The Seed Revolution

A firebrand personality, from the tribal village belt of Srikakulam district, Padala Bhudevi from the Savara Tribe, leads a life that’s true to her name. Having taken upon herself a unique journey, of collecting and transplanting traditional seeds, she brings back a legacy from the brink of extinction. Jaya Siva Murty brings you the story.

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Laying the groundwork

Her story started with her father Chinnaya, who was a resident of Seethampeta. Life in and around the village belt had its share of problems as this was a belt that neither came under the agency area nor under the plains. Lack of protection and government support, led to cases of missing land documents, land grabbing and other issues. Due to low awareness, many residents would succumb to circumstances. Moved by the villagers’ plight and defiant on making a difference, Chinnaya, started to work for their welfare, forming the Adivasi Vikas Trust in 1996. He thus helped people through awareness and coordination between the authorities and the parties. In the meantime, Bhudevi had been married into another village. The birth of three daughters was a point of contention, and eventually, Bhudevi’s husband abandoned her and the daughters. She returned to her parent’s house in the year 2000 with her three daughters in tow. Working as a daily wage labourer, for her father wanted her to be financially independent, she eventually became an active participant and a governing member with the trust. In 2007 Chinnaya passed away, and the onus of the work fell upon her shoulders. Changing the name of the NGO to Chinnaya Adivasi Vikas Trust, she started taking an active interest in its work. “The problem of the villages cannot be solved from a distance, so for the next nine years I went and lived in the villages and travelled to 62 villages in three mandals.”

Finding answers

She identified many problems, ranging from a lack of proper roads to the availability of basic amenities such as potable water, health awareness and educational facilities. She began to approach the government and with the help of ITDA, she started spreading awareness on these matters to the people in the village. For every issue that needed government support, she would sit and wait at the offices, just to make them understand and implement her ideas. “It took me three years just going around government offices, sitting there and getting them to listen.” It wasn’t easy, but people began listening to her and soon solutions for problems started falling in place.

Seeing the light

The health awareness camps were eye-openers in themselves. They showed the reality of how people had low haemoglobin, low immunity and health problems. In fact, in one of the villages, babies were being born with severe deformities. Delving deeper into the problem revealed that a healthy diet was missing. Trying to seek a local solution for the local problem, Bhudevi sat down a meeting with the elders of the village. Talks and discussions came about as the elderly reflected about their good old days. They spoke about how they led a more energetic life and also had three to four children without any health issues. The issue of old nutritive value missing in today’s food, lack of minor millets, and the current grains not being strong varieties as the past, were highlighted.

The seed idea

The solution for collecting traditional seeds came about. Going to different houses, Bhudevi and her team started to collect the seeds that some families had saved up for many years. These were then distributed to others and were sown. The harvest was further distributed to people. And in her small quiet yet firebrand way, a revolution started to sprout. The implementation had its hurdles. An awareness camp first had to be conducted and organisations like WASSAN and NABARD in Hyderabad provided their support through the process. Today Bhudevi has collected 125 variants of seeds from the farmers, and each of these has been cultivated to keep the strain alive. Not only this, she and her team of 25 members are also looking at the processing and marketing of forest produce, in a way that it lends health to the village people while providing a good source of income. They are thus making value-added products like tamarind, turmeric, millets and other produce.  With minor millets being their core area of focus, aspects of costs, planning and value addition are taken care of by WASSAN. Neelammatalli Millets Biscuits and many products are being produced today. The Comprehensive Revival of Millets Programme (CRMP) started in 2016 by Bhudevi, is now a national programme too and nutritional biscuits are supplied to 47 hostels, with 15000 being sent to the city every day.

Having accomplished so much, Bhudevi isn’t resting on her laurels just yet. She travelled to China in 2013 to study how they were cultivating grains. In order to expand her knowledge base, she also visited the Netherlands to know about their farming techniques. The road for her is still a long one, and there’s much to do. Trying to revive tribal medicine, by bringing formal recognition for it is a dream. Working on henna, which is abundantly available in the reserve forest area is a dream closer to realisation. 30 women have been trained in making mehendi cones and hair-care products with it. 15 of them are already generating income through this project she shares. Sowing the seed of an idea, Bhudevi has also planted hope for the people in her community. We can only wish that it grows into the tree of life, sustaining those around it and spreading its branches far and wide.

