The organic cycle

They picked eggs, saw cows being milked, played games on bales of hay in the barn.

My grandchildren in England, Daniel and Eleanor, had a chance recently to visit a regular farm, and experience first hand the chickens, ducks, goats and cows, and even the pigs and donkeys!

They picked eggs, saw the cows being milked, and played games on the bales of hay and stacks of fodder in the barn. They also tried planting saplings in fields alongside existing crops of grain, corn and vegetables. A little respite from the daily school routine – tennis, rugby, gymnastics, swimming and piano, and of course the ever present iPad!

While his little sister Eleanor concentrated on snuggling up to the farm livestock, seven-year-old Daniel was all eyes and ears – amazed, quite romantically, over the new knowledge of where the stuff that came home from the supermarket was actually sourced! This made me look back at my own childhood when most of us in India were part of rural life in villages, or had villages next door.

In Mangalore of my childhood, almost every house had a large compound – with coconut, banana and a variety of fruit trees alongside vegetable gardens that were invariably the neighbour’s envy; and rice-murrahs from lands in nearby suburbs tilled by tenants!

Later, after dad acquired Magadi, his first coffee estate in Sakalespur in the Western Ghats, it was a no-holds-barred hands-on involvement as teenagers, be it for ploughing or planting, reaping or threshing, pounding or milling!

Our paddy fields at Magadi were in the valley between two coffee hills the estate comprised, irrigated by a perennial stream! The fields were manured by the natural excreta provided by a plethora of livestock on the estate – the poultry, the piggery, the sheep and the cattle reared mainly for the purpose – in sizeable numbers in our large cowsheds.

The sheds were never cleaned. The volume of dung each evening was covered with fresh hay for the cattle to rest on, and then cleared straight into the compost pit at the end of the week along with green foliage lopped from overgrown trees eventually to form a perfect manure needed for the crops in the fields.

As a teenager, it was a challenge to manage the heavy plough and control the bullocks while ploughing the soil in straight and deep furrows, till the tractor appeared on the scene. Youthful energy found a great and satisfying outlet then.

There was no end to the things one could do with the tractor. From ploughing to levelling; transporting the reaped produce with the hay to the yard; even the threshing, which till then was managed crudely by human feet or the bullocks as they endlessly went round and round over the reaped paddy to separate it from the hay – I did it all.

Till, of course, the call of the city beckoned, and uniforms and a baton, for some reason, began to be considered a better prospect than mere green thumbs! A lifetime has gone by and new generations have sprung up in a totally changed virtual world of today!

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