Jeevamrutha – the nectar of life

Genesis 2:9
The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:16-17

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3:22-24

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever”– therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the Tree of Life.

Why does God not want his creation, Man, to eat either from the Tree of Knowledge, or Tree of Life? Knowledge of good and evil – does that mean discriminating knowledge? Which can be obtained only when we take things apart. Take a pretty flower apart, you see a lifeless entity. One can claim that they have learnt about petals, stamens, antlers, pollen, sepals, and the relationship between the parts. But somehow that knowledge is shallow, that comes at the expense of losing the big picture. The more we take things apart, the more the number of relationships we have to deal with, and the less we understand. Mansoubu Fukuoka, Japanese micro-biologist, turned philosopher/farmer, realized, in an epiphany, that nature is perfect. There is no sense, in trying to improve one element of nature. Doing that will break something else, either immediately or over the long term.

Reductionistic science in labs has brought us antibiotics, jet flight, iPhones, and other tech gizmos. We have been able to bring things from specialised, reductionistic research, together, to apparently create things that are “better” than nature.

Bible does suggest that discriminating knowledge, is death. Yes, the same Bible and Genesis, that puts creation of day and night, before the creation of Sun. Quran avoids this issue, by not explicitly mentioning the order in which God created the world. If discriminating knowledge is bad, what if Man had also eaten from the Tree of Life? We sure have applied our scientific understanding to the field of medicine, and perhaps, with stem cells, we may get to essentially eat from the Tree of Life.

The famous proponents of natural farming come from conventional scientific training. Subhash Palekar, and Dr. Nammalvar studied conventional agricultural science. Palekar has been quite aggressive in his contempt for western cattle breeds, “organic” farming, or vermicompost with red-wiggler worms. Fukuoka, was a microbiologist. His “Natural Way of Farming”, which I have read only in parts, says Nature is perfect. There is no good or bad or evil in Nature, and Man’s attempt to improve on it, will only lead to an endless increase in work. All that extra work just weakens and degrades Nature, and human life along with it.

Now there are heroes that like to work 20+ hours a day, and want everyone else to do the same. There are others who don’t like work, the mindless sort, that perhaps Nature can do for free. Fukuoka says, only humans have to work. The rest of life, they simply live.

One wonderful way to make soils fertile, crops disease resistant, is to use soil life, mostly microbial. The best way to do that, is to use a native cow, Bos indicus, the humped Indian cattle. Subhash Palekarji’s research had found that a preparation, called Jeevamrutha, with native cow’s dung, urine, jaggery, pulses, and a handful of forest soil, makes soil fertile. Like most things in Natural farming, if this is done right, in 3 years or less, soil becomes alive, and you no longer need to continue with this. Unlike some of the modern technology, that requires more and more people, sucked into a widening spiral of work.

Cow dung always had a pride of place in Indian households. Britishers, and westerners mocked at this. Cow dung used to be diluted with water, and the mud floors of the houses, and outside, were coated (waxed) with this solution. This reduced dust, and was healthy for people. Cows those days, ate grass, and a whole lot of herbs with it.
The cows today are not the same. The western or mixed breeds have stinky, pathological dung. Even native breeds, are given imported feed, grains, or Co-4 grass. Lot less diversity in their feed. The farms no longer have herbs or weeds, and the boundaries are bare. No mulberry, moringa (drumstick) or other fodder trees on the borders. One of the most nourishing things for the cows is ground cotton seed meal. A very nutritious drink for people too. Except that today most cotton is Bt cotton, or pathologically hybridised. The fans of science, claim that, since cotton seed oil is used in biscuits, breads, and other snacks, we have done a great experiment in science, and Bt cotton is safe for human consumption. By extension Bt brinjal (eggplant) should be safe!

Speaking of brinjal, our environmental activists, with their “We are not lab rats” banners, stopped Bt brinjal. With help from Environment Minister Ramesh Jairam, of the previous government ( ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’ of February 2010). That is a heroic story of successful activism, or is it? Let’s take Bt cotton. How did it appear in India? There was this article in “The Hindu”, which I can’t locate online, that said, both Monsanto, and India’s regulators, were surprised, when they found farmers growing Bt Cotton. Bt cotton was so good, that farmers sourced it from America, and shared the goody-goody stuff with progressive farmers, and soon it spread all over India. All under the watchful eyes of the regulators, who we expect to regulate GM crops. This link at Outlook India (http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/bt-cottons-chequered-history-in-india/213620) has one point, that mentions “Oct 2001 Illegal sale and farming of Bt cotton in Gujarat”.

Since Cornell university, in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, created a sob story of pesticide usage in brinjal, and used that sob story to do research on Bt brinjal, we can expect Monsanto/Mahyco and our glorious regulators to be pleasantly surprised when most of the brinjal in India have the Bt gene. You can be sure, that right now, there are brinjal varieties in the local market that “mysteriously” carry the Bt gene (besides being herbicide tolerant). The story, will ofcourse be, that someone brought it from Bangladesh. I found a brinjal variety that had a kind of unnatural fluorescence in a shop, but didn’t buy it. The only saving grace in all this, is that without all the support structures, and herbicides (Roundup), GM crops, will not thrive. No wonder, our truly Indian GM mustard, did not stop with putting good features into the mustard. It had to bring herbicide tolerance, before it can be marketed. Otherwise, a crop that produces such tiny seeds, will slowly lose all its genetic modification, through cross-pollination. One will have to kill all competition with herbicides.

Getting back to indigenous cows, of late, a new kind of heroic act is going on. Certain folks are getting high milk yielding Bos indicus cows from Brazil. Why? Because Brazil imported those cows from India, and then through “selective breeding” made it “better”. At what point does milk stop being milk? A native cow, on a very limited diet, of say Co-4 grass, and maize stalks, is less of a cow. Now if we come up with a native breed, that gives 10 litres or 20 a day, is that still milk, or some breakdown product of cow’s metabolism? Some of the native cows, grazing in the forests, give less than a litre a day. This milk, rich from the herbs that the cow grazes, is real, health giving milk. But the eunuchs of science, will not have it otherwise. And cows ecological purpose, from enriching dung, is simultaneously lost.

Just to get a real cow, and real dung, we have to go back so many steps. Ah, the beauty of science!
Anyway, for the experiment here, I cannot say for certain, that I started with pure native breed dung. But from the smell, and appearance, and the fact that of the two cows, one was pure (the other mixed), I can say, that the dung was good.

Jeevamrutha, like concoctions that farmers dream of, varies, depending on what is available. The main ingredients are of course native cow dung, urine, jaggery, pulses, and handful of forest soil. Sprouts, coconut water, toddy, fruits, medicinal leaves, or seeds, are added.
There is lots of intuitive wisdom in combining things, it is not the witches brew of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

One ingredient I chose to skip, is cow’s urine. Didn’t want the powerful smell. The things that were added, in some random proportion, were dung, water, palmyra jaggery, sprouted ragi and sprouted green gram (moong dal), growing shoots of drumstick (moringa) and veldt grape (pirandai). They were mixed in a clay pot, covered and left in shade. Plastic is used these days, cement tanks are better. Best is clay, one can still find clay containers (water troughs) used to provide water to cattle. They can hold more than 50 litres. For a small experiment an easily available clay pot is sufficient.

The mixture was stirred with a stick, in the morning and evening. The solution in the pot, started frothing by the second day.