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Vizag: Destination Yachting

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Mango politics

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It’s that time of the year when the king of all fruits is gleaming golden on the trees, tempting all humanity to indulge in its sweet nectar. The trees get laden first with the sour greens, and I, as the resident of a house which has three huge trees, have the privilege to wake up to the sight every morning. However, the summer months for me are laden not just with sweet fruit, but mango politics as well.

From the kids on the streets to the child at heart, everyone across gender and social divide has their eyes on the tree. While the fruit that falls on the ground, disappears as quickly as it falls, a group comes by in the quiet of the night. Armed with stones, they pelt the tree to dislodge its fruit. A few daring others climb the tree too. As I shout at them to leave the tree alone, stay awake and watchful in the quiet of the night to catch the night-brigade, I know that this month is going to be just the same. I’m losing my sleep over nothing, and I know it.

A huge crowd gathers on the day the fruit is harvested. People walk in and take the fruit they want, and the pile quickly reduces. The mother in law keeps a few aside, for ripening, she tells me. The Gods are first appeased with the best fruit from the tree. And because you don’t want to incur the wrath of the Gods from one temple, because you sent fruit to another, all the temples in the locality are attended to. From the quickly-disappearing pile, a few are allotted for distribution to the ‘important’ people. Finally, some make their way to the table, and yet again, the best ones disappear, to people above my hierarchical level. After having eyed the tree for a while now, this is the point where I’ve given up all hope. As I start to walk away disappointed, someone taps me on my shoulder. It’s my mother in law handing me a mango with a smile. ‘Here this one’s for you’ she says. I smile again, as I see hope. I do figure in the hierarchy of the home, and the gleaming perfect mango in my hand is the proof of my position in this season of mango politics.

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The letter

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It was 11PM when the call came through. A rather unusual time for Raj to be calling, thought Priya as she picked up the phone with a hundred thoughts running through her head. Was someone in the family seriously ill? Was there an emergency? It’s strange how late night calls often scare a person that something may not be right, as if falling sick had a time zone of the darkness. ‘Everything okay?’ were thus the first two words that Priya blurted as she picked up her brother’s  call. Their relationship did not need the formal hellos and how do you do’s and formalities like, ‘is it a good time to call?’ It had also moved beyond ‘Sorry I woke you up’, because the first few words Raj spoke were, ‘No, not okay’. After half a minute of uncomfortable silence he added,

‘She’s stopped talking to me or her mother. Can you please call and drill some sense into her head?’

It was more of a command than a question. Despite just the two year difference, Raj had a natural tendency of bossing his little sister around. So what if they were now 47 and 45 years old respectively. Priya had the feeling that she knew what this was all about, though formally she wasn’t on the tell-me-all list. Rather, she often thought that she was on the need to know basis list. Jyoti, the only daughter of Raj and Swati, was a firebrand child, always stubborn, impulsive and wanting to do her own thing. In many ways, though she did not agree with the comparison too much, she was like Priya. But then how was that going to help.

‘Is it about that boy, what’s-his-name Hemanth?’

It was Raj’s turn to sigh. No more. The ace-student-in-class Jo, had now fallen for Dhruv, and he is the guy she wanted to marry. ‘Two days, that’s all they’ve dated. How can you decide to marry in two days?’ After  filling her on all the details that come along with the need to know basis he added, ‘I can’t do this anymore Priya, you’re close to her, perhaps she’ll listen to you’.

Close to her. That was ironically far from true. Yes, she had spent some years in that house, before she was married, but Jyoti was a school going child then. And it had been a long time of 20 years. Also why would Jyoti listen to Priya, if she hadn’t bothered to listen to her parents. And when had her own brother Raj listened to her. There had been many occasions that she could think of. Priya wanted to say all this, but the thing with the past is that little can be done about it. And so Priya let it be. ‘Sure, I’ll call her. But I don’t know how much it will help.’

After taking Jyoti’s current phone number Priya disconnected. Her niece and she weren’t keeping much in touch. True, they had been close while in India, but she had now been too far away for too long. Priya also didn’t know if her archaic views really mattered anymore. But she had promised her brother that she’d call. And as a duty she did. The phone rang for the complete minute before it disconnected. It was clear that Jyoti was either too busy or not taking any calls. Or worse. She was perhaps taking no calls from the familiar numbers.

The life Jyoti lived was one that Priya had lived before. Hostel life  really changes you, in fact it transforms you. It makes you more self-reliant and independent.  It gives you a network of friends. But then it also distances you from family. It teaches you to trust in friends, people often as inexperienced as you are. It seemed like Priya had been where Jyoti stood just yesterday, and she hoped that her niece would not make the same mistakes she once did. So when the call didn’t go, even on the next morning, Priya thought of a different route. Perhaps she should send an email. This would be worse than making a phonecall, she fretted. What would she write?

