புதர்களைப் பற்றி நேரடியான அவதானிப்பு மூலம் கற்றுக்கொள்ள ஆரம்பித்த பின் அடுத்த பாடத்திட்டமாக நீர்நிலைகளைப் பற்றியும் நீர்நிலைகளுக்கு நீர் எங்கிருந்து வருகிறது என்பதைப் பற்றியும் படிப்பது என்று திருவண்ணா மலை மருதம் பள்ளியில் முடிவெடுத்தோம்.
இதற்கு எங்களின் சக ஆசிரியர் மாசிலாமணி அண்ணாதான் வழிகாட்டி. எங்கள் அமைப்பு கடந்த இருபது ஆண்டுகளாக திருவண்ணாமலை மலையில் மரம் நடுதல், காட்டுத் தீயை அணைத்தல், தீத்தடுப்பு பாதை உருவாக்குதல் போன்ற வேலைகளைச் செய்துவருகிறது. மலையில் செய்யும் எல்லாச் செயல்பாடுகளுக்கும் தலைவர் மாசிலாமணி அண்ணாதான். இந்தப் பகுதியில் இருக்கும் ஒவ்வொரு இயற்கைத் தலத்தையும் உள்ளங்கை நெல்லிக்கனிபோல் நுணுக்கமாகத் தெரிந்துவைத்துள்ளார். ஒரு சுனை எங்கிருந்து உருவாகிறது, எந்த அருவி எந்த பாதையில் பாய்ந்து எந்த நீர்நிலையைச் சென்றடைகிறது என்று ஆழமாகப் புரிந்துவைத்துள்ளவர்.
இவ்வளவு விஷயம் தெரிந்தவர் எங்கள் குழுவை ஆசிரியராக வழிநடத்திச் செல்லப்போகிறார் என்பதை நினைத்து எங்களுக்குப் பூரிப்பாக இருந்தது. ஒவ்வொரு புதன்கிழமையும் இரண்டு வகுப்பு மாணவர்களும் அவர்களுடைய ஆசிரியர் களும் இந்த ஆராய்ச்சியில் ஆழ்ந்தோம். இருபது வாரமாக இந்த நிலப்பகுதியை அலசினோம்.
இதன் ஒரு பகுதியாக, திருவண்ணாமலை மலை அடிவாரத்தில் எங்கிருந்தாவது ஒரு அருவியைப் பின்தொடர்ந்து நடக்கத் தொடங்குவோம். சில அருவிகளுக்கு அவற்றின் படுகையிலேயே நடந்துசெல்ல முடிந்தது. மலையை நோக்கி நடந்து, பின்னர் மலை மீது ஏறி எவ்வளவு தொலைவு போக முடியுமோ அவ்வளவு தொலைவுக்கு ஏறி அவதானிப்போம். பல அருவிகள் முள் புதர்கள் நிறைந்தவையாக இருக்கும். அப்பொழுது அருவிக்கு அருகில் வேறு பாதை கண்டுபிடித்து, அதன் வழியாகச் செல்வோம். பல பாதைகளில் ஊர்ந்துகூடச் செல்ல வேண்டியிருக்கும்.
மாசிலாமணி அண்ணா இல்லாமல் இது சாத்தியப்பட்டிருக்காது. காட்டில் அவருடன் இருப்பதே தனி அனுபவம்தான். அறுபது வயதை நெருங்கிவிட்ட அவர் நகரக்கூடிய விதம், குறைந்த அளவு முயற்சியுடன் ஒரு காட்டு விலங்கைப் போல் எளிமையாகவும், அழகாகவும் இருக்கும்.
மலை மேல் சென்றபின் நீரோடையைத் தொடர்ந்து, அது சென்று கலக்கும் ஏரி வரை பின்தொடர்ந்து செல்வோம். ஏரிகளும் ஒன்றுடன் ஒன்று இணைந்துள்ளன. அந்த இணைப்புகளையும் அவதானித்தோம். நாங்கள் நடந்து சென்ற பாதைகளை ‘கூகுள் ட்ராக்ஸ்’மூலம் பதிவுசெய்து, பின்னர் அவற்றை வரைபடம் மூலம் பார்த்துப் புதிய புரிதல்களைப் பெற்றோம்.
நாங்கள் இந்த ஆய்வுத் திட்டத்தை ஆரம்பித்தபோது மழைக்காலம் தொடங்கியிருக்கவில்லை. எல்லா ஓடைகளும் காய்ந்த நிலையிலிருந்தன. இரண்டாம் சுற்றில் அதே ஓடைகளில் நீர் பாய்ந்த நிலையில் கண்டுகளித்தோம்.
நாங்கள் அவதானித்த சுனைகள் எல்லாம் ஒரே பகுதியிலிருந்தாலும் ஒவ்வொரு ஓடைக் கரையிலும் இருந்த மரங்களும் கொடிகளும் நிறைய வேறுபட்டிருந்தன. அவற்றை நாங்கள் பதிவுசெய்தோம். இந்தப் பாடத்திட்டத்தில் கிடைத்த கற்றலை வார்த்தைகளில் மட்டும் எவ்வாறு வெளிப்படுத்துவது என்று தெரியவில்லை. எல்லாருக்கும் இது ஆழ்ந்த கற்றல் அனுபவமாக அமைந்தது என்பதைப் பகிர்ந்துகொண்டார்கள். ஒரு கருத்தை அனுபவப்பூர்வமாக அறிந்துகொள்வதன் அருமையை மீண்டும் உணர்ந்தோம்.
ஈடு செய்ய முடியாத கற்றல்
திருவண்ணாமலை பகுதியில் பெரும்பாலும் முட்புதர் காடுகள் காணப்படும். ஆனால், ஓடைகளை ஒட்டி பசுமைமாறா மரங்களை அவதானிக்க முடிந்தது. அது மட்டுமல்லாமல் ஓடைப்பகுதிகளில் வெப்பநிலை குறைந்திருந்தது. இதை ‘நுண் காலநிலை’என்று கூறுவார்கள். இதை மாணவர்கள் அனுபவப்பூர்வமாகக் கற்றுக்கொண்டனர்.
இந்த ஓடைகளில் விசிறிவால் ஈப்பிடிப்பான் பறவைகளைக் காண முடிந்தது. எங்கள் பகுதியில் அரிதான பறவை இது. இப்பறவைகளின் இயற்கை யான வாழ்விடம் ஓடை போன்ற நீர் இருக்கும் இடங்களே. இப்பறவையினத்தை அங்கு கண்ட பிறகே இந்தத் தகவலை அறிந்துகொண்டோம். ஒரு மலை நீர்ப்பிடிப்புப் பகுதியாக எவ்வாறு செயல்படுகிறது,மழை நீர் எவ்வாறு மண்ணில் ஊறி, பின் வெளியேறி வடிந்து, முதலில் சிறு நீரோட்டங்களாகவும் பின்னர் அருவிகளாகவும் மாறுகின்றன என்பதை நேரடியாகக் கண்டறிந்தோம். இது போன்ற விஷயங்களை எத்தனை புத்தகங்களில் படித்தாலும், அனுபவத்தில் புரிந்துகொள்வதுபோல் உணர்ந்துகொ்ளள முடியாது. இது போன்ற கற்றலில் நன்றாகப் படிப்பவர், நன்றாகப் படிக்காதவர் என்கிற வேறுபாடும் இல்லை. எல்லோரும் சிறப்பாகவும் மகிழ்ச்சியுடனும் கற்றுக்கொண்டனர்.
இந்தப் பின்னணியில் அருகில் இருக்கும் நிலப்பரப்புகளைக் கற்றலுக்காக வெவ்வேறு விதங்களில் பயன்படுத்துவதற்கான ஆவல் வளர்ந்துகொண்டே போகிறது. அடுத்த பதிவில் மேற்கு மலைத் தொடரின் மாபெரும் மரங்களை அவதானித்துக் கற்றுக்கொண்டதைப் பற்றிப் பகிர்ந்துகொள்கிறேன்.
சுற்றுச்சூழல் ஆய்வு, உயிரியல் பாடங்கள் குறித்த கற்றலுக்கும் கற்பித்தலுக்கும் திறந்தவெளியைப் பயன்படுத்துவது மிகச் சிறப்பானது என்பதைப் பலமுறை உணர்ந்துள்ளேன். திருவண்ணாமலை மருதம் பள்ளியில் கரோனா பெருந்தொற்றுக் காலத்தில் பல பாடங்களை வெளிப்புறச் சூழலிலே கற்றோம். அந்த அனுபவத்தை இங்கே பகிர விரும்புகிறேன்.
நாங்கள் பல வருடங்களாக இயற்கையைப் பற்றிப் படித்துக் கொண்டிருந்தாலும், இயற்கையின் எழிலை அனுபவித்து இருந்தாலும் எங்கள் பகுதியில் இருக்கும் புதர்களை அடையாளம் காண்பது மிகவும் கடினமானதாகவே இருந்தது. ஆனால், அதிக நேரம் வெளிப்புறத்தில் கழிக்கத் தொடங்கிவிட்டதால் இவ்வாய்ப்பைப் பயன்படுத்திக்கொள்ளலாம் என்று நினைத்தோம்.