The photographs show the changes in sequence. The first slide shows random sprinkling of microbial cells, along with fragments of half digested plants, at 40x magnification.

day1_cellsx40

Day 1 – Cells at 40x

The next two are at 100x, and the last one used the zoom on camera, to get a slightly higher magnification. There is a spiral strand in the bottom, a little hard to make out.

day1_cellsx100

Day 1 – Cells, half-digested plants at 40x

day1_cells2x100

Day 1 – Cells at 100x

day1_cells3x100

Day 1 – Cells at 100x

On day 2, it looks a little different. There are clusters of cells of various sizes, either cooperating or feeding off, of each other. This slide shows a spirulina segment. A couple more, in the next slide. Could that spiral have come from grass or a plant, that the cow ate? Unlikely, because of its tiny size, shown here at 100x magnification.

day2_cluster_x100

Day 2 – cell clusters

day2_cluster2_x100

Day 2 – cells of various sizes clustered together

day2_spirulina_x100

Day 2 – spirulina

day2_spirulina2_x100

Day 2 – spirulina

Here is a slide, that dried out, it shows clearly the cells of all sizes, grouped together.

day2_cluster_dried_x100

Day 2 – half-dried slide

Day 3 – this one shows an unusual cluster of same sized cells at top left. The photo is not very clear though.

da3_big_cluster_x100

Day 3 – big cluster of similar cells

Day 4, once again similar to the other days. There is a round big cell at the centre. Next to it, down slightly left, a cell undergoing division, looks like a broken egg.

day4_round_cellx100

Day 4 – Big round cell

day4_cellsx100

Day 4 – cells

More cells in this slide.

day4_more_cellsx100

Day 4 – cell clusters

Day 5, little sharper photos. Lots of cells all over. The smaller cells look sharp in this photo. Closeup of the cells. Further magnification, at 400x, doesn’t reveal any more details. Requires better equipment, and staining of the cells, to see details inside. At higher levels of magnification x1000, one can see bacteria.

day5_cells2x100

Day 5 – cells at 40x

day5_cells3x100

Day 5 – cells at 100x

day5_cells4x100

Day 5 – more cells at 100x

day5_cells5x100

Day 5 – cells at 100x

day5_cellsx100

Day 5 – cells

day5_cellsx400

Day 5 – cells at 400x, no details visible

A fragment of undigested grass.

day5_grassx40

Day 5 – grass fragment

The edge of the droplet of Jeevamrutha solution, can be seen in this.

day5_edgex100

Day 5 – water droplet edge

Peering into the microbial world is not reductionism, yet it is hard to see the connections, which makes one to lose the big picture. There is enough to indicate self-similarity, with the microcosm, operating in the same way as the macrocosm. One can see more lively stuff through a microscope, with a drop of water from a paddy field (untainted by chemicals). The easily visible larger fungal cells in Jeevamrutha, unfortunately, don’t actively move.

All this grand microbial activity, consumes the dung, and makes nutrition available to the plants. It is this, that has sustained plant and animal life. Billions of micro-organisms in just a few grams of solution. That can be used to bring the soil back to life, and create a favourable ecology for plant growth.
Natural farmers cannot outcompete the agro-industries, government and the regulators, with propaganda, rules, and punishment for non-compliance. They have to take a leaf out of the Big-Ag companies book, and do it quietly.
The same way GM crops suddenly started showing up in India. There are people in government, in bureaucracy, police, or elsewhere, who don’t subscribe to the dominant paradigm, thrust top-down from UN, WHO, Bill Gates Foundation, CATO Institute, or other, New World Order organisations. It is these people, who can keep the world sane. Not our “leaders”. Most “leaders” are caught in circumstances, that they cannot escape. Same thing with regulators, they can’t hope to keep their jobs, if they stand in the way of industries, pushing their “bestest” solution, on the population.
Does anyone remember how Obama railed against American invasion of Iraq, or against the huge American debt? How did the pre-election Obama, turn against his own ideals, and expand American intervention abroad, creating chaos in the Middle East, while increasing government debt? Would Trump be different? His position is similar to Obama’s ideals. Very unlikely, but at least he provides entertainment. In a world of social justice warriors, feminism, micro-aggressions, and political correctness, he’s irrepressible. That behavior, by itself, frees people from the suffocating emptiness of nice talk. On the other side, we have another brave guy, Duterte. Could there be many Indians who can relate to Trump? Doubtful. For we have our own ideal world, unquestionable and un-criticizable – desh bhakt citizens, Aadhaar enabled for total surveillance, fully taxed, vaccinated and medicated, in tune with the lofty ideals of UN and WHO. Living the packaged life, convenient and cashless, as regulated mindless coolies, in high-rises, in massive cities, promoted by the Mckinsey Boys (consultants to world governments).

Fragmented scientific solutions like synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides, clever and perfect in isolation, have led to more work, more problems, and more poisoning of the land and ourselves. Natural farming, seeks to revert that. The micro-organisms just by living their life, create richness, and abundance. Man with all his cleverness, that came from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, cannot create a wholesome solution, that nature, undisturbed, provides with ease.

Summer Buzz

It was an accidental serendipity that brought this Veldt Grape (Perandai, Cissus quadrangularis) plant here. A small piece of the stem, took root and grew. Slowly at first, and then after a year, it took off. Irrigated with tap water, which was quite salty, high in TDS (Total Dissolved Solids ), it managed to do well. Spring this year, it sent out lots of green shoots. When summer came, it started flowering. Tiny pink buds, that opened to reveal four stamens.

pirandai

Pirandai

Flowers and nectar brought in the bees, butterflies, and wasps. Reminds one of lazy summer afternoons, under the shade of a tree, with the buzz of the bees. The pirandai plant, with abundant flowers and nectar, is not enough to attract the pollinators, especially in a city suburb. A variety of weeds are required to support insect populations. Fortunately, the cleanerers in all their rage, could only do so much. There were lots of weeds around.
Insects requires weeds, the usual kind, for nectar, and leaves for the caterpillars. Tulsi (basil), siriyanangai ( [சிறியா நங்கை]/ Nila Vembu [நிலவேம்பு] Andographis paniculata), kanakambaram (கனகாம்பரம், firecracker flower, Crossandra infundibuliformis), thumbai (Leucas aspera), tridax, oxalis and many others.
On this Tulsi plant (this photo was taken a month earlier), a green spider is feeding on a grasshopper. Tulsi with plentiful flowers, is a good source of nectar. The plant is highly medicinal. A few leaves once in a while, and one need not worry so much about mosquito related illnesses.

spider_and_grasshopper

Green spider and grasshopper

Another plant that is useful in dengue, and chickungunya is siriyanangai or nila vembu. Tamil Nadu government fortunately had people use a Siddha remedy for mosquito borne illnesses, both as a preventative measure, and as a cure. The medicine is called Nilavembu kudineer. This increases immunity, and is effective for several mosquito borne illnesses. A combination of several herbs like these, can free you from fear of mosquitoes, or water puddles, or organized hysteria against mosquitoes.

siriyanangai

Siriyanangai Andographis paniculata

Siriyanangai like most weeds, flowers profusely. My daughter used to take the dry seeds, and drop them in water. They make a popping sound, and burst open, spreading the tiny seeds. She was illustrating the cycles of life. Rain after a hot summer, would have done the same thing, making the seed pods go pop. The leaves of the plant are extremely bitter. That makes it effective against snake and scorpion poisons. Yet the nectar is sweet, and attractive to bees. This striped fat bee, makes a loud buzz, as it flits around from flower to flower.

fat_striped_bee_front

Fat striped bee

fat_striped_bee

Fat striped bee

Another one, slightly bigger, is bright, shiny blue, and has an equally loud buzz.

fat_blue_bee

Fat blue bee

This yellow butterfly has settled underneath a leaf.

yellow_sulfur

Yellow sulfur butterfly

The almost pure white flowers of thumbai, find a place in rituals. This plant, along with wild indigo (Tephrosia purpurea) is also used in treating poisonous bites. In my younger days, we could see lots of butterflies, and honey bees visiting this plant.

thumbai

Pure white thumbai flowers

This one has a small butterfly.

butterfly_on_thumbai

Small butterfly on thumbai plant

A weed similar to amman pachharisi, snake weed.

weed

Weed similar to அம்மான் பச்சரிசி – Snake weed

Kanakambaram used to be popular with girls, who decorate their hair with this flower. So the plant used to be common in home gardens. Not so much today. This plant also produces seed pods, that when dry, pop open on contact with water. The flowers have a good deal of nectar.

kanakambaram

Kanakambaram flowers

This wood sorrel plant, found some soil and moisture, between the cracks in the cement tiles. Another weed that attracts small bees.

yellow_wood_sorrel

Yellow wood sorrel

It is all these weeds, that the cleanerers have missed, that provide space for insect life to flourish. Insect life that is now attracted to a singularity in their midst. A single Veldt grape plant in bloom.

The plant did not have the “advantage” of science, which would reduced to a pathetic twig, that will grow only on life support of irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. It retained its wild roots.

