Rooted to Mother Earth

Rooted to Mother Earth

Emergence band members. PhotOS BY AUTHOR

The name is Krishna, Krishna Mckenzie. And this Brit is all set for a second conquest of the natives; but through music and permaculture, or non-mechanised farming that replicates natural systems.

The two together make for a curiously uncommon combination. But then, Krishna Mckenzie is not your regular ‘Incredible India’ fanatic. On the contrary, he is a son of the soil, literally. For 16 years now, this man has settled down to till the earth and the mind, creating crops and music, side by side.

As he sees it, these divergent endeavours stand connected; and they are about connecting with nature. Krishna lives at Solitude Farm in Auroville, Pondicherry’s famous international township that has become a haven for all those spirituality-and-back-to-earth inclined western souls. Krishna arrived in India as a 19-year-old. “Athu vidhi ma (It was fate),” he declares in flawless ‘local’ Tamil, when quizzed about what lured him to India. “It just happened. Someone gave me that name and it stuck,” he says about his discordant ‘Christian’ name. Practically speaking though, his initial exposure to India came from having studied at the Jiddu Krishnamurthy School in London.  

Semmozhiyam, Tamil mozhiam (perfect language is the Tamil language) goes his ringtone. It is a matter of time before you lose that amused sensation that bubbles up inside you, whenever you hear this Brit speak so casually in pucca Tamil. Doesn’t he miss life back home? “That is over,” he says simply. He is silent for a minute when you quiz him on what it is about India that allures him. “See, I don’t analyse it like that. For sure, I like the richness of Tamil culture, the less mechanistic life here, and the wonderful space to create things of value, that men here have still not lost in the big rush of life. But actually, it just happened,” he muses.

Connecting with nature

Living in a mud block house with wife Deepa and daughter Chandni at the Solitude Farm, life here is also about coming together as a community; over cooking and dining in the common kitchen, or diving together into the huge well for a fun dip after a sunny day’s toil in the fields. Routine life here also includes checking out on windmill and solar energy devices, organising jam sessions on Saturdays with the fruits grown in the farm, creating buildings in natural materials, running an organic restaurant, and holding eco-music fests occasionally.  

“It is all about connecting with nature. The life that is disconnected from nature is not worth living,” feels Krishna. He adds quickly, “It is not that software engineering is bad; it is a fantastic thing, but people are now caught up in a techno-social world, without balance. They have no clue as to where the food on their plates is coming from, or what the earth feels like under the skin.” At Solitude Farm, volunteers who wish to get the experience of working at a farm are welcome, and are given boarding and lodging at a nominal expense. “But they have to inform me in advance. It gets crowded sometimes,” Krishna says, a smile crossing his face.  

At Solitude Farm, Krishna grows millets, India’s staple food of yore, from which we have turned away now, in favour of rice and wheat. In this place though, farming gets exciting and thoughtful. Ordinary people apply multifarious perspectives to farming, and this includes everything from integrating crops and having fruit trees as permanent crops to creating cyclone-resistant shelters. Even the kids living here, including tiny Chandni, raise crops, harvest seeds, and learn from experience. And then, there is music, of course.  

Emergence  

His passion for farming is complemented with his passion for music. Krishna teamed up with a few others to form a band christened Emergence. The band, which has been around for six years now, has performed with Blue Frog in Bombay. Emergence toured the UK in 2008 and has played at major European festivals in 2009, including Sunrise, Womad, Glastonbury and Festival de Nyon. This band is increasingly being billed as one among the top bands in the country.

Emergence is a sound that deserves to be heard. The very talented Chennai-based Karthik Srinivasan’s fingers travel lightning fast over violin strings, easily switching from western to Carnatic mode. Karthik’s subtle and soulful singing is awesome too.

Drumming by Suresh Baskar gets your heart pounding in rhythm. Another crucial member of the band is Mishko M’Ba, a French bassist who has worked with musicians like Ray Charles, Barbara Hendrix and Didier Lockwood. And then, there is Krishna who strums the guitar beautifully even while singing about life, earth and all things that appeal to him.

The group has cut two albums so far, including the famous ‘Chosen by God’. The resonance of koothu (local Tamil folk) format comes across in some of the songs, while others take a jazzy outlook. Overall, the music is definitely gay.  

So, how does this band stage their music? Not against the backdrops of moving lights and glitter. Here, the backdrop is created by a stream of images, like that of Krishna’s cow, Saraswathi, under the guava tree, millet fields, community kitchen, and all other facets of life at Solitude Farm. “My music is born in the farm,” Krishna acknowledges. “If you walk with me in the fields, it is much easier to talk,” he says.

Eco-music

The one-day eco-music festival that Mckenzie conducts became a hit too. Besides music, this fest included workshops in permaculture, fusion cooking, eco-building, handicraft making, and presentations on eco-lifestyles, to name a few. Like a carnival, the fest hosts stalls devoted to anything from pottery to electric bikes.

Krishna says he was inspired to take up permaculture by the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, the pioneer in back-to-nature farming techniques.  Not surprisingly, the farmhands here not only grow millets, but also build their own buildings using natural materials, use wind power, solar energy, and compost toilets. The farm is now looking to get funds for the construction of an educational centre, a new dormitory and a food processing unit, and to develop courses on experiential sustainability.

But ultimately, the back-to-nature movement here is also about having an integrated lifestyle, and finding time and space for the arts too within the routine of daily living. To know more, check out solitudefarm@blogspot.com

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