புதர்களை அடையாளம் காண்பது ஏன் கடினம் என்றால் கிட்டத்தட்ட எல்லாப் புதர்களும் இலைகள் சிறியதாகவும், முட்களோடும் இருக்கும். பூக்கள் சிறியதாகவும் பெரும்பாலும் வெள்ளையாகவும் இருக்கும். காய்களும் சிறியதாகவும் பிஞ்சாக இருக்கும்போது பச்சையாகவும் இருக்கும். இதனால் அவற்றை அடையாளம் காண்பதற்குத் துல்லியமாகக் கவனித்துச் சிறு சிறு வித்தியாசங்களை வேறுபடுத்தி அறிய வேண்டும். இதற்குப் பொறுமையும் நிதானமும் வேண்டும்.
இந்தச் சவாலுக்கு மாணவர்கள் தயாராக இருந்தார் களா என்று முடிவுசெய்த பின் ஒரு வட்டமாக அமர்ந்து, இப்பாடத்திட்டம் முழுமை அடைய என்னென்ன செயல்பாடுகளை மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்று விவாதித்தோம். பின்னர் வெவ்வேறு புதர்களை அவதானித்தபடி நடந்து சென்றோம். ஒவ்வொரு நாளும் இதைச் செய்தோம். மீண்டும் மீண்டும் கவனிக்கும்பொழுது கொஞ்சம் கொஞ்சமாக நாங்கள் வித்தியாசங்களை உணர ஆரம்பித்தோம்.
இலை வடிவம், நிறம், மேற்பரப்பு, கீழ்பரப்பில் வெவ்வேறு நிறம், அமைப்பு, நரம்பு, இலை விளிம்பு அமைப்பு, இலையில் உள்ள முடி, இலையின் அமைப்பு, இலையின் அளவு என்று பல வித்தியாசங்களைக் கவனித்தோம்.
மலர்களில் – நிறங்கள், வடிவங்கள், இதழ்களின் எண்ணிக்கை, அமைப்பு, அளவு.
பழங்களில் – நிறம், அளவு, எண்ணிக்கை, உண்ணக் கூடியவையா.
முட்கள் – இருக்கின்றனவா, அளவு, நிறம், அமைப்பு.
புதர் வெயிலில் இருந்ததா அல்லது நிழலிலா என்று குறிப்பு எடுத்தோம். என்ன உயரம், அடர்த்தியில் வளர்ந்திருந்தது என்று குறித்துக்கொண்டோம்.
மாணவர்கள் துல்லியமான விவரங்களைக் கவனிக்கத் தொடங்கினர். உதாரணமாக, பச்சை நிறத்திலேயே அடர்த்தியாகவோ வெளிறியோ எத்தனை வகைகளில் இலைகள்/புதர்கள் இருக்கின்றன என்பதை கவனித்தல். அல்லது ஒவ்வொரு இலையின் அமைப்பும் எப்படி வேறுபடுகிறது.
மாணவர்கள் தங்களுடைய அவதானிப்புகளை வெளிப்படுத்தச் சொல்லி வெவ்வேறு புதர்களைக் குழுவாகக் கவனித்தோம். வெவ்வேறு மாணவர்கள் வெவ்வேறு அம்சங்களைக் கவனித்தார்கள்.
l எளிய, கூட்டு இலைகளை வேறுபடுத்தி அறிவது.
l கூட்டு இலைகளின் வெவ்வேறு அமைப்பு களைக் கவனிப்பது.
l மாணவர்கள் தலா ஒரு புதரைத் தேர்ந்தெடுத்து உட்கார்ந்து அதைக் கவனித்து, முக்கிய அம்சங்களை வரையுமாறு கேட்டுக்கொள்ளப்பட்டனர்.
l கவனிக்கப்பட்ட அனைத்து விவரங்களையும் பதிவுசெய்ய ஒரு அட்டவணையை உருவாக்கினோம்.
மனிதர்களைப் பார்த்த மாத்திரத்தில் அடையாளம் காண்பதுபோல் மரங்களையும் புதர்களையும் அடையாளம் காண முடியுமா என்று அலசினோம்.
மரங்களுடன் வேலை செய்பவர்கள் எவ்வாறு வெவ்வேறு இனங்களை உடனடியாக அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்கிறார்கள்? அதே வகையில், மாணவர்களுக்கு ஒரு சவால் – நீங்கள் தேர்ந்தெடுத்த இனத்தை அப்படி அடையாளம் காண முடியுமா? அதன் வயதின் பல்வேறு நிலைகளில்? ஒரு சிறிய செடியாக? பூக்கள், பழங்களுடன் அல்லது இல்லாமல்?
இந்த கட்டத்தைக் கடந்த பின் மற்ற உயிரினங்களுடனான புதர்களின் உறவுகளைக் கவனிக்க ஆரம்பித்தோம். வண்ணத்துப்பூச்சிகள், தேனீக்கள், வண்டுகள், பறவைகள் தாவரத்துக்கு வருகின்றனவா? அவற்றை முகர்ந்து பார்க்கின்றனவா என்று கவனிக்க ஆரம்பித்தோம். அவற்றில் சிலந்திகள் உள்ளனவா? கம்பளிப்பூச்சிகள் உள்ளனவா என்பதையும் கவனித்தோம். வேறு என்னென்ன சுற்றுச்சூழல் தொடர்புகளைக் கவனிக்க முடியும் என்று ஆராய்ந்தோம்.
இதைத் தொடர்ச்சியாக வருடம் முழுக்கச் செய்தபொழுது பல புரிதல்கள் மலர ஆரம்பித்தன. இயற்கையின் பல தொடர்புகள் நமது புலன்களை வந்தடைந்தன. மனத்தளவில் மட்டும் கவனிக்காமல் நம் முழு உடலையும் கவனிக்கும் செயல்பாட்டுக்கு மாற்றும்பொழுது நமக்குள் மறைந்திருக்கும் இயற்கைத் தொடர்புகள் புத்துணர்வு பெறுவதை உணர்ந்தோம். அவதானிப்பு வேறு வகையிலான உச்சத்தைத் தொட்டது.
ஒவ்வொரு மாணவரும் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட புதர்ச் செடியை ஒரு சக மாணவர், ஒரு இளம் மாணவர், ஒரு ஆசிரியர் ஆகியோருக்கு அறிமுகப்படுத்தி வைத்ததுடன் எங்கள் திட்டத்தை நிறைவுசெய்தோம்.
இவ்வாறு நாங்கள் அறிந்துகொண்ட புதிய புதர்கள் – பூலாந்தி, காரை, கொரங்கு வெற்றிலை, வெடிபுலா, செம்புளிச்சை, பல்லுகுச்சி கொடி, தோட்டி வீரா, வீரா, விராலி, நானா பழம் போன்றவை.
திட்டம் முடிந்தாலும் பாடத்திட்டம் முடிவு பெற வில்லை. இப்போது மாணவர்களுடன் எங்கே சென்றாலும் புதர்களைக் கவனிக்கின்றனர். கேள்வி களை எழுப்புகின்றனர். ஒவ்வொருவருக்கும் ஏன் ஆசிரியர்களுக்கும் புதிய புதர் குறித்துச் சவால் விடுக்கின்றனர். இவ்வாறு கற்றல் தொடர்ந்து மகிழ்வடைகிறது. அடுத்த சவாலாக மலையில் தோன்றும் அருவிகள், ஊற்றுகள் எந்தெந்த நீர்நிலை களைச் சென்றடைகின்றன என்பதை ஆராயலாம் என்று திட்டமிட்டோம். அதைப் பற்றித் தனியாகப் பகிர்கிறேன். ஆனால், அருவிகள் பற்றி ஆராய்ந்தபோதும் புதர்கள், செடிகள் பற்றிய ஆராய்ச்சி தொடர்ந்துகொண்டிருந்தது மிகுந்த பூரிப்பை அளித்தது.
மனிதர்களான நாம் ஆக்கப்பூர்வமான வேலைகளைச் செய்வதில் அனுபவம் பெற்றிருப்பதைப் போலவே, அழிவுப் பூர்வமான வேலைகள் செய்வதிலும் பல நூற்றாண்டு கால அனுபவத்தைப் பெற்றுள் ளோம். இரண்டுக்கும் என்ன வேறுபாடு என்றால், ஆக்கப்பூர்வமான வேலைகளைச் செய்வது கடினம் என்பதுதான். காடுகளை அழித்ததால் ஆறுகள் வற்றி விட்டன, காலநிலை மாற்றத்தால் பனி உருகுகிறது, வாழிடம் அழிந்ததால் உயிரினங்கள் அழிந்துவிட்டன என்பது போன்ற செய்திகளைக் கேட்டுக் கேட்டு விரக்தி அதிகரிக்கிறது.
ஆனால், இயற்கையின் ஓர் அங்கமான பறவைகளையும், அவற்றின் வாழிடங்களையும் கண்டுகளிக்கும்போதும், அவற்றுடன் உறவாடத் தொடங்கும்போதுதான் பூவுலகில் எஞ்சியிருப்பதையாவது காப்பாற்ற அவசரமாகச் செயல்படவேண்டும் என்கிற புரிதல் வரும்.
