CHENNAI: One of the first ever myths busted was that farming was low maintenance. All you needed to do was water and weed the fields; you’d have a bountiful harvest overflowing a hundred gunny sacks. The farmers we’d had long conversations with agreed that the land almost worked for itself; you simply needed to feel its pulse occasionally and give it a shot of the necessary fluids or manure. Not really.
Within days we understood that a farm, like everything worthwhile in the world, needed to be looked after like a newborn. Our heavy use of organic manure meant that weeds proliferated in thousands; the varappu or banks lining each field collapsed into clayey messes on a weekly basis and we could barely navigate them for days.
Almost every field had weak areas called mozhais — small holes dug by crabs that make their homes within fields. So many of these sideways jaunterers littered the area that the local boys indulged in crab-hunts sometimes, wading into calf-deep water to catch a few for a tasty stew. Unfortunately, crabs came with a fair share of problems: water and manure emptied through their burrows into neighbouring fields and it was KingKong’s brother who ended up with most of our jeevamirtham, that first season. Finding and plugging these holes or valais, was of paramount importance.
The first-ever jeevamirtham wash had proven to be a minor failure as instead of mixing the contents in 200 litres of water and emptying the whole into a field, Victory and (a most unwilling Spiro) had simply dumped in a bucket full of concentrate — much against my mother’s instructions. Our freshly planted saplings were now showing a pale greenish-yellow tint against the sun; a sign that they were lacking nutrients. Our farm, therefore, needed plenty of TLC on a daily basis — which was when Victory’s behaviour changed.
It started with small things: where, earlier, he’d been eager to visit nearby farms to procure cow-dung and komiyam, now he either demurred or, if he did go, returned after 4 -5 hours, thus wasting a whole day’s work. His family had remained in his village and my mother, feeling sorry for him, had offered to cook his meals — but he tired of this soon, and stopped turning up; his filled plate lay infested with flies. On the day my father and I had left to buy fence-posts, my mother, left alone on our farm, had been looking for him in vain, finally catching sight of him in the middle of a far-flung field, doing nothing. Repeated calls had had no effect; he simply didn’t respond and in desperation laced with panic, my mother had called us.
“And that’s not all,” she flustered, as we sped back post-haste. “There’s a giant digging in Rajarajan Kollai. He says he works here — but I’ve no idea who he is!”
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)