A short day out on a long journey

Marianne Landzettel, England

What does one do on a Saturday in Mussoorie, taking a break from an intensive course in Hindi, when one’s brain is oblique with a postposition permanently stuck to it?

My husband, being a gardener and interested in seed saving for as long as I’ve known him, had worked it all out: Vijay Jardhari has agreed to meet us, I was told, and we’re going to see Beej Bachao Andolan.

Admittedly three and a half hours in the back of a taxi on narrow mountain road Mussoorie-Dhanolti-Chamba-Nagni, with lots of hair pin curves is not my idea of fun. I can get car sick by just looking at those roads. But then the scenery is so breathtakingly beautiful, changing gradually from the pine and deodar trees near Mussoorie down to the lush green valleys and the rice fields from where the road to Vijay’s small farm branches off at Nagni.

He waited for us at one of the turns on the road, which was very kind as we’d never have found the foot path leading up to his house with the courtyard, in the village Jardhargaon, overlooking the valley.

Aur humko apka ghar bahut pasand hai – was heartfelt but unfortunately about the only sentence after a week’s worth of learning Hindi that was of much use. Which didn’t matter because Vijay and his wife in their wonderful friendly and quiet ways nevertheless managed to show us so much.

After we had a look at the seeds that they were drying, sorting and packing, Vijay took us down a few steps into what to me looked like a meadow on steroids. Vijay vanished up to his shoulders between tall stems of grass that turned out to be a field of wonders: growing side by side were twelve different kinds of grains and pulses, including the nine coloured dal, aptly called “Naurangi” and locally also known as rayaans.

It was the care, the palpable knowledge of every inch of those small, terraced fields and each and every shrub, tree and herb growing on their borders, a knowledge that seemed to not only connect Vijay with the land but generations of farmers in this valley, that made me go very quiet. I thought of the market stalls in Mussoorie, where you could buy pretty much any kind of fruit and vegetable. What’s local, we had asked. Not much, was the answer – fruit, grains, lentils and vegetables seemed to grow on lorries rather than on trees and in fields. And there was but one variety of carrots, one of apples, one of potatoes.

And in Vijay’s field twelve varieties grew side by side, to be harvested stem by stem, whenever they were ripe and needed. There were the squashes, carefully hidden under large leaves to protect them from the eyes of hungry monkeys. There were other fruit, herbs and vegetables that I am not familiar with and therefore cannot name. Whatever they were, quite a few of them must have gone into the meal Vijay’s wife cooked for us – millet, vegetables, chapattis. It tasted different from any of the food I’ve had in India, but it was one of the best meals I’ve tasted in a country that has lots of good cooking. And trust me, I do a lot of cooking and love my food.

So it was with a full stomach and even more food for thought that we got ready to leave – embarrassed by our inability to communicate better how much we had appreciated Vijay’s effort to show us what he does and how, and that we understood how immensely valuable his work is not just for the farmers in BBA, but as a way forward for farmers and gardeners the world over. So saying goodbye kind of dragged on a little, which was really good because after our meal it was the turn of the water buffalo and her calf to be fed.

And can you leave a place with a more content and peaceful image in your mind than two water buffalos looking out over a green and sunny valley, contemplatively munching freshly cut leaves?

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