Tiny fruit flies showed up. These seem to have hunched backs, it might have been a genetic experiment gone wrong. Except that all the flies seemed to have the same “defect”.

two_fruit_flies

Two fruit flies

Here is a honey bee, smaller than the bees seen earlier on siriyanangai plant. It has yellow hairs on its back legs. This bee is bigger than the dwarf honey bee, which has a black body. And smaller than a regular honey bee.

small_bee_yellow_honeysac

Small honey bee with yellow pollen sac on its legs

A slightly bigger, but similar looking bee.

hb_yellow_legs_midsize

Honey bee with yellow pollensacs, larger

A red wasp, the common type around here (Ropalidia marginata, a paper wasp). One can see its nest on walls, and on plants.

red_paper_wasp

Red-brown paper wasp

Another wasp, of almost the same size, with a metallic blue body. This type is a frequent visitor.

metallic_blue_wasp

Metallic blue wasp

This one could be a wasp or a bee, hard to say. There was a similar one with short yellow stripes, running parallel to its body, which seems to indicate that this is a wasp.

black_wasp

Black wasp with white stripes

This honey bee, doesn’t have yellow on its legs.

hb_no_pollensac

Honey bee, no prominent pollen sac

hb_no_yellow_pollensac

Honey bee, no prominent pollen sac

This wasp, much bigger than the other ones, has striking yellow legs. Its body and head are fully black, except for the thin midsection which is yellow. A mud-dauber perhaps, that builds nests of mud.

black_yellow_wasp

Black wasp with yellow legs

This honey bee, is the size of the rock bee (Apis dorsata), but looks different.

big_honey_bee

Big honey bee

Another honey bee, smaller than the regular honey bee.

gray_honeybee

Gray honey bee

This one is fatter, has a different pattern on its body, like stripes on a tiger, and is slightly smaller than the one on siriyanangai plant.

tiger_striped_bee

Tiger striped bee

A strange brown moth, it is quite tiny.

little_brown_moth

Little brown moth

The regular honey bee. Unfortunately not many of these visited the plant. Had to wait for a few days, before I could take a photo of this bee.

honeybee

Honey bee

There were several types of flies, some too small to photograph. There was the regular domestic fly. Then this one hairy, with bright red eyes.

black_fly

Black fly

A small one, shiny green.

green_fly

Green fly

Another one, with greenish blue body.

blue_green_fly

Blue green fly

There was this moth, bluish-black, with an orange band, sipping nectar, in the bright morning sun.

black_moth

Black moth with yellow band

And a bright green bee, on a sunflower next to the Veldt grape plant.

 

The beauty is not in the Veldt grape plant, but in the life that it nurtures, in the multiple connections that it forged. A wholeness that is greater than the sum of its parts. Bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies, find this plant, through means that are in many ways mysterious, to feed on its nectar. When the fruits ripen, there will be birds to feast on them. This single plant has created a summer buzz, the way life was meant to be.

A helmeted rule

gecko
In Twinkle comic, there was this tale of Suppandi, youthful but wise in years, who goes on a picnic with his friend Maddy. They are on a rural road, and encounter no traffic. They come to a bend on the road. There is a tree by the side of the road. Suppandi, however, suggests that they sit on the middle of the road and have their food, since they don’t see any vehicles on the road. Pretty soon, a guy comes in his car, turns around the bend, and surprise! Two fools, having their picnic in the middle of the road. Trying to avoid them, he crashes into the tree nearby. Suppandi rises up, surveys the scene, and says solemnly – it is a good thing we sat on the road, instead of under the tree.

Comics are a good source of wisdom.

Helmets are compulsory in many places. Helmets for bicycle riders. Not really sure if WHO (the World Health Organization) mandates it or not, but apparently they have studies that helmets save lives (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2006/pr44/en/http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_traffic/countrywork/ind/en/). And sure some regional judgements quote WHO statistics. In a place called X, some lawyers protested against mandatory helmets for motorcycle riders. There was this article in The Hindu, where the author suggested, that helmets are for a person’s safety. Who can ever argue with that? Sure, you are on a motorcycle, fall down and bump your helmeted head. If the helmet did its duty, then you are saved from injury. Simple, no arguments here. It is in fact too simple, that no arguments should be allowed. That exactly was the author’s logic. Apparently the lawyers had several issues, mandatory wearing of helmets was just one among many. We don’t know what the lawyers’ reasoning was, probably the place had a gag order on public discussion of this safety issue.

Helmet rules in this place come and go. But in the recent instance there was this guy, a doctor, who claimed, in “Letters to the Editor”, that in 40 years of practice he had encountered about 25 thousand cases of motorcycle accident victims. His obvious agenda is to promote the mandatory helmet rule. Four decades back in small towns, there were just a few people with motorcycles. A villager or rich guy, might have a Royal Enfield. His stance, the slow paced ride, and the wide distance given to him, might have avoided all accidents. He’s also not a wage coolie, trying to meet some deadline, or has to be on time, for a meeting with his boss. Three generations of his family might have ridden the bike without a single accident.

About two decades back, lighter motorbikes came. Youngsters those days, to impress their colleagues, or others, would occasionally speed, and get injured. Even big cities like Chennai or Bangalore, you might hear just a couple of two-wheeler accidents a month. That too only if are tuned to all talk or news about accidents. And today in these cities there might be about ten accidents a day, where a motorcyclist is injured. The reason being, that people have become more cautious, motorcycles very common, that youngsters don’t have a need to impress anyone. So how could this “doctor” have encountered 25 thousand cases, unless every case in a mid-size city came to his hospital. When this guy was in attendance, for the last 40 years! With cities twenty kilometers across, and having several hospitals, it would require magic to get every victim to this guy’s hospital. Lies, damned lies, and statistics! Most serious accidents are on highways, from excessive speed between cars, buses, and bigger vehicles.

In western countries on residential roads, or rural roads, at intersections, you’ll encounter the “Stop” sign. To westerners, India’s model of traffic (until recently) is chaotic, and unsafe. Indians are used to the flow model, not the western model, stop, observe, observe again, and then go. Even Darwin’s evolution doesn’t flow! Evolution became punctuated equilibrium. Why? Because we can’t see the intermediate stages. Quick periods of evolution, when the optimum is reached, optimum with the most survival adaptations, and then things remain stable. Stop and Go. No flow. That leads to an issue, how can the eye evolve in steps, unless it can predict in advance, that a certain set of muscles will be useful, when the eye finally begins to see. Not only can something as complex as an eye not evolve in steps, but if we throw in the fact that the human “brain” is now wondering how the eye evolved, something is totally amiss with Darwinism. We can try working backward, in reverse, check some fish or salamander in dark caves, and see how they lost most of the functionality of the eyes. Their eye muscles would have atrophied. But the reverse, devolution, unfortunately does not explain forward evolution.

Skipping Darwinism, lets get back to the flow model. At an intersection, a person can go in 3 different directions – straight ahead, turn right, turn left. If there are 4 people, coming to the intersection, from 4 directions, then we have 12 possibilities. So 12 people can come to an intersection, and take different paths. In India, people will not stop and go, all 12 will slow down enough, to understand the intent of others, and go their way. No accident. If someone seems to come too fast, or seems to lack judgement, others will sense that, and react accordingly.

Now to do this, apart from the fact, you need slower speeds, you need to be able to sense another person’s intent. Sunglasses – no! Helmets – no! Harder to judge the other person’s intent. But more importantly, helmets reduce peripheral vision. Not a whole lot, but just that little bit, to impair judgement in a flow scenario. Just removing the helmet makes one feel, that they are out of tunnel vision mode, and seeing in 3D. Would accidents be more or less without helmets?

Folks when they wear helmets feel a little more invulnerable. That means more speed. And reduced peripheral vision. Less able to absorb the whole scenario. More accidents perhaps?
Helmet influence in many cases is subtle. There are some folks, the moment they wear their helmet, are reminded of their mortality, and become cautious. But those are exceptions, rather than the norm. The average person is cautious, and more aware, without a helmet.

There is another side to helmets as noted here (http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1012.html). When those driving cars saw helmeted riders, they were more likely to go too close. That can make the motorcyclist lose balance, and get injured. Also, going back to the peripheral vision issue, our ability to judge distances on either side, whether a car is too close or not, is not so good, increasing chances of losing ones balance in a tight scenario.
Then there is the weather. Helmet rules come and go, and even though the cops enforce this, I had never seen a cop in a helmet, until very recently. Why? Let’s check our schools, we have shirts, pants, ties, and shoes. Shoes in this weather? Do we need to imitate the uniform of the waiters (according to Subramanian Swamy)? Most schools also have the Singaporean, penal colony style lawn grass in their “gardens”, and decorative palm trees. That’s the foundation of smart cities, promoted by McKinsey boys, consultants to world governments. Isn’t smart city a modern version of penal colony, with monitored, carefully regulated, and fully taxed, living. So sweat, socks, and shoes are ok. And the rest of the dress?

