Earlier this year, as I waited to fly our from Mumbai International I read of a political spat over funding to assist Madhya Pradesh farmers affected by hail. It was before the election and my own roof top herb garden had been shredded, which is of less concern than the harm experienced on land or in the village.
It was before the monsoon and with Madhya Pradesh soil problems I was concerned how farmers may fair with the yet to be planted Rabri crop.
Idyllicly beautiful, and yet farmers life is not rustic or romantic. The weight of the economy rests on a farmers shoulders. Whether wheat or mustard seed, it is the weight of hope for rupes that weigh on his shoulders. Labourers are like seeds: discarded, recycled ad exploited. You give more than you take.
For the farmer there is the risk of crop failure.
Named after the Arabic word for spring, the Rabri (रबी) crop is planted in winter. After a harsh summer, then the monsoon, ground water percolates from the underworld celebrated with harvest festivals.
In Madhya Pradesh the deep black soil with a lot of clay called Vertisol and preparing for the November to April crop is difficult. Baking 49 degree heat hardens the soil pre monsoon, add to this the unpredictability of the monssons onset, when the soil swings from very dry to extremely wet.
Vertisol has low organic matter, is low Nitrogen but has good potassium, magnesium and calcium. After the monsoon it shrinks with deep cracks. Sticky during the monsoon and its hard to drain. Its hard to weed but it keeps the moisture for a good harvest from the rabi crop.
Its hard to prepare soil because It may wash away the farmers soil. So traditional farmer usually leave the soil fallow which makes good sense where there is usually low rainfall though the year. Where there is usually good rain the problem is drainage, a fixable problem if a farmer has money .
Each year the cycle continues, the repetition of deciding what to do.
While some famers want a short growing crop like soy bean to harvest before the rabi. A poor famer may leave the land fallow because if the soy cant be harvested in time, then he risks his more certain wheat or chickpea.
In India So a good rain may spoil the Kharif crops but it is good for Rabi such as wheat, barley, mustard, sesame and peas which flood the market in February. Other Rabi Crops include gram, and linseed.
As I watch I am fragmenting myself, wanting to be a part and still somehow being held back and reminded I am still a foreigner.
But we are people of the earth.
The ancientShatapatha Brahmana describes a mother as ones first guru and preceptor. “This is the germ of civilisation which nature has put into our mothers” writes Pandit Ganga Prasad Upadhyaya quoting the vedic phrase “Ekoham Bahusyam‘ ‘I am one, let me be many.’ A model of selflessness that supports the weaker babe for the future. Civilisation should be defined not by antisocial conquest but by the act of becoming civil or social. The word civil means to become social. Go back to that ever so misused word ‘culture’: From the Latin colere it means to till or to worship. Within is found the word cult. We may not immediately link culture to the idea of tilling a field. We do however, talk of agriculture, or horticulture. The tiller of the field seeks to maximise his efforts and efficiently harvest from the sees he has planted. In Sanskrit krishi means to till. Another related Vedic word is Krishti meaning a fully cultured man – but also it can mean the common man.
When in Bheren, in south Madhya Pradesh, I reminder of how blessed many city dwellers are, distant from the vagaries of livelihood destroying weather. It is comfortable to enjoy a city life separated from the struggles of the land. The cost seem tha in dislocating from the earth me are disconnected from our common humanity.
As the crop is harvested the great mother Durga is celebrated in Hindu India. The regular Hindu festivals do seem to remind even city folk of earthly roots. The neighbours will eye the red hibiscus growing over the telephone cable, sacred to sword wielding kali. In the battle field of the psyche, Durga takes on the form of Kali and her dance of destruction against the demons of evil. The fierce feminine unaware the battle is won, is stopped from destroying the universe only when her consort Shiva takes the form of a helpless baby. Kali stops, bring the infant to her breast as death becomes life, and sword gives way to compassion.
The summer is harsh, and the monsoon may also be deadly. A farmers life may mean to risk all, like Ianna of Sumerian legend, they are to enter the underworld of trust naked and bowed low. I hope the harsheness of summer will be softened by a luxuriant monsoon harvest will rise from underworld with compassion.