“We sowed only native grains that demanded little water. Ours is dark cotton soil and held moisture well. Ragi and millets grew plentifully and they were our staple. It is myth that rice is south India’s staple. We ate rice -obtained in exchange- only on a few festive days in the year. After a crop of grains we sowed lentils or sesame for our consumption. We grew vegetables and milled our own oil. We also grew cotton and chilies- only these two were intended for cash from the market. When the cropping season was done, we let loose our cattle to feed on the stubs and leave their droppings.
“We grew numerous trees along the bunds and a section of our land. Among them were the usual fruiting trees but also those planted deliberately for fodder and timber.
“When there was no cropping, we would be conveying cattle manure to the soil. This kept four bullock carts busy for three months. You can imagine how much we were putting back into the soil.
“The hearth roared all day and we ate heartily and according to the season. We also kept food in reserve for any visitor that may arrive. There was a charge of grain on each household to be distributed among the tradesman and other service providers: the priest, the potter, the blacksmith, carpenter and the guards got an assured share. Every now and then we slaughtered a lamb and pickled the surplus meat. We ate eggs and our chicken. No farmer sold milk, lest he should be mocked and taunted, “Are you really a farmer?”. What milk was in excess we processed into curd, butter and ghee and exceptionally, sold those. To save money for weddings, we sold sheep and timber trees. That was enough.”
Kumaravelu had transported me to another world. He concluded: “It may not be possible to recreate that lost way of life washed away by centralised economies, but we can retrieve much by bringing back an esteem for cattle and trees.” A discussion followed. To a pointed question, he admitted, “Yes, there was no great desire for formal education and yes, there were class and caste distinctions. It was a feudal system but there was no instance of physical atrocity or humiliation. We were all cogs in a rewarding system”
I later had a private conversation with another rural man. Ulaganathan, popularly ‘Annachi’, is well read in English. He is active in bettering rural livelihoods. He abstracted with ease what he thought were the desirable features of an India that we seem to have lost. “One, we had an interdebtedness. This is not the same as interdependance. We believed we owed a debt and duty to one another. Two, there was no exclusivity on knowlege in the sense of a patent or a copy-right. A discovery, a tool, a seed was made available to all. And three, though the entrepreneur or the merchant was free to make a fortune, there was a social levy on his wealth which he cheerfully chose not to evade.” There it was,the lost world, set out in very clear terms.