இயற்கையின் பல்வேறு அம்சங்களிலும் ஒருவருக்கு ஆர்வம் இருந்தாலும், நம் ஈர்ப்பு பெரும் பாலும் தொடங்குவது பறவைகளிட மிருந்துதான். நானும் அதற்கு விதிவிலக்கல்ல. முதலில் பல பறவைகளை அடையாளம் காண முடியவில்லை. கண்ணில் பட்ட பறவைகளைப்பற்றியெல்லாம் மற்றவர்களிடம் கேட்டுத் தெரிந்துகொண்டேன். பின்னர் சாலிம் அலியின் ‘The Book of Indian Birds’ களக் கையேட்டை வாங்கினேன். ஒவ்வொரு நாளும் ஓய்வு நேரத்தில் அந்தப் புத்தகத்திலேயே மூழ்கிக் கிடப்பேன்.
அப்பொழுதுதான் இயற்கையை நேசித்ததற்கான முதல் பரிசு கிடைத்தது. ஒவ்வொரு இரவும் கனவில் மணிக்கணக்கில் பறவைகள் வந்து செல்லும். காலை எழுந்தவுடன் புத்தகத்தை எடுத்துப் புரட்டுவேன். கனவில் பார்த்த ஒரு பறவைகூடப் புத்தகத்தில் இருக்காது. அந்தக் கனவுகள் நிற்கவே கூடாது என்று நினைத்துக்கொள்வேன். ஆனால், சில மாதங்களுக்குப் பின், அதுபோன்ற கனவுகள் நின்றுபோயின. ஆனாலும் அந்த களக் கையேட்டைப் பார்த்துப்பார்த்து கிட்டத்தட்ட எல்லாப் பறவைகளின் பெயரையும் அறிந்துகொண்டிருந்தேன். நேரில் பார்க்கும்பொழுது உடனடியாக அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்ள முடிந்தது.
நானாக முதலில் அடையாளம் கண்டுகொண்ட பறவை மாங்குயில் (Indian Golden Oriole). அந்த மகிழ்ச்சியான தருணத்தை மறக்கவே முடியாது. ஒருமுறை வீட்டிற்கு அருகிலிருந்த நீர்நிலையிலிருந்த பறவைகளைக் கண்டு மகிழ்ந்துகொண்டிருந்தோம், கையில் சாலிம் அலியின் புத்தகம் இருந்தது. வெண்மார்புக் கானாங்கோழி (White-Breasted Water Hen) ஒன்று எதிரே நடந்து வந்துகொண்டிருந்தது. அந்தப் பறவையைப் பார்த்துக்கொண்டிருந்தபோதே, கையேட்டில் அப்பறவையைப் பற்றி சாலிம் அலி எழுதியிருந்த குறிப்புகளையும் படித்தோம்.
அது எவ்வாறு நடக்கும், வாலை எவ்வாறு மேலே உயர்த்திப் பின்னர் கீழே இறக்கும், கழுத்து எவ்வாறு நகரும் என்று அவர் விவரித்திருந்தார். அந்தக் குறிப்பிலிருந்தது போலவே எங்கள் எதிரே இருந்த பறவையும் செய்துகொண்டிருந்தது. எவ்வளவு நுணுக்கமாகக் குறிப்பெடுத்து எழுதி வைத்திருக்கிறார் இந்த மனிதர் என ஆச்சரியப்பட்டுக் கொண்டோம். இந்தியாவி லிருக்கும் ஆயிரத்துக்கும் மேற்பட்ட பறவைகளுக்கு இப்படி நுணுக்கமாகக் குறிப்பெடுத்து அவர் பதிவுசெய்திருக்கிறார் என்பதை நினைக்கும்பொழுது மலைப்பாக இருக்கிறது.
பல பறவை ஆர்வலர்களை நான் சந்தித்திருக்கிறேன், உறவாடி யிருக்கிறேன். ஆனால், எனது நண்பரும் திருவண்ணா மலை ‘தி பாரஸ்ட் வே’ அமைப்பின் சக உறுப் பினருமான சிவக்குமார் போல் ஒருவரைச் சந்தித்ததில்லை. கடந்த 15 ஆண்டுகளாக ஒவ்வொரு நாளும் தன்னுடைய இருகண் நோக்கியுடனும் ஒளிப்படக் கருவியுட னும் அருகில் உள்ள ஏதாவது ஒரு இயற்கை வாழிடத்திற்கோ காட்டிற்கோ சென்றுவிடுவார்.
உடன் யாராவது வந்தாலும் வராவிட்டாலும் மணிக்கணக்காகக் காடுகளில் சுற்றுவார். இந்தப் பகுதியிலிருக்கும் ஒவ்வொரு குன்று, புதர்க்காடு, அருவி, குளம் எல்லாமே அவருக்குப் பரிச்சயம். எந்த வகையான பறவைகள் எங்கெங்கே இருக்கும் என்கிற விவரமும் அவருக்குத் தெரிந்திருக்கும். அவருடைய தேடல்கள், குறிப்புகள், பதிவுகள் மூலம் திருவண்ணாமலை பகுதியில் உள்ள 240 வகைப் பறவைகளை ‘Birds of Tiruvannamalai’ என்னும் நூலில் பதிவுசெய்துள்ளார். அவர் ஓர் அருமையான ஓவியர். அவர் வரைந்த பல பறவை ஓவியங்களை திருவண்ணாமலை அருணகிரி சிறுவர் பூங்காவில் காணலாம்.
பறவைகள் சூழலியல் சுட்டிக்காட்டிகள். குறிப்பிட்ட சில பறவை வகைகள் குறிப்பிட்ட வாழிடத்தில் மட்டுமே தென்படும். வாழிடம் சிதைந்து போனால், அங்கிருந்து அவை அகன்றுவிடும். வாழிடத்தை அறிவியல்பூர்வமாக மீளமைத்தால், அந்த வாழிடத்தில் இருந்த இயல் தாவரங்களை மட்டுமே வளர்த்தால், பறவைகள் மீண்டும் வரும். திருவண்ணாமலையில் இதை நாங்கள் கண்கூடா கப் பார்த்திருக்கிறோம்.
30 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன் திருவண்ணாமலை மலையில் பாறைகளும் புற்களும் மட்டுமே இருந்தன. வனத்துறை, அண்ணாமலை வனவளர்ச்சிக் குழு, தி பாரஸ்ட் வே அமைப்பு ஆகியவை இணைந்து பல லட்சம் மரக் கன்றுகளை நட்டன. அத்துடன் வாழிட மீளமைப்பு, காட்டுத்தீ அணைப்புப் பணிகளிலும் ஈடுபட்டன. இதனால், தற்போது இந்த இடம் உயிர்பெற்று, அடர் காடாக உருமாறியுள்ளது.
மனிதர்களைக் காட்டிலும் காடுகளை மீட்பதில் பறவைகள் பெரும் வல்லுநர்கள். அவை பழங்களைச் சாப்பிட்டு இடும் எச்சத்தில் முளைக்கும் மரக்கன்றுகள் காடு மீட்புப் பணியில் பெரும் பங்கு வகிக்கின்றன. காட்டின் வளம் அதிகரித்தால் அதிக பறவையினங்களுக்கு அது வாழிடமாக மாறும். பறவைகளின் எண்ணிக்கை கூடக் கூடக் காட்டின் வளமும் அதிகரிக்கும். காட்டின் வளம் கூடும்போது, அப்பகுதியின் நீர் சேகரிக்கும் தன்மையும் அதிகரிக்கும். இதற்கு நாங்களே நேரடி சாட்சியாக இருந்திருக்கிறோம்.
முன்பு இந்த மலையில் மழை பெய்தால் காட்டாறாகச் சில மணி நேரத்துக்குத் தண்ணீர் ஓடும். பின்னர் வற்றிவிடும். இப்பொழுது ஒவ்வோர் ஆண்டும் மழை ஆரம்பித்துப் பல வாரங்களுக்குப் பின்னர்தான் நீரோடைகளில் நீர்வரத்து அதிகமாகிறது. அதேபோல் மழை பெய்து முடிந்தபின் பல வாரங்களுக்கு ஓடைகளில் நீர் ஓடியபடியே இருக்கின்றது. அருவிகளிலிருந்தும், நீரோடைகளிலிருந்தும் ஓடும் நீர் இம்மலையைச் சுற்றியுள்ள பல ஏரிகளை நிரப்பி, நிலத்தடி நீரை அதிகரிக்கிறது. இதனால், விவசாயிகள் பலனடை கின்றனர். காடு இருப்பதால் மழையும் கிடைக்கிறது.ஒரு நாள் நானும் சிவக்குமாரும் திருவண்ணாமலையின் அடிவாரத்தில் துடுப்புவால் கரிச்சானைக் (Greater racket-tailed drongo) கண்டோம். எங்கள் வியப்புக்கும் மகிழ்ச்சிக்கும் எல்லையே இல்லை. பொதுவாக இப்பறவை சற்றே அடர்ந்த காடுகளில் மட்டுமே தென்படும். இந்தப் பகுதிக்கு அது வந்திருக்கிறது என்றால், இங்கு நடந்த காட்டு மீளமைப்புப் பணியே காரணம் என்பதில் எந்த ஐயமும் இல்லை. பல கரங்கள் இணைந்து செய்த வேலைக் குப் பலனாக இயற்கை கொடுத்த சான்றிதழ் அது.