Dear Jyoti,

Don’t be angry with your father. He is more experienced in years than you are. And importantly, he’s the one who brought you into the world.

She looked at what she had typed out. Advice, advice. Jyoti would never read beyond the first line. Priya deleted everything she had written and started again. The process was painstakingly time-taking, more so because she was doing this along with balancing her work as an interior designer and readying the meal for the evening. And then the questions would build her self-doubt.

Wasn’t it better to marry someone you loved rather than a stranger? Was Priya herself happy in her marriage? As if in answer, the phone rang. It was Pratap calling, asking if she wanted to catch a movie tomorrow, the new one with Mahesh Babu in it. Yes Priya was happy with her life, for happiness came with the little things, like watching a film together. Priya began to write.

Dear Jyoti,

The point at which you stand today is more than familiar to me for this is the place where I once stood as well. His name was Rajiv  and I had met him at college. Did you know that my brother, that is – your father, actually scared him away?

There that should make her want to read the letter. Rajiv, ah memories she had hidden at the back of her mind tumbled back, the colours now blurred. Her memories of him were now dusty, like those favourite childhood clothes hidden at the back of the cupboard. What was the colour of his eyes? She thought to herself how she had forgotten all those things that once seemed so important. He could charm her, was all she remembered, his smile twinkling in his eyes.

It’s a long story, the memories now faded, and I can’t even remember what was so special about him anymore. What was it that made me rebel with the woman who had brought me up – my mother, and the father who had carried me on his shoulders when I couldn’t walk up the steep steps of the temple long ago. Such pain I gave them, and that too for a stranger? Why?

The day seemed to quickly pass and when the doorbell rang Priya kept the half-written letter aside. There stood Pratap, her husband, a man her parents had so carefully chosen for her. ‘Hi dear, I got you paan from the corner shop you love so much.’ Priya took the packet from him. ‘So many!’ she exclaimed.

‘Ya, I got ten, so you can have whenever you want. Or you’ll have sudden paan cravings at 10 in the night, and the shop won’t be open.

When Priya kept the paan in the fridge, she remembered the contrasts. With Rajiv it was all about novelty and chivalry. It was about midnight phonecalls and surprise dinners at fancy hotels. It was the smell of adventure that had excited her back then. She smiled to herself as she headed to ready their dinner.

It was late in the night, when Pratap finally fell asleep. Priya took out the half written letter from her cupboard. Memories of Rajiv were banging against her head once again, wanting to come out. Perhaps it was time to put them to rest. Priya returned to the letter.

Ah, but I’m telling this backwards. So let me start from the beginning.

The first meeting with Rajiv was accidental. They had met at a friend’s party, and had liked each other instantly. They hung out together on some pretext the next day as well, and finally on the third day, he had proposed. It had been quick, adventurous and all enveloping. She had said yes, because Rajiv was handsome and charming. But soon one day someone from the family spotted the two and the matter had been reported to people at home. Her mom had been upset and her father livid. Raj had been her silent pillar of support for everything, but this. He refused to even meet Rajiv. in fact there also came a point when she decided to run away with Rajiv, but it was Raj who forcibly brought her back. Why was it then that he asked her to talk to Jo? Now she knew.

I was crazy about Rajiv. He was wonderful, the man who adored me and loved me entirely. He was handsome and charming, and girls around me adored him. Every minute of life was exciting with him. I would sneak out of home at 2AM to go for outings. He would buy me wonderful gifts. But my family didn’t see it that way. They told me he was unstable, they said if he can fall in love in a day, he can fall out of it another. Worse still, he wasn’t from the community, so his life would be different, they said. We tried to elope and Raj found out. He literally scared Rajiv  away and brought me home. I was mad at him. But today, in retrospect, I’m happy with what he did.

After that, her family became more careful. They double-locked the doors, and stayed by her. They ensured that someone would drop Priya to college and accompany her back. Yes, she did chance meeting Rajiv occasionally, but the doom of the relationship had begun. He was mad at his brother and her family.

After finishing undergraduation, one day Rajiv left. He got a seat in a university out of the country, and he didn’t even tell me. I tried to write to him and convince him that once we had jobs we could figure a way out. He said, he loved the idea, but the distance had driven a wedge between us. First the letters were regular and soon they stopped completely. After a couple of years, Pratap, a boy carefully chosen, came into my life.

