Reflections from IDIP in India
The other day, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Naidu’s farm. We met at a bus stop and he took me to his home in Hyderabad. Upon entering, the first thing I saw was a large, framed portrait of Naidu shaking hands with none other than George W. Bush, who had visited Naidu’s farm in 2006. Happy and shocked that I was now within one degree of separation from the infamous ex-President, I quickly realized how special this experience would turn out to be. He cooked me breakfast with rice and milk from his field and cows and explained how his techniques he had developed allowed him to have the “most productive acre of rice paddy in all of India.” (His paddy grows to be over 6 feet tall, twice as tall as normal paddy. Agricultural scientists from around the world have visited his farm to take samples. He has a lot of pictures to prove this.) We then boarded a bus overflowing with people and dozens of large tin containers that dairy farmers had used to transport milk in to the city and were on our way. This was my first venture onto a Hyderabad public bus, and my presence caused quite a stir among those scattered between the milk tins; Naidu said many asked me if I could help them get a job in the US or if I knew Obama. Despite the many questions, curious stares, and clanking milk tins, it was very important to observe that bus ride was an illustration of how rural life mixes and clashes with urban life daily here.
We arrived at Naidu’s farm, and it was a veritable paradise among the dry and unkempt fields that surrounded it. Huge trees swayed in the gentle breeze that carried the “moos” from the cows as we approached. When we arrived in the shade under the thick canopies the temperature dropped 15 degrees. The 12 acres of farm before us was covered in all sorts of trees, crops, and flowers in which dragonflies and 15 varieties of butterflies lived. In the nearby field, four workers hunched over the rows of newly planted mango plants, working the earth with well-worn tools to usher the slowly creeping water down the rows. Small cranes crept among the fields, snatching at pests. Naidu then showed me around each part of the farm as he and his workers shouted at each other (most of the 7 workers have worked on his farm for 25 years, and Naidu’s 92 year old mother is one of them.) He showed me tomatoes, brinjal, wheat, mangoes, papayas, drumsticks, bitter gourd, banana, red banana, Bird of Paradise flowers, tamarind, coconut, coffee beans, black pepper, all spice, teakwood trees, a honeycomb, and more. It was amazing to see how so many varieties in a relatively small space. Also, there were five four-week-old puppies running around.
As we sat down to lunch, Naidu told me how much it meant to him that I came to his farm. More importantly, it meant a lot to him that I came by myself and went with him on the local bus. While I didn’t really have any other option of getting there, the sentiment did not lose any potency, and it taught me an important lesson.
Naidu has shown his farm to thousands of students. He has shown it to multiple heads of state, countless scientists, and numerous Indian government officials. The wonder of his farm is impossible to ignore, and the scope of Naidu’s impact is undeniable. However, traveling alongside him throughout the day showed me how behind a beautiful product that thousands flock to see, there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of additional labor.
As the day wound down, the crops harvested (tomatoes, brinjal, some leafy vegetables, and milk) were sorted into bags to be transported back into town to go to markets and Naidu’s own kitchen. When that was done, Naidu, his mother, and I all sat on the side of the road waiting for the bus to arrive to take us back to Hyderabad. It pulled up noisily, we loaded the bags, and began the hour and a half journey back. The bus steadily swelled with more and more passengers and when we arrived at our stop, we grabbed the heavy bags of produce and set them outside the bus amid the chaos of the city. Naidu and his mother gave the driver a handful of tomatoes, and then sought out an autorickshaw driver to carry the load back to his home. Some drivers were lined up and Naidu negotiated agitatedly with them as vendors tried to sell Bluetooth headsets to his mother and me. A car turned left and very nearly crushed a few of the bags and Naidu shouted at the driver while still trying to consult a ride with the autorickshaw. Finally it all worked out, and we loaded up the products and arrived at Naidu’s home.
I was exhausted from the day, yet as soon as we got home, Naidu’s mother began to clean the home, sweeping every square inch. Her back hunched permanently from thousands of days in the field and her skin showed the dramatic effects of 92 years of gravitational force yet after the long day she never stopped working (and of course never once complained.) Naidu told me she had never been to the hospital. I stared in awe.
Naidu told me how important it was for him that I traveled with him to his farm. And I am so grateful for the opportunity. Not only because it gave me the chance to get to know him more, but also because it gave me the chance to truly see the demands of daily life here for farmers. Naidu’s farm is an oasis that has drawn thousands of visitors, yet the details of his daily routine are hardly anyone’s idea of paradise. The newly established Telangana state government can only provide three hours of power per day and one hour of water, forcing Naidu to adapt. He owns no vehicle yet transports thousands of pounds of produce per year. He and his mother persevere, quietly and without complaint, despite the obstacles of life here.
It takes a lot of work to create and, more importantly, maintain something beautiful and productive. But with all the obstacles it takes to survive here, the plight that farmers face is enormous. Naidu has had his hard work recognized by heads of state and thousands of students (deservedly so), whereas the vast majority of farmers here receive no such recognition. Yet they face the same obstacles that Naidu does and more. To witness the work behind the beauty of Naidu’s farm revealed a glimpse into the daily struggles a farmer faces and engenders an appreciation for the scope of the challenges that agriculture faces in Hyderabad and India, where the resultant chaos of rural and urban life colliding reigns. Glaring problems are not solved with easy solutions, but rather hard work and persistence. And even when something beautiful is created, the work doesn’t end there, though maybe a few more moments of peace become possible.