The massive farmers’ protest in the borders of Delhi amidst a pandemic and innumerable hurdles is a story of resistance and resilience as well as deep inspiration for all those struggling against different forms of loss of agency and freedom, around the world. The farmers’ movement is being representative of world-wide grassroots struggle for reclamation of rights of indigenous peoples and minorities, from the clutches of tangled corporate-political nexus and various forms of power. It is important for all of us to understand these kind of movements and support it in whatever way possible, as this ultimately is about all of us too.
The more I reflected, deeper was my inner urge to be physically with the farmers even if of for a short while, to show my solidarity, and learn how best to help. Just around the same time in March 2021, Rohit Kumar wrote an article in The Wire, titled “Why You Should Visit the F.A.R.M.E.R. at Tikri Border at Least Once”. That reinforced my desire and I booked my tickets immediately. Thereafter, the ferocity of Covid second wave made me postpone the travel.
Eventually, the trip happened. When I conveyed my plan to my colleagues, many expressed their wish to join me. They were happy that i could go and asked me to convey their solidarity with the farmers. The week before the travel, Ananthoo from Tula visited Marudam and shared his experience from the site of the Farmers’ protest and many of us found his experiences inspiring.
Clifton, a Banglore based lawyer working with the trade union AICCTU, shared the contacts of Navkiran Natt and Sukhdarshan Natt for staying at Tikri.
August 1st 2021
11am. As I boarded the metro train to Tikri, I called Sukhdarshanji to request if I could stay with him for a week. He said, “It’s a public space, not that I own this place. If you can bear a few mosquito bites, then Yes, why not.”
My first impression looking at the protest site reminded me of the vast tiny mycelium network that holds the giant forest together. The mass congregation of the farmers are helping nourish the vital values of healthy co-existence, simplicity and truthful living. They are literally providing lifeline – food and ethics! and upholding the constitutionality of our country! In the nights, the silent immensity is very humbling and soul rejuvenating.
I stayed with Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, a Manasa-based senior leader of the CPI(ML) Liberation. He explained why the Sikh fraternity feels Delhi is never a friend. How Punjabis, though they are minority, they never felt threatened or weak. Instead they are on a roll to show Delhi that they cannot be defeated. He spoke about Ranjit Singh of 1801-39 and the way they trained their army under French when they were fighting the British. The Sikh tradition has been full of truth-warriors, like the many Sikh Sants who had to lay down their lives for the cause of truth.
5pm. I went with Guru Gobind Khalsa warriors people to meet their President Rudhu Singh. It was a warm meeting with welcome tea, and a nice discussion on their contributions. Rudhu Singh inquired if I am comfortable at pillar 783. When he came to know that I am a teacher in a school where we teach farming, he said that even this protest is part of the farming. He asked me to teach this to the children in a way they can understand the importance of this part. Towards the end, i relished a sweet and cold Badam milk with a tinge of black pepper!
6:37pm. I met a documentary journalist Randeep Maddoke, the maker of the film Landless, who is documenting the farmers’ protest from October 2020. His film is a must watch. He shared how the farmers’ struggle is the best example of a contemporary mass movement. He emphasized the part of BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) in the whole farmers movement. SKM has over forty Indian Farmers’ unions with them. BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) is not part of the SKM, but they extend their support to the coalition. Ekta Ugrahan is also very worthily, extending true solidarity for all political prisoners. He spoke about all the significant protest events, such as Rail Roko, December 10 Human Rights Day protest, Jan 26, Feb 20, March 8th 80000 women farmers gathering…
I was thrilled to hear that at peak time the tents and roadside houses were there for 23kms. I wanted to take a walk the next day and didn’t know how far I could go.
The evening followed with prayers and then dinner. My day was filled with warmth and gratitude. Humbled by all they shared with whatever they had.
2nd August 2021
4 am. I woke up and went for a walk to find the farmers’ tents for as long as I could. I went to a highway border which is renamed as Kisan Chowk. From there to Bahadurgarh is about 10km. All through I could see only farmer settlements. Some were temporary and some permanent structures. It has all the amenities required for basic living. At 6 am, about 700 people lined up on a queue to collect milk. They have been given a milk card, with which they can collect about a jug of milk, may be 1.5 litres. Came back to our tent by 7 am. Washed my clothes and took bath. When I slipped and got a scratch on my big toe, one of the Khalsa warriors cared to put a bandage immediately, as if it’s his duty. I humbly listened to their stories and had a large glass of tea.
11:30am. After having our breakfast, along with the Khalsa army, went to Singhu border to see and hear their leader’s speech. To witness the resistance at Singhu border was exhilarating. It was sprawling for a straight 10-12 kms.
3:30pm. A sudden down pour and roads were quickly flooded. Traffic crawled on both sides of the road. It took about 3 hours for us to reach back to Tikri.
3rd August 2021
6:23am. Jasbir Kaur Natt, the women’s union leader said, if you want to visit Kisan Sansad, a jeep is going from here to Singhu. She asked me to go to pillar 764 and board the vehicle immediately. I reached the spot. I saw few farmers assembled at the place. Some of them had a few sheets of notes prepared to speak at the Sansad. I joined them in their travel.
At Singhu border they have to collect their passes for the Sansad. It is well organised. I was told that, just a media card is enough for me, as I was carrying one from pedestrian pictures with whom I have volunteered for a while. Once they got the passes, we all had our breakfast at a langar and boarded the buses. 5 buses to carry 200 Sansad members.
9:30am. The bus reached Amber resorts at a border in Delhi, where police do a thorough checking of the bus and verifying the passes for the Sansad. I was off boarded from the bus, but given a seat in a different bus which also had some police men and other journalists. The traffic in the city was stopped in many places to safely and quickly move these people to Jantar Mantar. By 10am the buses reached the place of Sansad. The journalists where allowed entry after Kisan sansad could settle a bit. The topic for discussion was Minimum support price. Union members of different unions came one after the other and spoke about the issues. Every day there are 3 sessions and each session has a speaker and a deputy speaker to conduct the sessions. The day also saw 5MPs paying visit to the place to show their solidarity. I can imagine it will only increase in the coming days.
I also met some interesting people at Jantar Mantar such as Suman, Sanitary worker who has been working here for more than 10 years. “These people show us how to protest against such a government. But I am sad that the government is not caring for the people.” said Suman.
Tapon Biswas, only senior journalist of the day, easily around 70 years, is a regular writer at Dalit Adivasi duniya. He said, “I have never seen anything like this in my career, this is a milestone movement.”
Rani from Guntur, who came to Jantar Mantar 3 years back to resist and demand justice for her daughter’s life, but ended up there as a person with no care and she needs psychological help as well.
I met Dr Swaiman Singh who had returned from California to setup a health care center called Pind California. This organisation has so far registered 1000 doctors who visited for a few weeks or upto several months to take care of the farmers protecting them from the pandemic. He says, “We have done everything we could in the COVID fight, from dispelling rumours to pushing people to get vaccinated and urging them to follow COVID protocols.”
6pm. After returning to Singhu border from Jantar Mantar, it was time to meet Ananthoo of Tula and Kavita of ASHA. It was a great time spent together with them. Also, met an amazing youngster Amarinder who is a friend of Kavita. That boy would grow up to be someone great to remember. He is 24 and it was his birthday. Kavita says, “This is a boy when meeting any leader, would go to him and say, I remember you, but you may not. I met you at so and so protest rally or a march.” He is very socially aware & engaged at such a tender age. Maybe most youngsters of this generation are….when we look at the age of “Fridays for future” school protest volunteers Or Extinction Rebellion youngsters, as young as 9 yrs old and the like…its we adults who are very closed . Dr. Darshan Pal, union leader of Kranti Kisan Union was staying in the next room. We spent some time there as well. Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and Prashant Kishore came to visit Dr. Darshan ji. It was great to be among all of them in close quarters. In the night Ananthoo shared how he was deeply moved by the plight of the migrants and what followed was a personal experience. It was inspirational to hear it straight from him. It was already late in the night and we knew we would wake up late.
4th August 2021
11am. I walked to many tents and shared how we were deeply obliged to all the farmers putting up this struggle for the world. At school we wanted to show the real resistance by the farmers. The media is not sharing enough light on this issue, as they are terribly frightened to share the real situation at the borders. If known to all of India, it would be a massive uprising. They all shared stories about the resistance back home. Some asked me, “Did you bang your plates last year to ward of Corona?” To show the protest in the school, we wanted the badges and flags of different unions. It is also difficult in the time of secret agents to give the badges as it might put them into a difficult situation. But still many of them offered tea, snacks and meals along with their badges and flags.
Both the Singhu and Tikri borders have many health check-up facilities, some with a dozen beds. Huge pharmacies. Places for food like langar after langar continuously cooking and making tea. There’s even a pizza langar, which operates every evening from 5pm. There’s a place for community washing with many washing machines with volunteers helping to wash the clothes of the farmers’ resistance supporters. A cobbler has put up a tent to mend the shoes and chappals of all the protesters. A barber is cutting hair of a farmer sitting under a tent. Amazing expression of togetherness.
