To my mind, Kumaravelu and Ulaganathan had described a passing that drove Gandhi to his lament. It is gone yes, but can an equivalent world be reinvented? On the train back to Chennai, I listed out what we no longer have and what we do. Is a new synthesis possible by an interplay of these two lists?
On the ‘lost’ list were these:
- -Collective living
- -Growing only what is appropriate
- -Growing primarily for consumption
- -Low cash economy
- -Abundant rural manpower
We have not lost everything without gaining many advantages:
- -The Internet
- -Greater personal disposable incomes
- -A rising ecological awareness
- -A growing urge to reconnect with nature.
Beginning with the above how can we recreate a little bit of a sensible society? I am pondering this proposal: At pointReturn the crop growing area will be divided into small manageable plots, of say 1/4 acre each. Based on local and other expert knowledge an annual cropping schedule will be drawn and announced at this site and through a mailing list.
Typically a cropping cycle is 90 days. Typical crops are ragi, millets, lentils, peanuts and rice. Visitors and local people can sign up for participating in a particular cycle- they are members of a collective with a commitment to only a particular cycle. Visitors would be resident at pointReturn and others will make day visits. Accompanying children would be welcome.
Turning the poor manpower availability into an asset, the group will do physical labour under the guidance of a local man. A maximum of 15 days of work are what are needed in a typical growing cycle- let’s make them 15 days of working picnics. On those days, we plant, we de-weed, we water and we harvest. After taking the costs from the top and leaving a small percentage for the soil’s and pointReturn’s upkeep the rest of the produce is shared among the group members according to the days they participated. They are free to do what they wish with bags of prouce they get- consume, sell or giveaway.
Many of the achievements of this scheme are unobvious. The proposed group is a reinvention of the old collective living. The lack of manpower has been overcome. There are no marketing anxities. We and our children reconnect with the soil and learn. We eat food grown by ourselves, a very satisfying and reassuring experience indeed. We begin to address environmental issues from a new position of strength- as producers instead of consumers.
The strengths of old rural communities were different from ours. They lived in physical proximity; we can be a community over the Internet. They had the time and not the money. We have the money and not the time. A healthy, purposeful life was theirs without trying; we are in search of it despite being employed. Their effort was all muscular and their knowledge was limited by geography; we can augment our labour with many more tools and the sources of our knowledge are unlimited because of the Internet.
Imagination and inventiveness can still discover solutions in an ever changing world. We have not been denied them.