I think, it was about two years back, we landed in a college, my friend and I. There were mostly elementary and middle school students, showing off their projects. Then there were the higher secondary school students (11th, 12th). The lecture halls where they were making the presentations, were fully air-conditioned. Girls and guys had laptops. Guys were in pants and shirt, with an overcoat. The girls were in surprisingly short skirts, and they too had their overcoats. What were they presenting? Yes, global warming, a very endearing topic for the world improvers. Kosher glo-bull warming of holo-hoaxian proportions! That would explain the short skirt. The overcoat? Well, global warming is now climatey changitiness. Just in case things become too cold for comfort. The dress covers both hot and cold extremes.

That leaves us with just the head, which needs to be helmeted. For the unbelievers, hot weather and helmets, means dandruff, and itching. Women had an extra reason, helmets and humidity can cause hair loss. And some hair styles seem to exclude helmets. So they suggested gently, that God had given us our heads (skulls) to protect what is inside. They were perhaps implying that God has given us heads so that an individual can decide the risk to her life and limb based on her understanding of the local context.
When the hot weather really went over your head, some sought temporary exemption from the helmet rule. But making a law with exemptions is same as letting people decide for themselves, a strict no-no. How do you ask for an exemption? Like in kindergarten? One raised finger to pee, two raised fingers to shit?

Itching! What would you do if you have this need to scratch the itch on your helmeted head? While driving! That means another distraction on the road. Did I mention that I never saw a cop wearing a helmet until recently?

Sometimes in places where there are flying insects, there is a chance with helmets, these insects enter your ear. Why? The wind is in your face, and a insect hitting your face, moves toward your ears, and enters it. Chances are higher with a helmet. Yet another distraction.

Once you stop at a place, now you have an extra thing to handle, your helmet. You have to carry it with you, or you can lock it on your motorcycle. There are lots of people, rural or otherwise who have mopeds. These are convenient to carry milk cans (for a milkman), sacks of produce, etc. A helmet in hand, and those tasks become harder or impossible. On a street with traffic, and parking issues, that disadvantage means only one thing – more chances of accidents.

The link that I referred to earlier (http://www.cyclehelmets.org), also mentions several other things. Higher speeds, protecting just the head, will lead to spinal injuries. Fall with a helmet on, can rotate the head abruptly, twist and injure the neck. Lower speeds, the slight increase in weight of the head from the helmet, makes a person bump his head more. Concussions can happen from the impact, even with helmet on, because the cushioning from styrofoam is marginal. Sharper objects, yes, the outer shell can cushion and spread the force.

Also with children, and even perhaps adults, with helmets on, and the head heavier, they are less likely to balance properly, and more likely to fall in a way, that bumps their head. Or get hit by other vehicles. After all don’t all of us feel slightly disoriented with a helmet on?

So how do we engineer statistics that say helmets reduce accidents in a population as a whole? Should public policy should be made on such statistics? It is all so obvious in a simple scenario – fall, bump your head, helmet spreads the impact, and you are saved.
Proximate causes and their effects can be compelling. If someone throws a stone at the car, the windshield can shatter and injure the occupant inside. We can save lives by making the windshield and windows out of solid steel plates!

The public can over-think an issue. They may not find WHO statistics convincing. Fortunately, in some places, with mandatory helmet rule, we have gag orders against public criticism. Strengthening the helmeted rule. A rule, so perfect, and reasonable, that it is unlikely to leave you scratching your (helmeted) head! The heroes who save us from ourselves, like Suppandi, will be celebrated in the comics of the future.

Spring 2016

It is mid-april, early spring at the farm, and the air is warm. There’s a bird’s nest on a karuvellam tree, a small thorny tree (Vachellia nilotica /synonym Acacia nilotica, gum arabic).

karuvelam

Karuvelam tree

There is a mangium (Acacia mangium) tree. If you are one of those who keep track of periodic hysteria engineered top-down from some global organisations, you’ll realize that this was yet another tree that was hyped up as a fast growing tree, and a good source of biomass. Like the Jatropha bio-diesel scam, this one too petered out. Although you might an ocassional plantation in some hills near the forests. Somehow its seed had landed in the farm, and now there is this shrub.

mangium

Mangium tree

A palmyra tree, surrounded by shrubs and trees. A creeper has spread on its drying leaves. If left alone, life finds a way to flourish. Birds and animals require a place like this, to hide, or raise young ones, or to forage. Natural farming requires mixing in “undisturbed soil” from the farm, with cow dung, jaggery and other ingredients, to create Jeevamrutha, which has trillions of micro-organisms. Undisturbed soil is usually found under this place overgrown with weeds! And although not very pretty, for the average folk, these isolated singularities can help maintain bio-diversity.

palmyra_shrubs

Palmyra tree surrounded by shrubs and creepers

Arjuna tree (Terminalia arjuna, Maruthamaram) sends out pink leaves. This didn’t grow so well, considering it is more than seven years, since it was brought in from a nursery. A couple were obtained as very small seedlings, and planted this year. They seem to be doing better.

maruthum_spring_leaves

Arjuna tree

There’s a pungam tree (Pongamia pinnata), surviving, but having a hard time due to insufficient water.

pungam

Pungam tree

Dwarf morning glory (Evolvulus alsinoides, Vishnugrandi, Vishnukrantha, Shyamakuranta, Sankhapuspi) has nice pretty flowers. It is used as a tonic for the brain.

dwarf_morning_glory

Dwarf morning glory

Ocimum gratissimum, also known as clove basil, African basil, is in flower too.
Another cream-yellow flower, name unknown, tiny like the dwarf morning glory.

small_yellow_flower

Small yellow flower

A rat hole. Owls, peacocks, mongoose, and snakes eat the rats. Field rats (unlike sewer rats) are a tasty snack for those who eat rat meat. Modern activism looks at field rats as starvation diet, but those who eat these, will never go near a broiler chicken.

rat_hole

Rat hole

Looking out from within a cashew tree.

cashew_tree_inside

Looking out from within a cashew tree

Cashew tree in flower, with a few fruits. You’ll rarely see any insects pollinating these flowers. There is a big overuse of pesticides in this region.

cashew_flowering


Cashew flowering

This cashew fruit is partly eaten, could be fruit bats, mynahs, red-vented bulbuls, or some other bird.

cashew_fruit

Cashew fruit

Small neem trees from bird droppings. The bigger ones are in blossom, nice fragrance. Tree planting by people, is mostly attention seeking, fraudulent behavior. In nature, weeds prepare the soil, then small shrubs take over, and finally trees establish themselves. The soil also becomes enriched with symbiotic micro-organisms, and other bugs, making it easier for the trees to grow. If there is grazing not many trees get to establish themselves. If one needs to plant trees, you better let the weeds grow first, then plant small shrubs like pigeon pea, and then finally plant the tree, or better still plant a tree seed. Most tree planting done on bare earth, requires heavy maintenance, which is rarely given. So trees fail to survive. But our heroes go on planting millions of saplings, with nothing to show after an year or two.

small_neem_trees

Small neem trees

A creeper, if left alone, it does add to the ecology, and provides some positive connections.

creeper_unknown

Creeper

Nice flower of Avaram plant. Good for diabetes. (Senna auriculata/ Cassia auriculata ஆவாரம்)

avaram_flower

Avaram flower

Fruits ripening on the jujube tree. A variety of pollinators on this small tree – ants, bees, flies, wasps, and bugs ( Spring and the Jujube tree )

jujube

Jujube

An open, thatched shed for the cows. It is hard to avoid plastic, or metal sheets, or concrete in today’s world. Even tribals in god-forsaken places are provided free “pucca” concrete houses. The tribals don’t like it, they don’t even use it for their cattle. It gets too hot. Thatched homes with mud walls remain nice and cool. Our heroes build houses for the “poor and dis-empowered”, so that later when they earn enough, they can pay thousands of rupees, in a resort, and enjoy mud houses with thatched roofs. Or tree houses. Some heroes, these “elected” ones!

thatched_shed

Thatched shed for cows

Nice clear water from the well. Many people get angry when they see this waste of water. When we could use the latest technology and supply water just to the roots of cultivated plants. Precision agriculture in all its glory. This modern hysteria about waste has reached a new phase in developing countries. We want cold storage, so that we can store our vegetables indefinitely, and provide them, when there is market demand.

water

Irrigation Channel

See all the plastic trash everywhere. Chennai stinks, even 50 kms away from the heart of the city. It all has the same source – hysteria about waste. We got the various ways to treat food – drying, pasteurizing, cooking, etc. And then we pack in plastic. All the plastic trash, can be traced to this great desire to avoid “waste”. Generate long lasting waste to avoid waste. Now in many cases, unless food in packed in plastic, with a label, license number, and packing date, it cannot be sold. Swachh Bharat is a recent evolution, that ignores nauseating nastiness in cities from trash,ditches and sewage, and goes after ordinary folks who pee on bare earth, or spit. These things, spit and urine, get processed by micro-organisms leaving no odor, no pathogenic germs. Spittoons for spitting? Pathological idiocy!