Some people were listening to songs, debating on general life issues, playing cards and relaxing. Getting a cool air from a cooler in a hot day. Some trolleys with ACs fitted in them. Also witnessed a tent city.
SKM has put up a stage at the border for people to speak and listen to. I spoke about how we need to teach children about this resistance when in school, so they are able to explore real-life problems and evolve into mature beings capable of being a part of the solution in their later years. And these inspiring stories of resistance & renewal is what makes real education happen. They all were able to understand my broken Hindi, and I could guess when they laughed at my Hindi. Then took an auto and two buses to reach back to Tikri border.
5th August 2021
8:30am. Gazipur border is no different from what I witnessed at Singhu or Tikri. Here the protest tents extended to about 5km. It is a km away from Vaishali Metro station. I missed visiting Shahjahanpur border.
1pm. I met Santosh a Bio-Statistician by profession and Founder of Workers unity youtube channel, at his home. He and few others run this youtube channel called workers unity. Founder-Editor, Sandeep Bauzi has been a victim of Pegasus snooping. They shared about an important meeting to be held in Punjab on Aug 9-12, 2021, where the workers’ union and the farmers’ union are going to engage in a dialogue to see what next for the farmers’ protest. All of us were joking as to why we haven’t been chosen for Pegasus snooping, maybe it indicates that we need to work hard!
August 6th 2021
9am. At Tikri border, pillar 783, Trolley Times. Gurudev Singh, a 78yr old farmer from Punjab, shared his story. “I came to India from Pakistan when I was 4 years old, three days later the riots broke out during partition. Later when I was a shepherd at 9 years, I got introduced to communist party and unsure when I became the member.” He is a senior member of the CPI(ML) Liberation Party. He is sure that the Government will repeal the black laws.
A Dancer, and two law students came to Trolley Times to collect the latest edition and conveyed their solidarity, as they then walked towards the stage at Tikri border. Trolley Times is run by Navkiran Natt a dentist, also a graduate of film studies from Ambedkar University. They also have an active library with the register getting entries every now and then.
8th August 2021, Tiruvannamalai. (Few reflections)
I remember what Sukhdarshan shared about the facilities needed for a long stay. Almost all the places had huge water purifiers for drinking and cooking. To get water, they had dug few bore wells spaced well apart. The sewage from the lavatories installed in a common place is connected to the public sewage. I asked him, if we have to pay the electricity bill. “The Government brought 3 ‘so called’ important bills, they can have this bill as well”, says Sukhdarshan jokingly! He said, they used the industries’ power lines. The government initially threatened them with the shutdown of the power lines. The farmers’ union negotiated that they would have to use power from the Metro lines then. Government responded with care that the appliances would blow-up as that’s 12000 volts, for which the farmers responded, “Yes, we know that, and we also know how to install a step-down transformer to convert that to 220 volts”.
All we need is intent. Farmer’s are showing that nothing can stop them at all.
It was an immense experience for me for the past whole week. When I said bye, Jasbir Kaur Natt asked me to promise that I should bring my family along with me next time. I wish that happens within the next four months.
Repealing the laws is essential for the protest to come to an end. But what is more important is that the process to reach till this stage needs a celebration, it is a victory already. The spirit of the movement, its collective will to stand up for the truth, despite the loss of 600+ individuals martyred in the struggle, and the many hurdles across the way…(lathi charges, goon attacks, fake news, total govt. indifference etc, in addition to braving the pandemic and severe cold, heat and rain….) The energy shared by all the senior citizens in the protest sites are evident that they are not going back to their villages till the laws are repealed. When government machinery kept multi-ton cement structures to block the entry to Delhi, the farmers converted them to make it as a protection for their new homes in the middle of the road. The police barricades are literally their fence around the new home. They have faced huge resistance to be where they are today. They are here to STAY, until the laws are taken BACK. It is the rest of civil society which needs to wake up to the harsh realities of the corporate-govt. nexus that is slowly eroding the base of a humane society and rupturing the ecological balance that is needed for all of our collective survival. For the sake of all beings, let’s unite with the farmers, and stand up with them, to usher in a humane society, a microcosm of which we can glimpse in the way the farmers are jointly humanely protesting.
Some of the ways in which we could concretely help:
To discuss and raise awareness on the plight of farmers with our friends and colleagues, so we help dispel any myths of “farmers being rich”, “farmers linking with terror groups” etc, floated by fake media.
To visit the farmers, expressing solidarity, and gaining life-lessons along the way.
To help support financially
To make conscious socially engaged artwork, that helps people connect to the real issues on the ground, as well as translate truthful data into digestible formats by the lay public)
To re-focus on Agriculture as a vital social sector, and help make it a more sustainable lucrative option for youngsters, with emphasis on Organic/Natural Farming methods
To help reverse-migration from urban to rural areas so the plight of informal migrant sector is also alleviated.
To reflect upon and initiate discussions on “Development”, “Growth”etc, and figure out how to make them all in tune with nature’s organic evolutionary processes.
In conclusion, sharing a couple of verses by Guru Nanak and Rumi, widening the very meaning of farming and farmers:
The body is a farm, thy actions the seeds, it is watered by the name of God, in whose hands is the whole Earth. The mind is the farmer.
With every breath I plant the seeds of devotion I am a farmer of the heart day and night I see the face of union I am the mirror of God Every moment I shape my destiny with chisel I am the carpenter of my own soul.
Though it is not practically possible for all of us to visit the protest site, we all could contribute to this resistance is anyway possible, as all of us have different strengths and expertise.
A simple and a must read on why farmers are insisting on a Repeal of the 3 Central Farm Laws by Kavitha
For many of us Chennai turtle walkers, a turtle walk never feels complete without our best friends – our dear dogs who have been accompanying us on our walks for years and years. My entire 23 years of walking has been in the company of a few of these wonderful creatures.
These are free dogs living on the beach, off whatever they find on it. They befriend anyone who lands up on the beach and, since we are the regulars, we have developed deep relationships.
I will start with the current set which is the most remarkable.
We have had Loota walk with us for 12 years now. Yes, you read right. 12 long years – a lifetime in a dog’s life. He has joined every walk in these last 12 seasons. When we first met him, he was a full-grown adult, maybe two years of age. Now, at 14 years of age, he is old and frail, and though his faculties are failing him, he still joins us on every walk. Very few human volunteers in SSTCN have managed this kind of longevity.
When we first met him, we were blown away by his energy, joyful spirit and incredibly good looks. He has large hazel eyes and can soak up any amount of petting, forever seeking more by gently prodding us with his paw when we stop. He is also a singer with a lot of yodelling skills.
In the initial years, he would do the equivalent of two or three walks in a single walk as he would run from the scouts to the last person on the walk, several times during each walk, greeting everyone.
He would chase every village dog in its own village and if dawn broke, he would chase crows, water birds, anything. Of course, he would catch nothing. The crow chases were particularly hilarious as he would try jumping into the air after the crow, like he expected to fly too.
He had a bounce in his step which was quite unique and looked like he was doing a dance. Added to the singing, he was quite a performer.
Every night he would wait at midpoint to join us and there were days when he was more energetic and would walk an extra kilometre towards us to meet us earlier. He has lasted longest so I have started with him. But he had a female partner who was called Looti. She was older than him and was almost a constant companion to him. She was a mousy dog with shrivelled up ears – not exactly what you would call pretty—but she was much more determined than him when it came to chasing the other dogs.
The third member of the team was a dreamy, scruffy, extremely gentle dog called Loot 3. Though considerably younger than the other two, he seemed hard of hearing and seeing. He had soft fur which remained in clumps because he was constantly taking dips in the sea.
Unfortunately, Looti died two years ago and Loot 3 disappeared a couple of months before the start of this season. Loota has lost his long-time companions but new ones have joined the walks. More about them later.
On every walk, this dog team would accompany us till the end of the walk, wait patiently as we relocated the eggs, and then walk us down to our vehicles or to the bus stop. They would then give the vehicle or the bus a chase and finally go back to the beach and meet us again the next night.
At least when they walked with us, they had company and protection while crossing the several fishing villages with scores of dogs. On their way back, however, they would have to cross hostile dogs in their territories all on their own. We don’t know how they managed this, but there they were every night.
They are very free spirited and tough dogs. Like most strays, they have no shelter from rain or sun. During the day, particularly in summer, they have to make do with the small shelter of some beach- side kiosks. There is no fresh water and no assured food supply. Yet they seem to manage pretty well.
In the initial years, we were not even feeding them. They came purely for friendship. Then we began to feed them biscuits and, more importantly, supply them with fresh water. Akila now has an elaborate feeding ritual at the end of each walk, which includes vegetarian cat food!
The most amazing thing is that they were there to join us on the first walk of every season. Did it mean they waited for us for 9 months every night? Or did they understand seasons and know that 9 months had passed, and it was time for us to be back again?
Every season when the walks end, we are very sad to stop walking as this means not having their company and not being there for them too. However, some of us visit the gang in the non-season with biscuits, water and a lot of hugs whenever we can.