Truth be told, I never fell for him instantly. In fact, it was more out of anger over my parents that I married this stranger. But the beauty of my marriage started showing up after we tied the knot. We discovered each other’s likes and dislikes. And I realized that happiness isn’t about adventure all the time. It is about balance, knowing each other, respecting their choices and giving them the space to grow. It is about a Mahesh Babu movie out of the blue.

Life had been like a whirlwind tour with Rajiv, and is  a joyful cruise with Pratap, I soon learned. Rajiv had strong likes and dislikes on how I carried myself, Pratap has more acceptance. To tell the truth Jo, it didn’t matter if Rajiv forgot anything, but it matters a lot when Pratap remembers to buy me something as simple as paan, because I like it, from the corner shop that I love.

So Jo, I’ve been where you were before and I’ve learnt one thing. True love isn’t about making someone feel special at the prime of their lives. It’s about accepting someone at their best and at their worst. And let me tell you it’s worth waiting for.

Priya re-read the lines she had written. Yes, things were good in her life, but each has their own battles. Perhaps that guy Jo chose was perfect for her after all. But how far was that decision driven by reason? Priya took out the picture album and a little girl aged ten wearing a pink floral dress and riding the cycle stared back. Jo had been riding it and fell because she didn’t know how to stop! If only Priya had taught her to use the brake, she wouldn’t have scraped her knee so badly. Perhaps this letter was just that.

Jo, do you remember that cycle accident where you fell because you didn’t know how to use the brakes? Well life too is like that. But it doesn’t end there, for you need to know how to put the brakes. Life needs stability, love, understanding and companionship. And these are the things that take you through the long run. If not, it will be that one cycle ride where the fun lasts till you have to put the brakes and you don’t know how to stop.

Remember you don’t just marry the guy, you marry the family too. The boy you marry will carry his family’s values. And those will be crucial factors for your happiness after you’re married.

The choice you make for yourself can be yours alone. And I will stand by that. But remember that when your family chooses, they only look for the best. Give them the benefit of doubt and consider the matches they put forth. Stand in your father’s shoes and see Dhruv  as he would. Stand in your mother’s place and assess him again. Would you marry your daughter to a boy like that? And if what you see is wonderful and promising, then bring him home. Convince your parents and tie the knot.

She had said all that she wanted to and felt better having done it. Before Priya headed to bed, there was one last point to add.

Keep your mind open. Find true love, whether it comes through a love marriage or an arranged one, both have merit and value. But whatever you do, do it with your mind and heart. And learn to use the brakes.

May you find love.

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Rant of love and longing

It’s the last day of the summer holidays, and I’m away from home, at an idyllic and quiet getaway, with chirping birds and the occasional cricket breaking the silence. The weather is perfect too, the summer heat has gone and the cool rains and breeze have enveloped me. I look forth to tomorrow with trepidation…or let me be frank…I don’t look forth to tomorrow at all.

The kids are happy too, as we all cling on to the time that will quickly pass, only to be replaced with a routine of school, homework and television…and me blaring out instructions. ‘Put those socks in the bin’, ‘put your school-bag in your room’, ‘take this’, do that…Ah I wish they would just do things all by themselves, without me having to raise my blood pressure over anything and everything from trivial to huge.

But then I know that soon these little kids, will soon grow and fly away to live lives of their own. And when that day comes, I wont have to raise my blood pressure by blaring out instructions anymore, my house will be as quiet, as this idyllic getaway is today. And then, I worry, that I won’t long for the silence and this weather. I’d long for sticky kisses and sweaty hugs, I’d long for noise and laughter.

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What’s up with whatsapp!

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Once what was the case with emails, has now gone mobile. And if you think I’m speaking about the blessing mobile is, well it’s not. I’m talking about those constantly pinging WhatsApp messages, that make you look at the phone in anticipation – hoping it is that important client confirming a meeting while it’s someone sending some piece of nonsensical data that only deserves to be selected and deleted. I’m talking about the nine kinds of people we all have on whatsapp. This post is for you and for the messages I DON’T want to receive – not today, not tomorrow, not in the new year and not if it foretells bad luck for me if I don’t forward.

The well-wisher

I have really not found any purpose or meaning in why anyone would spend their precious morning sending a standard pointless good morning with roses message to everyone. For some reason, it makes me think that this sender has nothing more constructive to do at 5am. So hey sender, if you don’t want to get put on mute, then please stop sending such messages, and use that time for yoga instead.