Pesticides and herbicides were another way of “avoiding” waste. That has laid waste huge tracts of land, and created health issues for people.

I was sitting under a tree. Coffee was being made in an open stone stove. Which attracted the babblers. Fire! Primitive man was supposed to have feared fire, and worshipped fire as a god.That is what science says. Rig Veda starts with

अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम |
होतारं रत्नधातमम ||
अग्निः पूर्वेभिर्र्षिभिरीड्यो नूतनैरुत |
स देवानेह वक्षति ||
अग्निना रयिमश्नवत पोषमेव दिवे-दिवे |
यशसं वीरवत्तमम ||

“I worship the Sacred Fire (Agni) that is chief priest, the deity of the sacrifice, who works according to the seasons, the invoker, best to grant the treasure.
The Sacred Fire honored by the ancient sages is invoked again by the new. For us he manifests all the Gods.
To you, oh Fire, day by day, by dawn and by dusk we come bearing our offering of surrender, the king of the sacred rite, the guardian of truth, flourishing in his own nature.”

babblers

Babblers

Why did the babblers come near the fire? The heat from the fire drives away the insects hiding in the leaf litter. The babblers were smart enough to use the opportunity. If only they learnt science, they might have ended up creating a fire god and worshipping it. Normally animals don’t fear fire. My dog will go within a feet, of a raging fire. When we burnt some coconut shells, on open ground, swallows showed up immediately, to catch insects that were escaping the heat. When there is a big fire, and animals get surrounded by fire without an easy escape, only then they become afraid. So why did the ancients “worship” the fire god?

Mangoes that you have stoop to pick. Low hanging fruit, very likely to be “stolen” before it is fully ripe.

mangoes

Mangoes

Guava fruit. A few of these guava trees most likely grew from bird droppings, or from seeds dropped by squirrels, while eating the fruit.

guava

Guava

Vetiver, with a reasonable supply of water for the first two years, does establish itself well. Easy to propagate, since one slip will grow into a hundred in 6 months. Another useful plant that can help soils retain moisture, and encourage tree growth.

vetiver

Vetiver

The Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace), a common butterfly, but gradually disappearing.

blue_tiger

Blue Tiger butterfly

A spider hides quietly among the branches of a mango tree.

spider

Spider

Further up red ants stand guard. This one, backlit by the sun, looks like a drop of honey. Some people are not bothered by these ants.

red_ant

Red ant

Caterpillars on a mulberry tree. These if located by a shrike, will all get eaten. People generally assume that birds operate on instinct, which is pre-programmed. Pyschology books extend this, in a way to humans. It is assumed that an unpleasant experience with bugs, or hairy caterpillars, reprograms the human mind. The only difference with instinct is that this hard-wiring takes place after the first bad experience. But it doesn’t really work like that, birds and animals are quite flexible.

mulberry

Mulberry tree

caterpillars_mulberry

Caterpillars on mulberry tree

There was a two month old chick. I offered a moringa tree moth with a red striped body. Moringa tree (drumstick) is a nutritious tree, so any caterpillar that feeds on it, will be non-toxic. But its body has stripes like a honey bee or wasp, so the chick clucked in alarm and refused to eat it. But a few months later, I offered it the same moth, after it had acquired experience in eating centipedes and scorpions. It just gobbled the moth in an instant. Unfortunately, psychology requires us to replay bad experience repeatedly in our mind, and limit our experience. Chickens are smarter.

Mulberry tree is a wonderful tree for live fences. Cows and goats feed on its leaves, and its fruits are sweet and nutritious. Yet, outside of mulberry farms, where these are grown for silkworm rearing, this tree cannot be seen.

Looking down from halfway-up a coconut tree, one can see a couple of lemon trees in the foreground.

lemon_trees

Lemon trees

Another dense thicket, this is the place where all the gravel, and rocks taken out while digging the well, are dumped. Snake catchers would come every couple of years, catch the snakes, and take their skin. Not anymore. There are laws against that, and against using animal products. The snake catchers understood the behavior of snakes, and had herbal remedies that protected and made them immune to snake poisons. Even their children did not fear poisonous snakes like cobras and vipers. This lack of fear also sort of rubbed off on the rest of the population. But now with laws to “protect” the snakes, there are no snake catchers, and the general population would wet their diapers, even if someone saw a harmless snake on the other side of the globe. And fortunately for them, there are no snakes, the “snake lovers” fear, have eliminated all snakes in human habitats and farms.

thicket

Dense thicket

Lush grass amidst the banana plants. Weeds! The native cow, would graze the grass, and leave the banana plants alone. Cows and goats, eat lots of weeds, and enrich the soil with dung. The more variety in their diet, the more medicinal the milk.

grass

Grass and banana plants

A creeper, with small yellow flower, probably Fabaceae family. The fig tree (Athi, Ficus racemosa syn. Ficus glomerata Roxb ) is the biggest tree in the landscape, may not be the tallest. A little shorter than some of the palmyra trees.

A tridax flower (Tridax procumbens), another weed loved by cattle. Milkweed, food for the tiger butterflies.

tridax

Tridax flower

milkweed

Milkweed flower

A blue dragonfly, resting on dry, cracked, clayey soil.

blue_dragonfly

Blue dragon fly

Not sure of this plant, with tiny white flowers.

tiny_white_flowers

Unknown plant with white flowers

A wild hare, hidden in the leaf litter. The person in the farm noticed this. I was able to take just two photos. And even though the second one, sort of scared it, the hare just ambled away. Only people tuned to the environment can recognize and locate the hares.

wild_hare

Wild Hare

Indian Mallow, Paniyaratutti ( Abutilon indicum syn. Sida indica) flowers.

indian_mallow

Indian mallow flower

Native cow (Return of the native) and its dung. It is still a little wild, if a stranger approaches, it sniffs the air, and flits its ears, trying to catch any sound. A reminder of its semi-wild past. This cow eats lots of grass, but it is unlike the pathological western breeds, jerseys and holsteins, that eat almost continuously. This dung looks and smells good. Western breeds provided manufactured feed, their dung is diarrheic, and stinks. This one, when it provides milk, it will be less than a liter. Breeders want to make the native cows gove buckets of milk, with selective breeding, and feeding them Co-4 grass, and manufactured feed. That will make its milk as pathological as the jerseys and holsteins. Doesn’t matter if native cows give A2 milk. Another thing is that western interests, NGOs and activists want to eliminate jallikattu, a vigorous sport, that seeks to tame the bull. Modern authorized, and licensed forms of this, where youth are dressed up in uniforms, and big crowds, are a sham. It should be more of a play, where the bull is not alarmed, and the youth in traditional attire, challenging the bull in a way that displays both the strength and cleverness of the bull, and the skill of the tamer. And no big crowds, cheering or otherwise. Just the local folks, who see this as a sport between man and animal, that also nutures the animals’ desire to play.

native_cow

Native cow

cow_dung

Dung from native grass and weed-fed cow

Looking through the eyes of animal rights activists, and the caged coolies, we might end up with a different perception. Reality however is complex, and cannot be influenced solely by simple minded idiots. Once I was talking our dog for a walk. There were a couple of goats grazing. When we went near, one of the goats, wanted to head-butt with the dog. It repeatedly came near, lowering and raising its head frequently, saying, do you want to head-butt with me? Another time, we, the dog and I, stopped to chat with a person. A goat came by, sniffed the dog, near its mouth, stepped back, and butted hard into the dog’s chest. It was painful for the dog, and it wanted to immediately leave the place. The person who I was taking to, was amused. See, a goat attacking a stronger species, a dog, which could have seriously injured the goat with it’s powerful jaws.

Sometimes what might appear like a predator attacking a prey, ends up more like a play. There was this cat, and a bunch of peacocks. The cat thought it could bring down one of the much bigger peacocks. It would lie down, stalk, and when it was within a couple of feet, make a leap. The peacocks had no fear, they could see all the cat’s antics. If the cat got too close, the peacocks leapt, rather casually, and moved a few feet away.