Way back in 2009, we had a very scary experience, but we also learnt something that night. The walkers of the night pulled out at the last minute. So, Akila and I decided to walk early in the morning. We had to start from our hatchery at Besant nagar to walk to Neelangarai, where we would catch a bus back. We were hoping to slink past the dogs as we were scared that they would follow us to East Coast Road (ECR) when there would be traffic. But Loota and friends spotted us and joined us as usual. When we reached the ECR, exactly what we feared happened. Loota was hit by a jeep. But he got up and ran off to some side street. Akila was inconsolable. Search as we did, we couldn’t find him, and there was the danger of Looti getting hurt too. So, we left and brought her back to the beach…
We felt very sad and tense and couldn’t sleep that night. During the day, we went and searched at our usual meeting point, hoping to find him, but he wasn’t there. Totally heartbroken, we went back to our starting point, and there he was lying on the sand – obviously in great pain, but alive! How did he manage to walk 7 or 8 km? We tried making a stretcher with a large borrowed towel in order to carry him to a vet, but he would have none of it. We gave up and bought him some food and decided to just wait and watch his progress. He didn’t join the walk that night and Looti was not seen either.
But after three nights he was back on the walk, limping slowly. A week of this and he slowly regained his movement turning into a bouncy dog within two weeks. The strength and resilience of free-living animals is sometimes beyond our comprehension.
We have been thinking every season for the past 3 seasons that it might be his last one, but he is still around. He is a major source of love and inspiration for us.
The current set includes one fellow we call Bumshaky for his unique greeting. He comes all the way from Neelankarai and walks 16km most nights. Other than our company, he loves chasing crabs all through the walk.
He is accompanied by Brownie, a young dog with a lot of energy. There is Floppy, from Palavakkam, who greets everyone by standing upright with her paws on our stomach. And of course, in the middle, is our Loota.
I cannot imagine these walks without our darlings. People ask whether they eat the eggs or hurt the turtles or hatchlings. The answer is definitely no. They seem to know that their friends are some crazy turtle conservationists.
As someone who has grown up with animals and enjoys relating to as many species as possible, I find that my life is richer due to the association that we have with these dogs. It is amazing how much animals connect to us and I continue to look forward to discovering these connections in the years to come.
There’s an infection spreading through the mountains. It’s not new, but it’s intensifying. I’m writing this because someone you know or someone they know might unknowingly be a carrier. Its symptoms are gashes in the middle of villages, as whole mountain sides are taken over by real estate projects. The irony is that many of these houses are being built for people who want to seek the peace and quiet of the mountains :/ How did we get so upside-down? This article is an exploration of where we might find balance.
It’s important to acknowledge that this is of course not the only infection ravaging the mountains, and it might not even be the worst or the most ironical because there are several competitors – big dams causing floods, four-lane highways for pilgrims on foot, forests made of a single species, and many more. But this gated colony infection, or as many mountain people call it VIP housing, hits home the closest. Taken together as something happening all over the state of Uttarakhand for the last two decades it has considerable scale. The cummulative effect of many rich urban households making the same decisions. Same because they are often not independently thought out, but come from aspirations and trends as understood by contractors. Mostly the house owners want everything taken care of so they can just shift-in. Big mistake. Beware of suave contractors who might say all the right things, plant a native tree or two, and keep you at a safe distance from all the harsh realities of the process… Village people share how contractors throw their weight around because so much money is involved. They dip into fragile common resources like spring water for construction (remember big cement structures are very thirsty creatures), they alter the flow of forest streams to capture water before it reaches the village in the middle of a drought and this after the village has offered to share their water source (I guess ‘sharing’ means differen things to different people), they raise dust over people’s fields, they throw construction debris into village commons and allow more debris to just slide down into forests below, they upset the local economy, they disturb the peace of the night by working late, they don’t provide for their migrant labour who then end up becoming a nuisance at times, they encroach on common land, they lodge FIRs against locals that question them and are supported by thugs and low-level politicians in all of this. A local farmer wisely said that the contractors don’t have to live with the village. They do their shoddy work and move on like locusts to the next place, leaving behind ill-feelings between local and outside people. Which of the people who get their second-homes made like this will take the time to repair these damages in trust? Probably no-one, and the ill-feelings build up till there are two parallel worlds. Sounds familiar?
A pause here.
This is not to put anyone down for the sake of it, or to get kicks out of pointing out the obvious. In fact, let’s get some of the obvious out of the way.
I get it. I grew up in the outskirts of cities. I know how beautiful it can be to have some space, some greenery, and all modern conveniences together in one place. I can’t even imagine how good it must look to someone approaching retirement waiting to exit the hell-hole out cities have become. Because we know that this can’t be found in cities now, not least in Delhi.
But this is when it can be very interesting to take the long view and think of how perhaps Delhi herself used to be. Was she not a blessed land with the Yamuna meeting the Aravallis creating a mosaic of flood-plains, rocky hills, wetlands, and forests? Putting together a picture of this today is more mind-bendingly difficult for us than those huge puzzles where all 10000 pieces are the same shade of blue-grey.
We did something to the picture, to the stunningly complex dynamics that supported that picture, and now we can’t see it.
Now think of the history of the Himalayas. Immense, untouchable, except by puffy clouds that softly tickle those sheer faces, to shed tears into those mighty rivers that carve for themselves a way to the vast flood-plains. A healthy, strong people, working hard in high places to make a beautiful, if sometimes precarious, life. The mountains are beautiful not just because they are full of clouds and rivers, but also because they have been inaccesible to the plundering infectious culture that is now making its way deeper and deeper into its vast folds.
Another pause. A sharper look at some details. The VIP houses come with an agressive territoriality unfamiliar to mountain culture. Suddenly individual homes have spike-studded high walls, colonies have unfriendly looking barbed fences and huge cement walls. Tarred roads lead all the way upto the doors, and giant 4-wheelers takes up more built space than the average village house. The land of the mountains are not made to carry such heavy footprints. Just next to them we see the architecture of the village. There are old meandering village pathways the width of two people and a cow, tucked between hedges of beautiful flowers. These paths go around and even through households sometimes, where animals, birds and humans flit through, knowing the important boundaries in their minds and in their movements. All the space that’s saved like this stands as forest, as common land that provides for multiple ecological needs. This the mountains know, this they can handle.
The locals who sold the land, those who are still around, can now not even afford to come back on to it except by being employed as care-takers, cleaners, drivers, handy-men. This is force-fitted by the new owners into a story of ‘generating employment’. The original inhabitants just take it all as an ironical twist of fate, and very rarely do they waste their time on hate or personal grudges. If at all they blame themselves. This is also mountain culture, and makes it all the more important that
we as outsiders carry more sensitivity.
It helps to clarify that this is more a conflict between cultures than regions. Some mountain people are swayed by desire because they have seen something in the flashy life of the tourists and want it too. Others are anyway ready to leave farm work because all the forests and streams they need to support their fields have been plundered. Mountain farming is slowly dying. But as one culture replaces another, can we not keep some of the old wisdom? Maybe make minimal tweaks in the old way of life instead of copy-pasting this culture of ours that consumes places and eventually itself?
Many of the VIP houses make it a point to be larger than the average village house, and larger than the other VIP houses that came before them. They jostle with each other for the most commanding view nevermind that they end up casting huge shadows on the village below. They stand like predatory birds of steel and cement dominating the landscape, standing out glittering with all that glass. What’s left of the village must live under this shadow. The colonising urban crowd grabs more than their share in every way. Actually, they don’t even think of what might be a fair share.
As outside, so inside. The constantly flushing toilets, the hidden washing machines, wasteful water filters, together backed up by massive storage tanks make sure that one of these houses grabs more water than multiple village households.
The mountains are running out of water. There can be no more irony than that.
The demand during construction and subsequently during occupation is so high that it can dry up perrenial streams. It also increases disconnection from ecological reality. Many of these houses depend on water tankers. Where are those tankers bringing water from? Some are considering drilling borewells at the top of ridges!
Every landscape has a carrying capacity. How can orchards run by a handful of households be replaced by hundreds of water guzzling, pavement loving, car owning, ultra consumers from the city?
Here’s the thing. Come live in the mountains, but learn from the old ways. The ways of this place. Learn a bit even from the new ways – practices like permaculture, light living, and whatever other names there are for it.
Don’t carry your ways with you from where you’re escaping. That’s just silly. Lighten up. There are gentler ways to live. You might not like the sound of these things, but I’ll say them anyway… (these are mostly things that I’ve already seen in practice, feel free to add to them)
~Understand that relationship with land can not be reduced to matters of money. -But you say you’ve bought the land with your hard-earned money and you can do what you will.
~Build smaller. There is an art to having your house blend in with its surroundings. -But what if you need to entertain your very extended family.
Traditional building materials are local, ecologically lighter, beautiful in their own way, well adapted to the weather, among many other good things.
~If you haven’t built yet, consider building out of clay and mud, and slate roof – if there’s enough. Employ someone with these traditional skills. But also be open to using whatever material will do least damage. The simplest might even be to just use the existing house that came with the land! -You don’t want a hut you say, you want a pukka house. But the ‘pukka’ is in your mind.
