and green manuring to retain soil moisture.
After every harvest, Alok widely sprinkles seeds of wild hemp, (dhencha) and other fodder plants, leaving them to grow for a month, and then plough them in, thus rejuvenating the soil. This traditional practice of green manuring again has been done away by cash crop farmers. As to Pest Control, they say that due to good soil health pest attacks are minimal. An interesting way is, to regularly check the wild beans and hibiscus that are allowed to intersperse the fields. The pest first attacks these susceptible wild vegetables and herbs. They follow with a spot treatment of a commercial bio-pesticide, which we do know are not chemical free. The control is in the limited area of application around these harbingers, saving the crop from widespread spray of poisons.
After the round of intensive theory and practicals completed during the course, we organised a trip to a neighbouring organic farm (Jagat Ramji) which was an educational, highly enjoyable and profitable picnic. We completed our work by leaving the participants with the option to buy natural farming products, desi cow dung cakes, saplings and fresh vegetables from Jagat Ramji’s supply chain. By this time, we started hearing of the first two Corona cases having started in Karnal. Ruchi and I hired a taxi to take us on to Jalandhar Cantonment, my native home. The participants were still asking where to procure the medicinal plants, the healing benefits and applications of which I had taken up as part of the course. As a Naturopathy doctor, I had had a fruitful interaction with other Naturopathy doctors who had enrolled. We decided then to include a group trip to nearby Kurukshetra to procure medicinal plants and check out the desi gaushala and Desi cow based farming there. This again was very informative and interesting. I, too, bought plants like drumstick/sahijan, white arka, pashana bedha, akarkara, and other rare medicinal herbs, which I later planted in my native home during lockdown.
We reached Jalandhar Cantonment and luckily Ruchi went on to catch the last flight from Amritsar back to Mumbai. I spent the next 2+ months in lockdown away from any family except assorted people in the Out houses - Mali, drivers, land workers and their families. How I survived this period is an interesting memory that will stay about Covid Lockdown. I kept myself busy, but it was lonely and I was anxious about my family. A typical day began thus ...
Brahmamuhurat! And the sleeping night starts rolling up its blanket. As the half light of a chilly dawn tiptoes in, somewhere the conch blows, the bell from the Shiva Mandir dongs next door, the cock crows.
I am tempted to curl back into the blankets, but … “So much happening out there, can’t miss it. So, no one to cook for, no hurry to work. I will rest later.” There is the cow dung to be laid for Agnihotra. I have to catch the sunrise. Hurriedly, I google the time. 5:38am. It changes daily by a minute or so. I have the fire going by 5:35. With a pinch of rice wrapped in desi cow ghee, at the precise moment, two ahutis are offered in. “Om Suryaye Swaha, Surya Idam namama, Prajapataye Swaha, Prajapataye Idam namama.” This is the Agnihotra mantra for sunrise. There is a 2 second window, to Divinity, when the sun decides to wake up. Happy I’ve caught it, I lapse into meditation. It's still dark and the fire is warm and friendly, caressing my eyes with fingers of light.
And then out to hug the morning! The sunbeams, clad in lacy veils of the mist, play hide and seek through filigrees of leaves. I do some Surya Namaskars. The shining dew weaves a starry world. I walk on the dewy grass. Desi roses make wine out of the air. I drink the dew from some and rub it on my face and eyes. The very best one goes to anoint Bal Thakurji in the temple.
As the sun climbs, clouds of bees and butterflies get drunk on the flowers. I gather a rose, calendula flowers, pansies, a wild gendha (marigold) flower, an angel white carrot flower, some heavenly lemon and orange flowers, 2-3 nasturtiums and their leaves... and drop them in the crystal jug. Then, fill it over with bubbling water from the garden spout. This is laid on the window sill to trap the morning sun. Into a green glass bottle, goes in leaves of dandelion, punarnava, Vasa, nirgundi, amaranth, bel, lemon grass, mint and tulsi. When I sit there to do my Sudarshan Kriya, the sun splinters through these in hundreds of rainbows and transports meto an astral kaleidoscope of colours and light. I pour out a glass and hold it up to the sun. When I drink it, it’s like an instant shot of Sanjeevani (rejuvenation).
Breakfast (self-made) is a fat piece of Aloe Vera gel, lemon juice and chopped peel in water of tulsi and dandelion, mint, rose petals, or as tea. Fruits are mulberries and peaches from the garden. First course is weak tea (no sugar) and a toasted chapati of Desi Bansi Wheat atta mixed with leaves Amaranth, Punarnava, radish, Sarson saag. Sprouts of desi green moong and chana from organic natural farming.
In the afternoon, I take my lunch to the verandah. Some salad, lettuce, beetroot, cucumber and tomatoes, all homegrown. And a hotchpotch of rice, dal and vegetables, I have boiled together. Dals and cereals, natural farming harvest, had been picked up from Karnal and Kurukshetra. The stock was replenished later by a doctor friend, who very kindly came to deliver at home from Rana Hospital in the city which has a Sri Sri Tattva Divine shop and Organic foods.
Then reading and writing time. There are Readers’ Digest Tomes on herbs and Gardens and Story Anthologies. The Mali has started the Tube well motor and water flowing through the channels has spread in a silvery sheet on the grass. The birds are having bathing and drinking parties in it, each with their own musical band. One hops out, right up to my chair. I hold my breath, lest it fly away. But it's decided it likes my company. It walks around my feet. I have no tit-bits to offer it. It doesn’t mind waiting till the next time. Now, settles companionably down in a corner. Everyday, it comes to say hello. The next day, I have some rice grains ready.
Ruchi had brought desi seeds from Assam and there are 2 desi cherry tomato saplings from Jagat Ram’s Farm. I have to plant those seeds and plants. I have a tough time with the Mali, who’s old and lazy. He insists that all the gardeners and farmers are using Urea and pesticides, so why should he bother to procure cow dung or combine it with vegetables or plants to prepare composts, like it used to be done from my grandfather’s time. Wood, ash and cow urine used to be sufficient as pest controllers on tomatoes etc.
I identify my own plot near the fruit trees which are organic, chiefly due to being left to fend for themselves Nature’s Way , and tell him to keep away. In 2 months, 1 plot was a forest of healthy cherry tomatoes and other desi seed vegetable plants had flowered. My desi seedlings had needed no care except mulching which I did myself. The Mali’s tomatoes are pest infested due to the chemicals. I try to again show him by example how Desi seeds have in-built prophylactic properties. You leave them to Nature and they are healthy and prolific. But this is the sad story of today’s farmers and Malis. They don’t have the capacity to do the hard work that zero budget natural farming requires.
Occasional evenings are a short walk to the neighbours. A distant niece Shivani, an old uncle and another aunt, are all concerned about feeding me some regular tasty food, knowing my over-healthy habits. We have an occasional walk together in the fields, watching a magnificent sunset. A peacock is out strolling with his family. It has rained today and he treats us to a full fanfare of his regalia and a lot of conversation, which they expect us to understand.