Now back to the native cow. A single cow can be used to increase soil life and fertility on 30 acres of land using a concotion of dung, urine, pulses (dicots, sprouted to increase activity), jaggery and fruits (Jivamruta). That is what zero-budget natural farming proponent Subhash Palekarji says. Native cows have beneficial bacteria, lots of them. Mixed with rich soil from farm bunds, or forests, soil life is totally enhanced. The mixed breeds, Jerseys, and Holsteins have very little beneficial bacteria in their dung.

This looks like the wild indigo plant (Tephrosia sp.), but with white (instead of the usual purple or reddish) flowers. Legume (Fabaceae), and nitrogen fixer. (Edit: It is not Indigofera tinctoria, as mentioned earlier)

indigo

Wild indigo plant

Curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) in flower. Butterflies frequent this flower, and some caterpillars, do feed on its leaves.

curry_leaf_flower

Flowers on curry leaf tree

A sitharathai (சிற்றரத்தை, Snap Ginger, Indian Ginger, Alpinia Calcarata ) plant, its dried roots are used for treating cold and cough.

snap_ginger

Snap Ginger

Return of the native

We were headed to a small town close to the foothills of western ghats, in search of a person who keeps native cows. Now why would anyone make a big effort to search for something native to that region? That is a different story, told several times by many people, one version of it is here (https://naturalfarmerskerala.com/cock-and-bull-story-of-keralas-cattle-development-policy/). After travelling about fifty kilometres, we reach the outskirts of the small town. My cousin asked for the native cattle guy. The guy who responded lighted up, he said his house is down the street from a certain tea shop. Anyone should be able to point out his house, once you get near it. The guy is reasonable, and can get some calves for a good price. He also gives the name of the cattle guy, for this story we’ll call him Mr. Madasami.
So we drive further into the town, and get to the tea shop. This chaiwala was a little grumpy, and said you can’t meet Mr. Madasami now, will have to wait until evening. So we decide to ask some other folks, who direct us to a narrow street, with old style buildings being replaced by concrete houses. As we walk down this street, we ask one last person for confirmation, lets call him Mr. Murugan. This person knows who Madasami is, and points to the exact house a few hundred feet down the street. We walk there, the house itself is small and narrow, built with walls shared with the neighbors. We knock, and out steps a well-built man, past middle age, sporting a large moustache. When we tell him the purpose of the visit, he is surprised. Surprised that people have come from afar for the native cows. He gets talking. Of a past where he had lots of cows, hundreds of them, perhaps a thousand. That grazed in the nearby forests, rich in grasses, herbs and shrubs. Now he doesn’t own any. But he knows people who keep them.

We said we were looking for calves, weaned, about a year old. He said there were a couple of calves a few months back, but there are none now. He can’t sell the very young ones, even if they are cheaper, because they won’t thrive. And people who buy the very young calves won’t come back.

Now  why did the famed Mr. Madasami not keep native cows. The cows were kept for a different purpose, which we’ll see later in the story. There were practical reasons that Mr. Madasami, past middle age, had to give up on his cows. They were like his children he says. These cows have to graze in the forests adjacent to the town. Today permits to graze in the forests, are hard to get. Then there is the new found fancy for western breeds the Jerseys and Holsteins, or their mixed cousins, that provide “milk”, buckets of them. But more importantly, profits are not much with the native cows, and the next generation, won’t go anywhere near cattle rearing.

Mr. Madasami, takes us to a trader, who he promises will get us the calves. His house is on the same street, a few hundred feet away. But unfortunately the trader is not there, we step inside his house, which was open, and wait. A few minutes the trader’s wife shows up, and we gather chairs and stools to sit. The house is cool, but unlighted. On one corner of the room, sesame seeds are piled up. As we wait, we continue chatting up with Mr. Madasami. After half-an-hour’s wait, Mr Murugan turns up, yes the same guy who gave directions to Mr. Madasami’s house.

We give Murugan our requirements, two calves, one male and one female. He then mentions a certain breed of cow, black in color, which he says, he bought for his own use. He can get those, for about 12K rupees each. Now we just wanted two calves, for 10K or so, and didn’t want to go for the high priced cow. He said he didn’t have any, but after some prodding and discussion with Mr. Madasami, he said they have a cow, with a month old calf, that could be worked out cheaper.

These cattle are raised differently. They run around free, are not tied down with ropes. At the end of the day, these are penned inside a field, and the dung from them restores fertility, and soil life. They were used for an ecological purpose. Even as they grazed inside the forests, they provided vitality to the forests, making it richer in ways unknown.

These cows are also easily spooked, by strangers, by the leopards, and tigers in the forest. Mr. Madasami spoke of a time, when his cattle got spooked, and ran. Ending up fifty kilometers away, in another end of the forest.
These cattle also sometimes remain in the forest for days together, with the herdsmen staying with them. Occasionally a leopard might take a calf or two. This was accepted as part of life. But once, a leopard, kept killing calves, lots of them, over several days, without eating any. Mr. Madasami, as he reminsced about this, his moustache twitched in anger. He narrated, how they killed the leopard, and strung it up a tree, all ten feet of it. After all, the cattle were like his children. And loyal like dogs. Once they get used to their new owner, they’ll follow the owner, and if the owner jumps into a well, they’ll jump right after him. They have a good sense of smell too.

Anyway this new deal, of getting a cow and calf, instead of two calves, was a big challenge, but bigger than we realized at that time. These cattle are not domesticated. The person from the farm, wanted to get nose rope on the cow, to make it easier to handle. Mr Murugan said that they will put the nose rope, tie the legs of the cow, and load it into the truck. So we said yes.

Mr. Murugan’s wife served us coffee, strong, and with surprisingly thick milk. We drank that, and go to locate the herd. On the way, one more person joins us, lets call him Raja. We ride the car, a few kilometers, stop it next to a stream, and enter some cultivated fields. Rice and sesame had been harvested a few weeks earlier. As we walk, someone points to a distant herd. They are back from grazing, it was a big herd. The guy accompanying us, says it is about two thousand strong. Another smaller herd goes by a little closer to us. After some time, we locate our herdsman, who then leads us to the herd. The cattle watch us warily. Mr Madasami directs us to go closer, and we follow him. Avoiding the sharp rubble of sesame plants. And the damp edges of the rice fields.

herd

The herd

For generations the people here have managed large herds. Utilizing them for enriching the fields with dung. Long before there were cowboys in the American West. It was this ecological purpose, that Mr Subhash Palekar of Zero Budget Natural farming revived. Something that got lost with reductionistic science. When these cattle occasionally ate the cultivated crops, no one got angry. As Mr. Madasami said, they are our cows, no one gets angry. It was a life in flow, like the clear stream that we just crossed, not fragmented, boxed and fenced.

The trader realized that we were buying the cows for natural farming, and was pleased. He kept saying that he’s happy that we are not buying for beef. Even outside of Hindu religion beef was not preferred. Yes people did eat beef. My dad used to say beef makes one’s mind dull. This was before anyone heard about mad cow disease or Alzheimer’s. In spite of one’s religion or food preferences, the world is not neatly divided into pro-cow and anti-cow camps. Like much of life, today it is these beef eaters of Kerala, that sustain these cow herds. That is a fact of life. The first time I ate beef, at a Kerala colleague’s insistence, was opposite the railway station in Trivandrum in a small daba. Very tasty, my friend insisted. Beef like all meats is an acquired taste. I did eat beef a handful of times, before finally deciding, not to go anywhere near it.

The trader was pleased that we are not raising cows for beef. He said few more people have come for the native cows, who want to use them for natural farming. They were willing to pay higher prices. Yet the natural farming enthusiasts were unlikely to provide much revenue for him. It is a hard world out there, and he has to sell the cows for meat. Perhaps he keeps his conscience, by not selling them directly to the beef traders.

The cattle are actually owned by various folks in the town. They leave it to the herdsmen to manage them. These cows are branded, and their ears clipped.

As we walk toward the herd, a couple of young boys, drive a cow, and a month old calf toward us. The cow, tall, with lean legs, dark grey, runs around. We stay far off, to avoid spooking the herd. The rest of the herd watch us, standing still and wary. The cattle here have a small hump, not the prominent ones in many native breeds. They grow wild, will give birth in the wild. It might take an hour to give birth, and the calf is up and moving, in another hour. Not half a day like the jerseys, and holsteins. They also have less milk, perhaps a liter or less. The cows are unvaccinated, although for the government records, a couple in a herd of hundreds might get vaccinated, by the local veterinarian.