~Suggestion number 4! You could also consider not trying to own everything, and make a long-term relationship with a village homestay, or lease a family’s extra hut.
-But that’s not fulfilling. Why not? What are you after?
~Maybe don’t bring a car to the mountains.
-What if there’s a medical emergency you ask?
~Walk to the local market, or better still, to your neighbour’s home to get milk, madua, bhaang, daal, lemons, cucumbers, pumpkins, fruits, tubers. Eat more of what grows in your village, not what is trucked into supermarkets and home-delivered. If the village can’t grow enough, maybe start growing a little yourself. The produce you need from outside are better bought from smaller shops. -You don’t have time for all this you say. You’re not here to have relationships with famers.
~Have a dry-toilet that doesn’t need flushing. It might even give you back valuable manure. -Now you’ve really had it, you’re probably going to go all swachh-bhaarath on me.
~Show care for the forests around the village. They are what give you water, give fertility to the farms which means local food and abundance. They give the mountain village its soul. Studies say that for every acre of village farmland in the Himalayas, there must be 10 acres of village forest to support it. This figure probably goes up dramatically for every acre of urbanised built space. Don’t eat up forest space with tar and cement.
~Find out what the land that you built on used to be. Have conversations to understand what damage was caused by your construction. Try to imagine what changes it brought to the aspirations of people around. Try to repair some of that.
-What does that even mean you might ask.
~The selling of land to outsiders, along with many other historical issues, has broken village democracy. People have been made to feel that their voice doesn’t matter. See if you can support spaces for discussion where the village can talk about collective issues and common solutions. -What, like an NGO? Maybe just as a citizen.
~Maybe use your over-sized house as a community library or space. Even just for some hours during the day-time.
This article is written in the interest of increasing awareness, not to make people feel bad. If after all this a house-owner can say, “Maybe we made a mistake, I wonder what we can do now” some balance is restored.
One the other hand if what crops up in their mind is how they are actually not to blame, that they are providing employment to local caretakers, that anyway farming is failing, that these things are inevitable, etc etc, then we are all further from balance.
All this also points to the need for stricter construction and tourism guidelines for the mountains – size and density of ‘pukka’ structures needs to be limited. But till that becomes reality we are all responsible. The mountain community is changing. People are moving out and others are moving in. Those who move in need to learn to respect the ecology of this place, and fast.
Arun Venkataramanan | Updated on January 01, 2021 Published on January 01, 2021
Class act: Learning by direct observation calls for an observant and curious mind and some recording skills – IMAGES COURTESY: ARUN VENKATARAMAN
The best classroom is the outside world — readily available and for free
* It is the role of teachers to lead students to magic wells and set them off on their own learning journeys
* To study about orchids and bromeliads in books and then to witness them in person in their natural environment is always exhilarating
* Once students and teachers learn to use the world as their classroom, the opportunities are endless
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reflect on so much of how we function as a society. In the past year children either accessed virtual classrooms on a mute button, or had fallen off the map entirely due to a digital divide. Either way the question is: Has any real learning happened at all? And can we course correct our method of teaching?
If one were to go back to the drawing board and reflect on what was the best way for education during a time like this, schools as they are now might not come up as an option at all. So what are the broad goals of a school education?
For the sake of brevity, let’s tick two boxes. First, an understanding of how the world functions. This includes acquiring knowledge of various subjects. And, two, developing skills — mental, physical, interpersonal and many others. This includes learning about behaviour, attitudes, values, etc and engaging meaningfully with peers and adults.
In my opinion, realms of learning, other than the social one, don’t particularly need a school setting. In fact, a study of home-schoolers will reveal how well children excel in educating themselves with or without help from experts. But in terms of acquiring knowledge or building skills, there are multiple ways of going about it.
The best classroom ever is the outside world, which is readily available, for free, to learn from. Through our education systems we have made learning a second-hand experience, where we learn just about everything from published materials. A judicious combination of both, the real world and books, will create room for some very exciting learning opportunities.
Learning through observation
As a geography teacher, I have always encouraged students to learn about the phases of the moon by observing it for a month or two to figure out what is happening, either individually or collectively. There are so many things for students to learn here — such as the direction in which to sight it, the time of the day when it rises — always different each day, its changing shapes and so on. To learn these things first hand by direct observation in real time is very rich as it results in palpable learning which is one’s own.
When one is near the ocean, we can learn about tides in the same way. Similarly, one can study clouds, winds, monsoons, soil types, ground water and many more things. All it takes is an observant and curious mind and some recording skills.
In biology too, there is so much to learn from direct observation. There is flowering and fruiting of plants and trees, pollination, composting, life cycles of insects, bird migration etc.
Field work: Biology lessons in the open can focus on the flowering and fruiting of plants, pollination, life cycles of insects and bird migration
We link biology and geography by observing seasons, noting when different trees, shrubs and plants bloom or bear fruit and how the life cycle of insects such as butterflies and moths are linked to those of plants and trees. Students and teachers can create their own knowledge base through recording the host plants (both feeding and egg laying) for different species of butterflies. The same for bird species in terms of flowers they draw nectar from, fruits and insects they eat, trees and shrubs they use to nest.
Branching from this is the whole realm of life sciences of how bodies evolve and adapt to suit their particular life styles. With a strong foundation in direct observation and experiential learning, one can of course keep building on both skills and knowledge.
German-Austrian Ethologist, Karl Ritter von Frisch, who won the Nobel prize in physiology in 1973, drew the comparison of drawing from a “magic well” while referring to in depth learning. He was referring to tapping in to a rich source of learning by asking the right questions, making pertinent observations and drawing relevant inferences from that. Once students learn to tap in to magic wells, there is nothing to stop them. The opportunities to explore and learn from the outside world are unending. It is the role of teachers like us to lead students to magic wells and set them off on their own learning journeys.
A wide menu
Students are excited by different aspects of learning. It is important to present a wide menu during early years but, at the same time, it is also important to allow for deep learning by being willing to pursue each topic to the extent their collective curiosity takes them.
Not long ago, in a geography class with 13-year olds, we were learning about oceans and marine life. It was from a beautiful book with lovely illustrations and photos that held deep concepts. The diversity of marine life excited the class, leading us to understand about the extent of light penetration in oceans and its consequences, increasing pressure with depth, drop in temperature, ocean currents and how marine life are adapted to these conditions, using them for their benefit such as sea turtles using ocean currents to migrate.
So deep was the learning that we pursued this alone in geography for a whole year. The students were not ready to stop until we had finished the whole book. We also visited the beaches of Chennai and participated in the conservation of olive ridley sea turtles thereby bringing about a direct experience to their learning.
Becoming a wave: Visiting the beaches of Chennai and participating in the conservation of olive ridley sea turtles enriched the learning about oceans and marine life
After this book, we engaged in a similar way with a rain forest book for many semesters. We culminated this study with a visit to a rainforest in Wayanad, Kerala, where conservation of rainforest plants was being carried out. To study about orchids and bromeliads in books and then to witness them in person in their natural environment is always magical and exhilarating.
As a teacher I feel it is important that children learn about and connect to the natural world without having to come to terms with all the destruction we have brought about as a species. That needs to come later in their life, but when they are still young and thirsting to know the world it is important to connect to it as naturally and organically as possible.
The above examples just give a little glimpse into what is possible. Once students and teachers learn to use the world as their classroom the opportunities are endless. It also makes learning a dynamic, direct experience and brings immense joy and empowerment to the learner and facilitator alike.
As we enter a new year, with a morphing pandemic showing little signs of abating, schools need to reinvent themselves and our curriculum needs reimagining. There is no better time to introduce our children to the beauty of the natural world, rich with possibilities of learning.
Arun Venkataramanan is one of the founders of Marudam Farm School, Tiruvannamalai
Started in Tiruvannamalai by a community of like-minded individuals, who were vexed by the ‘system’, Marudam Farm School is here to break all the stereotypes of how a child ought to be nurtured.
Children engage in craft session, farming, physical education and field trips
Discontent with their lives, unhappy with their workplaces and fed up with being part of a corrupt and negative system is how most of the creators of Marudam Farm School wandered and ended up in Tiruvannamalai like cows gone astray. They might have been clueless about what to do next, but they had an aim, a very clear one — to lead a simple, self-sufficient life with minimal material and needs. The elders soon found work that supported their ideals but the lack of a good school in the vicinity prompted them to start one themselves.
Swimming against the tide to be where they are today certainly wasn’t easy for all — some got ostracised from their families for leaving well-paid jobs and “successful” careers. “But what really is success?” asks Arun Venkataramanan, one of the founders of the school. “It’s quite expected, yet funny, that most of us here are former engineers,” he scoffs, dismissing the current education system.
What makes this school unique
It all begins there for a child; his or her future is based on what the parents impart and what they learn in school. In the case of children studying at Marudam Farm School, they can put any formally educated, urban child to shame. “We have kids from villages and towns surrounding Tiruvannamalai, children of disillusioned city parents like us and those of foreign immigrants, who chose the spiritual life,” explains Arun, adding, “Our approach to education is through learning by doing, seeing, playing and feeling free.” Books only contribute to 20 per cent of learning.
