Something to cheer about. In the midst of doom and gloom, I attended a Vikalp Sangam or ‘Confluence of ideas’. It was a meeting not just of several minds, but of people who were doing something positive rather than merely cribbing about the state of the world.
We were a mixed bag, ranging from rural-based organic farmers, to a transgender activist, to adivasis and conservationists. The star of the show, undoubtedly, was Rajiv. In a wheelchair with a carer to feed him, fetch food, water and other necessities, Rajiv’s tremendous courage and confidence stunned everyone. He did not inspire pity. He did not ask for it. His starkly simple presentation changed our perception of disability forever. ‘What did you eat?’ ‘Did you cook it? Did you stitch your shirt?’ Predictably the answers were no. ‘So you are dependent.’ ‘Then why is my dependence such an issue? Who is independent of everyone else?’ There was palpable shock and emotion on every single face in his 90-strong audience.
India’s increasingly insurmountable mountains of garbage drives even optimistic souls to despair. Waste-management expert Srinivasan, undeterred, provides solutions.
The Zero Waste Management strategy drew crowds of motivated folk determined to clean up their towns and villages and solve the ubiquitous menace scientifically and efficiently.
Srinivasan also offered rooftop-garden training.
Elango, a local government president, did his job of building the requisite roads, schools and drains. Then wondered why all money generated in the village leaches out. So he resolved to reverse this. ‘People worked from dawn to dusk,’ Elango noted, yet poverty remained. ‘So rather than bothering about poverty. I focused on bringing back wealth to our villages.’ The story about Elango increasing his council’s earning capacity is legend and well documented. His villages produced and traded rice, dal, peanut oil, soap and myriad other locally needed products. The end result was an increase in income and a boost in self-reliance.
Bombay-born architect Meenakshi transformed an arid rural wasteland through a successful 8-year regeneration plan, then opened the Puvidham School for farmers’ children to study organic farming and help their parents instead of migrating to city slums. Her school curriculum teaches farming, earth construction and craft work. A hostel provides sanctuary for migrant students to study. One must salute Meenakshi for having the grit to successfully green her patch in hot, arid, dry Tamilnadu.
Parameshwaran completed his aeronautical engineering training, then wondered whether working in a sterile, urban environment was wise. So he went back to basics – organic farming, his parents’ old fashioned, farming practices. ‘I realised farmers were practically dictated to by seed, fertilizer and pesticide companies. I travelled all over Tamilnadu studying farming. Had the good luck to study at the famous Nammalwar organic gardening school. Someone asked me for seeds. I obliged. Then I posted news on Facebook.’ The rest is history.
‘Many people have land and money but know nothing about cultivation. Awareness has spread. People want organic food. If you have 400 square feet [37 square metres] of land, your family’s veg supply can be met. I want to spread this idea across Tamilnadu. I am working towards that goal.’
Sujata, one of the moving forces behind the Vikalp Sangam brought an experience from far away Ladakh. ‘We developed textbooks at the primary level just for Leh district. It was ludicrous that existing textbooks had no connection to the life experience of Leh children. It exhorted children, “save electricity, switch off fans, turn off taps”. How to cross the road safely. There are no fans, taps or roads there. Wildlife education was about tigers, peacocks, lions, in freezing Ladakh! So we developed textbooks relevant to them. Life in a farming village, how to keep your house warm.’
Every single person left feeling energized and rejuvenated. People were finding local solutions to local problems. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Tamilnadu shows promise. We can connect, learn from each other. And hope is what keeps us going. Thank God for that.
First published on New Internationalist blog