Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
Public Domain Books
Chapter 2: Learning a Bit of Farming
One of my plans for the rainy season was to go to RUSTIC Farm which is in Thanem, a small village near Valpoi in the remote north-eastern district of Sattari, so that I could gain some experience in farming. RUSTIC Farm holds a special attraction for me because I was born when my parents lived on this farm and we stayed there till I was three years old. Although I have no real recollection of that period, we have many photographs of my baby days on the farm and many stories that my parents tell us of those times. We still visit the place at least once a year and also maintain contact with several of the villagers who worked then on the farm. Yesu, our domestic help for the past 16 years comes from that area. In 1985 RUSTIC Farm was sold to the present owners Shyam and Ujwala Achrekar. I had intended to stay with them for a month and learn about farming first-hand. Unfortunately due to some personal difficulties they could not have me visit them. It is one of the few regrets I had during my one-year sabbatical. As things worked out, however, I was able to learn a few basics about farming in my own village at Parra.
My neighbours, the Kandolkars, are a peasant family and during the rains they take to farming their own fields. They also do ploughing work for others. Guru, the eldest son, has a fine pair of bullocks for the purpose. It so happened that Guru was doing some masonry work at our house and I was chatting with him about my sabbatical when he casually asked me whether I would like to come ploughing with him. I jumped at the offer even as he seemed a bit surprised that I had so readily agreed. Next morning I was woken up early and we set out for the fields which are quite close to our homes.
Holding the plough may appear a simple task but believe me it is not so and calls for quite a lot of skill and stamina. The trick is to keep the plough in the centre and avoid cutting the hoofs of the animals at the same time. One needs to put the right amount of pressure on the handle as the plough should neither be too deep nor too shallow in the soil. Also one has to constantly keep one’s eye on the bullocks to direct them to turn around at the end of the field and to lift the plough when it reaches a bund. Lastly (and this is most important) the bullocks must recognise you or else they won’t take orders from you.
The bullocks knew Guru very well but I was a stranger so Guru made me keep shouting cries of “heeree heeree” which is how they get the animals to move-so that they would at least begin to recognise my voice. Although I went ploughing with Guru for several days in a row, he never let me plough on my own because getting the right balance was still very difficult for me and if any of the bullocks got hurt due to my inexperience he would have to give the animal at least 15 days’ rest which would cost him heavily in earnings.
After the ploughing is done the ground has to be levelled for seeding. This is also done by the bullocks who drag a wooden piece shaped like a broad fork across the field. This I was allowed to do on my own and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was like having a nice ride, standing on the wooden leveller while the bullocks went up and down the field.
I also tried my hand at spraying seeds and later fertilizer, on the fields. Sometimes I did a bit of weeding, to while away the time in-between ploughing. On some days when we were ploughing it used to rain heavily and I enjoyed working in the rain with all the other farmers. After ploughing we would be treated to hot tea and bread or pao baji by the owner of the field.
I recall how surprised the owners of the fields we had ploughed would be on seeing me sitting with the other workers-dirty with mud like them-because naturally, they recognised me, since I am from the same village. One lady, in fact, thought I was playing truant. She told me she was going to inform my mother where I was that Sunday morning. She thought that I ought to have been in church attending Mass instead.
The field work was a good experience and one which I cherish. I helped Guru plough about half a dozen fields and even now when the rainy season approaches I remember that experience with warmth and pleasure.