‘Intelligence is relative’
He illustrates with an example as to how intelligence is not only through bookish knowledge — “An 18-year-old girl at our school cannot read or learn from textbooks to save her life but she’s one of the most intelligent, street-smart youngsters I’ve seen. She can take a herd of 40-50 goats to graze, come back and cook for her entire family and run the household when her parents are away without facing any difficulty.” He adds, “I’ve never seen anyone interpret objects the way she does; she’s absolutely alive to the world and is a great observer.”
Educating children through a variety of mediums such as art, craft and games exposes them to multiple experiences, which they’re then free to opt as a career. “We encourage them to do whatever they like — my son (who also studies at Marudam) plays the tabla and is interested in art, which I have no intentions of admonishing,” Arun shares.
Teachers at the institution draw salaries determined by their familial conditions (the more the members the more the pay) and the school charges a minimal fee — students’ families pay whatever they can afford. The rest of the costs is covered by sponsors.
Breaking barriers of the classroom
What started off in a rented meditation hall with 20 students, Marudam Farm School today has added a hundred more to its roll call. The land where the current campus stands was donated by well-wishers and has come alive with beautifully architected buildings. “Left to the bunch of us founders, we wouldn’t have wanted buildings at all but due to government rules, we had to construct a school. An architect, who’s a dear friend, helped us design classrooms that were more than just boxes.” Corners became curves, walls became waves, amphitheatres were added and so was landscaping. He further elaborates, “We’ve experimented with different materials like mud, plaster and cow dung mixtures, mud blocks, jack arch roofs with terracotta and tiles and so on.”
The community’s contribution to going green
Every single step has been a team effort by the families that stay there as a happy, united community. “Like ants trickling towards sugar, so many of us from across the world came together leaving behind our pasts to build a productive, greener future,” says Arun. Speaking of greener, the school is also home to an organic farm where teachers, students and residents alike toil to see the fruits of their labour. He remarks, “We start the day by doing some physical activity on the farm. We’re also engaging in afforestation programs on the hills of Tiruvannamalai, we’ve already built a community park and are in the process of constructing one more.”
A diverse group of children create a deeply interconnected human and natural world at the Marudam Farm School in Tiruvannamalai
In 2008, a group of plucky educationists moved to the outskirts of the temple town of Tiruvannamalai in north-central Tamil Nadu and started a school that believes in honest, empowering and potentially disconcerting tolerance.
“Wouldn’t acceptance be a better word?” asks Leela Arnon Bowley, 43, kindergarten teacher at the Marudam Farm School, a day school for about 100 children of locals, villagers, urbanites and expats, including students with disabilities and special needs, across economic backgrounds and denominations. “Ideologically, this was a great decision, but how was it going to work out pedagogically? That was the question,” recalls founder-trustee Poornima Arun, 43.
Visually, Marudam (Tamil for farmland) rises as a cluster of earthy, aesthetic structures set on eight agrarian acres. Artwork by the school community lies scattered about the almost entirely solar-powered campus, where jackfruit, pomegranate and mango trees grow by paddy fields in which, two years ago when the rains were copious, students cultivated several vegetables and madumuzhangi, a lesser-known indigenous variety of rice. “Learning is hands-on, children are physically and socially involved, and nature is never far from us,” says the soft-spoken Harish N.V., 26, teacher of social sciences. This year’s acute drought, however, is causing anxiety in the ecologically sensitive school, which recycles every drop of water.
Tiruvannamalai has been a lodestone for diverse settlers since the early 1920s, when the philosopher-saint Ramana Maharshi’s ashram came up here. Marudam’s student body is thus a microcosm of society at large.
“The peer learning that happens is simply incredible,” says Karthik Narayanan, 28, teacher of maths and gardening. A discussion on ground water, for instance, had village children pitching in with practical information on how wells are dug, and why the soil and bedrock matters, while the more bookish learners talked about aquifers and water tables. It is the sure-footed first generation learner from a goat-herding family that leads her class on hiking trips, pointing to birdand animal life with a sharp eye, commanding the respect of peers older and younger than herself.
“At Marudam, equality is more than theoretical,” says K.Pachaiappan, 29, the much-loved teacher of Tamil. Sustained by donations, Marudam never turns children away because they lack the money to pay fees, though the school intends to remain small and diverse. If cliques form, or someone has difficulty with sharing, resolution is found over animated debates in ‘circle time’. “Learning is natural and even unavoidable for children once they have the space and time to explore,” says Arnon Bowley.Marudam now awaits accreditation from Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Matriculation Schools. One mother says her daughter wants to go to school even when she is unwell, and her initially reluctant husband has come to appreciate the school’s impact on their child’s sense of anbu (love) and suyanambikkai (self-belief). The world could do with more of both.
This article by Lalitha Sridhar appeared on The Hindu dated May 13, 2017.
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Marudam Farm School Melting pot: At Marudam Farm School, you can learn Maths through cooking, goat-rearing, or even pottery, depending on whatever tickles your fancy
Inside the Marudam Farm School at Tiruvannamalai, time is just a bystander, not allowed the privilege of calling the shots. On a Friday morning, a busload of chatty children — some well-clothed, some barefoot — come bumping along a dusty road to be deposited at the 9.5-acre expanse of fertile land that’s their school. A large terracotta horse stands at the entrance and other semi-finished sculptures and pottery experiments lie around. You spot cows grazing and hear birds chattering amid the rustle of the coconut trees. Leaving the bustle of the town outside the gates, the school’s 70-odd children step into a world of sublime difference.
If the rains had been better they would have been thrashing harvested paddy, but today the students are digging pits to plant lemon, tapioca and papaya saplings. Some are preparing a large mulch bed by spreading dried leaves, readying it for a vegetable garden that will be sustained by diverting used kitchen water. At the nursery, a few others are mixing ‘jeevamrit’ in a giant blue tub by emptying into it buckets of jaggery, cow urine, cow dung, chickpea flour and termite soil. “The mixture aids bacterial growth and helps keep the organic farm soil fertile,” says Madhavan, a 16-year-old student.
“We usually grow 85 per cent of the school’s food requirement in-house,” says Arun Venkataraman, 48, who founded the school together with his wife, Poornima, eight years ago. A qualified engineer who went on to pursue a BA and BEd to become a teacher, Venkataraman initially taught gardening at Chennai’s The School. Poornima used to be a teacher at the Theosophical Society’s Olcott Memorial School in the city. Before long, the couple moved 190 km south to Tiruvannamalai, to start Marudam.
“Marudam (farmland in Tamil) was born out of a need to provide a space for ‘learning by doing’, academics, nature and ‘unstructured time’,” says Venkataraman. He believes that an education system that constantly tells children what to think, dampens their curiosity and love for learning. On Thursdays, they climb the Arunachala hill, mostly in silence. If a question is asked, together the answers are found. On returning they discuss what they discovered about the hill and within their own selves. Thursdays are also movie days. Majid Majidi’s lyrical Baran is what the kids watched last.
Of the learner, by the learner
The school follows a principle of democratic learning. The class size is small, only 4-10, to ensure the facilitators well understand the interests of the children. Once that is identified, they run with it, no matter how unrealistic it may appear.
Mathematics is taught through baking, cooking, goat-rearing or even pottery, depending on whatever strikes a chord with the batch. “One batch studied oceans and nothing else for an entire academic year of geography class. The children simply couldn’t get enough,” Venkataraman recalls. Ocean currents, tides, oceanbeds, depth, pressure, underwater life… they trawled through it all. That included a walk on Chennai beach to rescue Olive Ridley turtles. It was followed by a year of deserts and then rainforests. They visited the Wayanad rainforests in Kerala, and the nearby Javadi hills, living and breathing the jungles with the forest tribes.
Two-third of the school’s children live in Tiruvannamalai. Their parents are farmers, cattle rearers, domestic help, drivers or small shop owners. The rest include children from expat families that have made a home in this town — famous for several spiritual centres — in their quest for an alternative lifestyle.
To remain inclusive, the school allows families to pay whatever fee they can afford and finds sponsors to pitch in with the rest. Panjali, 38, is a cook and a single parent in Tiruvannamalai. Her two boys were beaten and abused by the teachers at the private school they attended previously. Marudam welcomed them with an open heart.
“My family warned that my boys would become rowdies with so much freedom, but now this freedom is all I want for them,” she says, beaming; her younger son is proving to be a math whiz, while the older one is obsessed about becoming a football player. Both speak perfect English.
A donation of ₹35,000 takes care of the annual schooling cost of a child at Marudam — three-fourth of the school’s children are sponsored by individual donors. “Is the model sustainable? Of course not! But I believe there is enough goodwill in this country to sustain what we have been doing for the past eight years,” says Venkataraman.
The continually evolving curriculum draws from several methodologies ranging from the philosophy of J Krishnamurti, Waldorf, Montessori, Sudbury Valley school, UK’s Summer Hill, and “just about any bright democratic idea” that the 70-odd students, 20 teachers or a handful of volunteers come up with.
“As long as our schools produce unthinking robotic people who don’t question the established norms of hierarchy, human beings will become irrelevant,” says Govinda, 42, the in-house radical and consultant. Warning about an imminent environmental apocalypse — “200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal go extinct every day”, Marudam is a counter-current, he explains.