Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R - Ramanathapuram 1969

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

R – Ramanathapuram – 1969

Professor  Neelakandan had joined the Agricultural Regional research institute at Ramanathapuram  when it was  set up as a regional unit by the central government in the ambitious post independence rush to achieve food sufficiency and to promote the cultivation of high yielding varieties of Rice, sugarcane,  cotton, and vegetables all over India. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s the Institute was where all the action was.

The Cauvery delta irrigated by year long water supply coupled with the monsoons were a fertile area for the research institute to carry out its experiments on not just varieties of Rice cultivation but also many other crops that were hitherto unknown to the farmers of that area.

In those years of his association with Agricultural research instititute Prof. Neelakandan’s job took him across to various farms and farmers with whom he worked on the latest breakthrough research of high yielding hybrid variety of seeds.  In the 1950’s he struck a working relationship with a young Subbu who was eager and filled with energy and enthusiasm to try and do something big in his own way and to strike out on his own. It gave him a great adrenalin rush to do something that could make his father proud.

In his father’s and grandfather’s generation they almost always had one crop an year and that was during the monsoons when the Cauvery would irrigate the fields and inundate it with water that was required for Paddy cultivation.  
Many other indigeneous varieties of  crops including the black gram, Green gram and sesame would grow without any particular effort required to grow them.  As far as the local food needs were concerned there would be plenty of gourds – the bottle gourd, bitter gourd, the snake gourd, pumpkin and varieties of brinjal available for their subsistence.
The cattle, the goats and the poultry would freely roam around the farms . The cows would give milk.  The poultry would be domesticated by the labourers for eggs and chicken, since the Brahmins in the Agraharam were strictly vegetarian. There was plenty of  supply than there was demand.  The primary role of the chicken roaming around freely was to fertilise the land with their droppings and peck at the worms to keep them in check. There were other varieties of domesticated animals that included deer, dogs, cats and parrots. They were never caged, vaccinated or tied up. They were free to mate and reproduce when nature permitted them to.
It was a simplistic ecosystem that relied on vagaries of nature and hard human labour. But it just about managed to take care of the basic necessities as most of the food and shelter needs were taken care without the need for cash.  It was only when a grand marriage ceremony had to be pulled off or a house had to be built that money needed to be saved.
The green revolution brought with it the promises of three crops through the year in the Cauvery delta. The cutting edge research at the Agricultural Regional research institute in Ramanathapuram produced year after year, different varieties of seeds that would reduce the time for the crop to mature. It was thus that  the farmers could now harvest Rice soon after the monsoons, maize or millet in the winter and cotton  during the scorching summer. 
The agricultural co-operatives ensured a fair price for the produce. Cattle farms and poultry sprung up as ancillary to the farm lands.  High yielding Jersey cows were introduced inorder  to increase the production of milk by the co-operatives and chicken varieties that matured and reproduced in a month were introduced to increase egg and poultry production.   

With the introduction of cash crops like cotton and sunflower, came the relationships with the banks. The banks had the capacity to lend for the initial investment to buy seeds and fertilizers. The cash crops were sold to the wholesale procurer at a fixed price. The margins from cash crops were good and the flow of money helped the banks reap profits and made the farmer reasonably wealthy as well. 

In the overall economic scheme of things it increased the consumption patterns and quality of life.  The villages got electricity. The bullocks were replaced by the tractors to till the land. The extra cash from the cash crops like cotton and sugar cane paid for the college education for the extended members of the family.  Aristrocratic land owners of the delta could develop properties in towns and cities like Tiruchy, Thanjavur and Madras.  A  good flow of money from bumper harvests of cash crops also helped pull off grand weddings with hefty dowries for their daughters. Over the years, with all the surplus money from the land that was saved, they could send their sons abroad for higher education and employment. 

That was only when the harvest from the cash crop was good. In the year when there would be a slight unseasonal drizzle just before the cotton harvest, it would bring the price of the cotton down drastically . Farmers would struggle to break even their investment and would be at the mercy of the asking price from the wholesale markets to pay off their debts to the banks who had lent them the money to invest in the cash crops.  The seeds for the high yielding crops and the pesticides that kept them away from various crop diseases could be purchased from the government subsidized seed banks and stores.

When unseasonal rains, drought or any other disaster struck, the government  was benevolent.  Successive governments formed with the political clout of aristrocratic landowners were known to write off debts taken from Nationalized banks. The government owned Radio (and later Television in the 1980’s ) beamed programs for the farmers where they gave copious advice on the use of the right fertilizers to increase yield and featured success stories of farmers who got the high yield using a particular strain of hybrid seeds in their land.

Subbu was on a visit to the the institute in Ramanthapuram. Prof. Neelakandan had promised him a new variety of seed for the cotton crop that summer that would give a bumper yield as long as some soil based nutrients were added to it. The seed primarily was a native of Africa and needed 'Potash' which was not found much in the soil of the Cauvery delta. Experiments with the new hybrid variety would need to be supplemented with addition of the essential nutrients to yield a good harvest. So far the research had looked promising.   If it succeeded on a large scale and the yield was good, it would be a breakthrough for Professor. Neelakandan in his career. 

Subbu arrived at the massive government building  where Professor Neelakandan held office as the head of department.  He had given an appointment to Subbu, however he was running late.  He came out and apologized to Subbu and let him know he had to finish an emergency meeting before he could meet him. Subbu sat outside his office and listened to the conversation from the emergency meeting that was going on inside.

A member of his staff had stormed into his office and tendered his resignation. Professor Neelakandan was trying to convince him in a calm and composed voice to take back his resignation.  He was reasoning out with him to be practical.  After a while of some heated conversation he pleaded with him saying his hands were tied and it was absurd to take on the might of a much bigger machinery.

The other voice from the cabin was slow, measured, deep but firm.  From what Subbu could figure out, sitting on that bench outside the Professor's office, then was a disappointed scientist at the directions the new research was taking shape.  He wanted  Professor Neelakandan to convince the center (Possibly central government or some other authority) that the timelines and the proposition need to revised and postponed until more details were available. Professor Neelakandan from his side did not see why the project had to slow down. He was clear he would not go back to the ‘center’.
The discussion heated up.  The voice from the cabin accused the professor of being selfish, furthering his own career interests.
Professor retorted saying he dare not question his integrity and hard work he had put in to reach where he was today. 
The voice from the cabin stopped and a man stormed out of his office. As he held the door open, he asked Professor Neelakandan  if he had any land of his own and children of his own.
Professor Neelandndan replied ‘yes’.
He asked if he would conduct this research in his land.

Professor Neelankandan reluctantly replied ‘Yes, why not...’

'Don’t' .. said the young man, if ever you do that, your children will never bequeath that land and your grandchildren will never know the joys of tilling the land to make a living.  

He said that as if he was cursing the Professor, his children and grandchildren and stormed out of the room.

Subbu got a glimpse of the man.  He had a long flowing beard, a youthful gait and eyes that shone with anger  and passion.      

He did not know him then.  He was not famous.  He was just a sub-ordinate  working for Agriculture regional research institute for Prof. Neelakandan.              

His name was Nammazhvar. 
However his predictions came true.
Unfortunately it was for Subbu. 
His son never bequeathed his land. 
And his grandchildren never knew the joys of tilling the land. 

To be continued ... S- Srirangam -1969


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