Having seen the cow and calf, we walk back. Cross the clear stream, get into the car and drive to town. We stop a little away from the tea shop, to begin the negotiations. The person who accompanied us, Raja, says the cow is a good selection. We don’t want to disappoint you, we want you to come back, he says. Now Murugan is the one who quotes the price on behalf of the owners who we never meet. He doubles the expected price to 20K. That put us in a spot, but after some negotiations, we settle for 12K. Plus some very small commissions to Mr. Madasami, and Mr. Raja. Mr. Murugan says, he’ll arrange a truck, put the nose rope for the cow, and get them loaded. Another thousand for transport.

We go to the tea shop, have tea and snacks. Money is handed over. Mr Madasami wants the person from the farm to stay and take the cow and calf the next day, early morning. But the person wants to take it as soon as possible. While he waits for the herd to come back we leave, with Mr. Murugan joining us in the car. He says we’ll be happy with the cows. The milk is very good. It will be only half a liter, but thick. The yoghurt from it will be so thick, that we can take it in hand and throw it at a wall, and it will stick to it. We drop him off after a few kilometers.

The herd returns late in the evening, and it takes another hour or so to get the ropes around its nose, and neck. But there is no sign of the truck. The designated truck doesn’t turn up, so another one is sent in its place, costing an additional thousand rupees. It comes around 10 PM, and it is past midnight when the cow and calf get transported to the house of the person who manages the farm. Tired, shackled, amidst strangers, the cow is angry, and tries to knock down the people handling it. And the calf, vanishes into the night, never to be seen again. Even if it joined some local herd, it is unlikely to survive, being just a month old. The cow strangely doesn’t call for its calf. It stays with a few other cows. After a couple of months, a small calf was purchased, and the cow was brought to the farm.

cow

Cow

shed

Thatched shed for the cows

It stays in a thatched shed, under a neem tree. When I visit it the first time, it is broken, yet aggressive, thin, with the rib cage visible and udder shrunk. The next time a few months later, it has fed itself well on the abundant grass. It sniffs the air, and flits its ears more rapidly than a wild hare sensing danger. It shakes its head, and pulls back. It would be useless to tell the complete story of this cow or its herd, even if I knew it. For in a world of eunuchy simplicity and transparency, of rules, and regulations, of straight lines, of working and talking within the bounds of the system, and of men and forests separated by fences, the context to the story can never be understood.

Spring and the Jujube tree

It was early spring, the rains last year were really good, much better than the previous year. So good that the well overflowed, something that doesn’t happen unless the well happens to be in a low lying area, near a pond, or a canal. There was a slight shower the previous week, but the hot weather had dried the grass, the ground was mostly brown.

brown_grass

Dry brown grass

The jujube tree is in an area, that remains moist much after the rains stop. It looks nice and green.

jujube_tree

Jujube tree

And unusually had a few different pollinators buzzing around. There was this metallic blue wasp.

blue_wasp

Metallic blue wasp

Ants with golden abdomen.

ant

Ant with golden abdomen

Red wasps small and big.

red_wasp2

Red wasp

And this black wasp.

black_fly

Black wasp

Another black one, a little different, looks like a bee or a fly.

another_black_fly

Black bee or fly

There were some honey bees too.
A jewel bug (some type of Shieldback bug perhaps), here for the leaves. It may indirectly contribute to pollination.

The fruits are beginning to ripen.

tree_closeup

Green fruits

With an occasional fruit, ripe and fully red.

fruit

Ripe fruit

A creeper has a couple of green fruits. With tiny yellow flowers.

creeper

Creeper on tree

yellow_flowers

Tiny yellow flowers on creeper

People in earlier days were willing to let things be, in some small corner of their farms, or on the boundary. Some things could be left to God, without the fragmented insight from discriminatory knowledge. The jujube tree would have been a singularity, snakes might rest in the shade. Honey bees might build a comb. Jewel beetles may come for the leaves. And a lot of pollinators – ants, bees, flies and wasps will come for the nectar. The fruits are a nutritious snack for those willing to ignore the larvae within. Timber would have been used for agricultural implements.

Today, these shrubs (which in fact can grow into medium size trees) are removed. Their thorns are a nuisance. The shade, or their roots can rob the cultivated plants of their nutrition. Ants can bite. Bees and wasps can sting. Bugs and flies can be pests and spread disease. The whole, working in symphony has now been taken apart. All we see are problems. The benefits seem non-existent.

It is going to be hard to put things together. Those who have seen only the fragmented reality, packaged neatly into discrete elements, will go hysterical. Yet, in this corner of the farm, mostly un-noticed, the singularity from the lone jujube tree, provides hidden benefits and a lively buzz of interconnectedness that enriches life.

India’s Creme-de-la-creme and the American Pie

mothComputer programming is regarded as a creative pursuit. I’m not sure why. The first program that I wrote in college, left me a little depressed. With if/then/else conditions, for/while loops, and subroutines, it seemed more of a descent to the level of a machine, of shallow repetitive thinking, that distorts one’s mind. This hardly bothered the generation that graduated college and got their jobs in the early nineties.  Either influenced by peer pressure, or by their parents, they sought greener pastures abroad. The information technology industry was growing, and creation of software, through small ad-hoc steps, by beginner programmers, required more and more fixes, and extra hands. Which meant lots of work for the coders. The money was good too. And what better place to be, than the land of opportunity, the USA.

Before the nineties generation, doctors, and engineers, emigrated to the US. Then there were the business folks, running motels, petrol bunks, and the corner seven-eleven stores. One might also run into skilled workers (non-engineers) with green cards. The few that I met, were Goans, whose parents emigrated first, got their green cards, and brought their children.
The skilled and semi-skilled ones, younger, live in their apartments. Or houses, if they did well. They are happy to be in a foreign country, better off, than their the left-behind cousins and friends in India. At the end of the day, they have a beer, or some drink, make their meals, play lotto, or go over to Canada and lose a few dollars in the casinos.
The Goans had a mixed life. Some marry back in India, and leave their girls behind. It is a long wait, to get your spouse into America. Their parents too have grown old, abandoned their green cards, and stayed back in India. A few married guys, gave up on their wives. They might visit them every couple of years, or may be not.
If you had an occasion to meet the older generation (doctors and engineers), retired, or about to retire, they have a nice house, in some small town, or the outskirts of a big city. A backyard, with a pool. But they look lost, and are happy to meet any friends from the past. This generation has been in the US for too long, and don’t really have anything back in India. Their children have adopted a good deal of the American culture, with a thin veneer of Indianness. They do maintain a mask, to cover the insecurities of being neither here nor there.

IT generation
But the IT generation had it luckier. There were few hassles. Say a big company like Wipro, or Infosys, got a H1B visa for you. In Chennai consulate, the security guy, gets your papers, and passport, and asks you to come collect your visa at the end of the day. For reputed companies, there were no questions, no interview for the programmers.

Food
You get your opportunity, and begin a journey that those left behind assume is heaven on earth. Food in the new culture, starts with Burger Kings, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, KFCs, and Taco Bells. You join your colleagues, stand in a queue, and say something like, “I’ll have number 3”, and you get your burger, fries, and a cup of coke (coco-cola). That is just the beginning of a world of glitz, and convenience. There might have been racism, but for the most part, office folks were friendly enough. Work gets done, and you get your salary, in dollars, to spend.
Stores had aisles. The aisles in the vegetables and fruits section was impressive. Apples were shiny, sparkling under the lights. Deep red, green, golden, or speckled pink. Varieties and more varieties. The outside was perfect in their appleness, and the inside had a slight hint of appleness, a little soapy, sweetness. In a blind taste test, you definitely wouldn’t confuse an apple with another fruit. Vegetables were big. Even bitter gourds, egg plant (brinjal) were available. They were big, just as shiny as the apples, and like the apples had the slightest hint, a residual taste of their original wild ancestors. Bigness, and perfectness, were also apparent in the people who ate them. One can never go wrong with such variety of luxurious food.