The acronym speaker

Me: Coach it’s already 6PM and I’ll be late by half an hour, so wasn’t sure if you’ll be there at the ground when I come. So should I come at 7PM or should I come tomorrow?

Coach: K

R u gr8. Y u 8. It may seem magical to you that the English alphabet actually has words in its letters, but really using them as such can make any sane person go mad while decoding. Replying with a k, and giving the grammar a complete miss can really frustrate the Grammar Nazis. Type in complete words and if you don’t have the time, leave a voice message, or I may brk ur hd.

Newly whatsapping rishtedaar

NWR: How is your mother doing?

Me: Fine aunty

NWR: Good to hear. How’s your father doing?

Me: Doing good J

NWR: And your sister?

With high energy levels and lack of better things to do, these relatives will send you the strangest of forwards, random religious messages and enquire about the welfare of everyone in the family. They can also get nosy at times and enquire about why you were awake at 2AM, because your ‘last seen at’ shows that time.

Emoticon atyachaari

How are you?

(Thumbs up sign)

Can we meet for lunch?

(food symbol)

Yes or no?

These are the kinds who answer all your questions with emoticons, so much so that you begin wondering whether they really can speak or type at all. They will bug and frustrate you by sending rows of emojis that when put together make no sense at all.

 

The sales type

‘Medem…gm …I sell ghagras. You like dezins whatsapp me.

No, thanks. I don’t wear ghagras.

Plz mem..v nice. I will come and show.

Another definite way of getting blocked on whatsapp is by sharing all the stuff you want to sell. And then pestering non-suspecting buyers till they’re forced to block you.

The information overloader

These guys have so much to share, that they can overwhelm both you and your phone. The hundreds of photos they keep sharing with you could range on any topic, their selfies, food or pictures of their dog. Often leading the phone to crash, these senders are dangerous to the health of your phone.

The stalkers

Then there are the stalkers, who will mark your every DP change, every status update and every message. They’ll message you every chance they get, just to let you know how pink suits you best, and how this particular shade is better than the one you were wearing 5 DPs ago. How creepy!

The Fraandly ones

Please be my fraand. I like your DP. Are the first ones to get blocked on whatsapp and it always surprises me that these creepier people are still trying to make friends this way.

The chain messengers

And last but not the least are the ones who keep sending you sad pictures and long texts that end with words like ‘share’ and ‘forward’ or the sky will fall on your heads. Well it hasn’t, has it?

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Saving it all

shallow focus photography of plastic packs

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As I stand before the mirror yet again, wondering how the extra flab around my body would melt away, taking me back to the glory of my college days, my little son-shine walks in. “ Amma, I think you should recycle”, he announces. Its ‘World environment day’ and I’m impressed, my focus shifting from my personal world, to the big planet that I live in. True, I reflect, its time I stop worrying about how I lose the flab, which seems pretty difficult, to how the planet gets rid of all its plastic (which seems pretty impossible).

Yes, we should begin to do that son, I announce, turning around to find that the son-shine has already left the room. Impressed with the child’s thinking, I begin to mentally inventory all that I could do as my bit. Perhaps I could give all the plastic covers in the house to the vegetable vendor for reusing, I think. And perhaps I could refuse plastic bags at the grocery store, by taking my own bag. And while I run the risk of getting a look of disdain from the vendor, refusing bags at the grocery store may not be easy. One could refuse the big bag by carrying their own, but what about the many smaller ones that stores use to pack everything from sugar to dals and washing powder. Every product that we use is packed in plastic, and something needs to be done about it. I do my bit of stacking the plastic covers at home, as  I call out to the son, ‘See I’ve begun to recycle, like you suggested.’

The son looks at me and smiles. ‘Good job, amma’ he complements. ‘But this isn’t what I meant. See, when you were young, you would cycle to school, wouldn’t you?’ I nod my head in the affirmative. ‘Then in college you had a bike. Then you bought your Celerio car. And now you’re worried you’re fat. So you should buy a cycle again…Recycle’ he tells me. Understanding dawns on me, and the two of us laugh. Yes, son-shine is right. Buying a cycle and using that as a means of transport would be the wisest thing to do. It wouldn’t just keep me fit, it would help the environment too. And isn’t that what change is meant to do…good for everyone? And so till I figure out how to avoid bringing home plastic with everything that I buy, I’ll recycle instead. One little change at a time can really help.

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