Rules, Regulations and Convenience
The world that you left behind, of corruption, and backwardness, is replaced with rules, and regulations. Grass in the front lawns have to be cut, and kept at a certain height. You can’t have a prescription for say eye glasses filled, if the prescription “expired” the day before. Zoning laws tell you, where you can construct a house or office, and how you should construct it. The water that comes
from the water fountain is cold, and heavily chlorinated. The accidental discovery of chlorination of water, or may be a deliberate repurposing of war chemicals, was to take care of the most vulnerable among the young and old.
Pillows, sofas and mattresses, have to list the contents, down to the last detail. And be loaded with fire retardants and other chemicals, for various purposes. To a person from the third world, this concern from total strangers, government regulators, for your health and convenience, is impressive, heart-warming. A far cry from the sordid corruption in their own home countries.

Rules and Housing
So, for something like a house, there are so many building codes, that have to be scrupulously followed. Rules govern everything, the roofs, walls, electrical connections, and how to treat the surfaces for hygiene, aesthetics, and fire-proofing. The result of all this, is a world, that makes a person, go “Wow!”.
A wonderful regulated, rule-of-law world! What could go wrong?

A house caught in a tornado lasts a few seconds. Fire, about four minutes. This is the approximately the response time, for firefighters to reach a fire. Rain, with the basement, flooded for more than 2 hours, and the foundation needs to be ripped apart. Fire codes, dictate that one has flimsy doors, and breakable windows, for access to fire and police personnel. And easier access for thieves!

There was this apartment in Houston, near the Medical Centre. It was all, plasticky, fakey, stuff. No real wood anywhere. The cabinets and doors were fibreboard, with a plastic layer, that mimics wood grain. The kitchen counter top, was the same fibreboard, but covered with fire-retardant treated, water proof paper. The refrigerator, had a two inch layer of dust, near the compressor. Turn on the room heater, and for a day or two, there will be a smokey smell, from the dust that gets burnt.

Leave the apartment for an hour or so, and come back. The chemical smell is like something from inside a hospital, or perhaps a newly built apartment, even though this one was more than ten years old.
The apartment complex had apartments that were slightly more expensive, some had a view of the bayou. Others overlooked the swimming pool. Walk a mile upstream of the “bayou”, and you come across a sewage treatment plant. Actually, you don’t come across the plant. You just smell it downwind, a few miles away. Right next to treatment plant (across the road 30 feet away), was an elementary school, that lets children immerse themselves, in this fragrance. Just a year or two, before the real estate peak (of 2005), a huge apartment complex, of several hundred apartments, was built, right next to the treatment plant. It had no takers, although they turned on the lights in a few apartments, to make it look like they have been sold. It wasn’t a bad place as far as access goes. Rice University was nearby. Houston’s famed Medical Centre was just a couple of miles away. A huge sports complex was also a few miles away. And you can’t ignore the elementary school, next door. The apartment complex was still empty, when I left the place a few years later. Why?
A view of the bayou cost 50 dollars more in monthly rent. But who can ignore the blue swimming pool, and clear water. A view of that will be nice too. Step into it, and it is nirvana. Loaded with chlorine, filtered continuously, the water is just topped off, to replace evaporation and other losses. The clear blue pool requires replacement of water, just once a year!

 

Health
Now to get back to food, who forgets Kellogg’s corn flakes, or Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats. Of bread, so soft, and nutritious. Has 15 or more ingredients, each more good than the previous one. Till you come to vegetable shortening. Must have something to do with the goodness of vegetables! Or Is that hydrogenated “vegetable” oil?
Was it Tropicana that says “fresh squeezed orange juice” in its carton, in bold? And the fine print – “from concentrate”?. Fresh squeezed from concentrate? Only in the Land of the phree and Home of the phrave, as commenters in zerohedge.com call the USA.
The Next Generation
So what happens when you struggling in the ugly, corrupt backwaters, of the developing world, migrate and end up in utopia, and adopt the methods of the developed world? If you are lucky, your spouse, is in IT too. Or loves to get into it. That takes us to the next generation, the children. Starting with multivitamins for the would be moms, and thousand dollar nausea prevention pills during pregnancy! Multiple shots of vaccines in the first few days of the child’s birth, which includes of all things a Hepatitis-B vaccine! The children have their journey well mapped out. Unlike the unhealthy struggle back in rural India. What could really go wrong?

By age five, only, one in five children, are fully healthy.

At the first sign of cold, doctors rush to prescribe antibiotics. Tylenol, and Motrin, are like Amrut, nectar of immortality. Never mind that they slowly weaken the liver of children. Or cause allergy or asthma. Schools provide food, the children get “meat”, of unknown origin, with nitrites, and dubious additives, and kept frozen for several months.

Lots of children get cancer, at a very young age. They are not aware, of decisions, made by their parents, and grandparents, of FDA and USDA, as to what constitutes real food, and of exposure chemicals in their environment. A research hospital like MD Anderson Cancer Centre, goes gaga over the data they have gathered from people with cancer. This helps them “make cancer history”. There was one guy, who patiently bore ten different treatment protocols, before losing his life. A protocol involves several drugs, in specified does, given over a few months. It may also involve surgery, chemo, or radiation treatment. Basically, the doctors, were experimenting, without a clue.
If apartments are loaded with chemicals, salons are terrible. The last one I visited, the chemical stench was so overwhelming, that I couldn’t step inside.

Back in India

Once one experiences life in a country, that represents the height of materialistic progress, it is only patriotic to bring the same to your beloved motherland. Except that it is all there. While you were away, angels on harps, brought the good things to your own land. The vegetables have become bigger, shinier, and tasteless. Mahyco (a subsidiary of Monsanto) sells hybrid vegetable seeds, that all farmers swear by. Bitter gourd, and okra are loaded with pesticides. Carrots and eggplant, in some stores, almost fluoresce. Onions are overdosed with herbicides.

A child in a village, has access to the latest medical care. At the first sign of fever, the child is rushed, put on intravenous drips, and medicated. Why, even a guy in the prime of youth, will get his intra-venous glucose drips, in the morning for fever. By evening, he’s in the local TASMAC bar, sipping arrack. Doctors are too insecure, to say, that drugs and alcohol don’t mix. Paracetamol for pain or fever, with alcohol, makes it ten times more damaging to the liver. But, hey, we can do liver transplants. Even Amma’s insurance provides cover for organ transplant.

Globalism
Someone from UN, comes to India, and wants “rights” to be provided to the gays. He calls it a question of “human rights”. This has been cleverly tagged onto transgender rights, transgenders who were born that way. What is it about our unelected Finance Ministers past and present – P Chidambaram, and Arun Jaitley who seem to think the gay issue is the most important one. Another lady comes and says, that since India is a signatory to the so-called SDG (sustainability development goals, or UN 2030 agenda), we have to criminalise marital rape. Marital rape? Is that like “Love and Marriage”, you can’t have one without the other. Like the jingle for the show “Married with children” on Fox?
Our PM, Mr Modi, goes into a meeting with high level officials ( or was it with just one fellow Nilekani?), and says by end of December (2015), we need 100% coverage of Aadhaar, the “unique” identity program of India. How does he plan to achieve this? By targeting school children! Everyone from Telecom companies, banks, RBI, railways, and government offices, are clamouring to use Aadhaar.
Shouldn’t global organizations deal only with inter-country conflicts? Shouldn’t a President or Prime Minister deal just with issues that arise with other countries, or inter-state disputes? Or should the UN and Prime Minister dictate what an individual can do, or how a family can live, or what is legal in a village? Is there no sovereign country any more?
Is there no wisdom at the bottom, no understanding of the local context, that things have to be forced from the top? Like pathological Obamacare, that forces people to buy “health” insurance from private companies, or be fined. The US Supreme Court agreed that it is all legal!
Should the Supreme Court be happy that local issues get resolved by local panchayats, or local wise men, quickly and for free. Or should the judges want all issues to be resolved by the highest court of the land, and weep and wail that the courts are under-staffed?

Conclusion
So how did one with all the creative intelligence, a supportive partner, in a well paying industry, in a country that is well regulated, with rules properly enforced, end up with children less than healthy? Why do they live life, as if it is an “illness to be managed” (with pills and “healthcare”), and believe that that was the way it was meant to be?
And why did those who were cynical of Americanism, who gave their children traditional Indian home food, who depended more on traditional herbal remedies, and followed other cultural practices end up with healthy children and happy families?
For some it has been a long way from villages without roads, or schools.
Now with soaring bank balances, diversified investments and a pill for every illness, do you announce you’ve arrived, and enjoy your apple pie with creme? Or look at the less than wonderful childhood of your children, and try and escape the multi-layered surveillance, control, and propaganda that govern every aspect of your life?