In the two years I have been active at pointReturn, ten households in the nearest hamlet Anna Nagar, have locked up and moved away. Five brothers sold their inherited property and took off in different directions; Kutty my first handyman, moved to a town 100km away to work as a loader for a contractor who does demolitions and clearing. A couple more have leased out their farms to go work in cooking teams for events, or as daily wage labourers in the city, in road gangs and as autorickshaw drivers. Sami, who succeeded Kutty as the handyman no longer shows up as he has leased land from one of the departees- he can’t get helping hands himself and toils all by himself with some relatives coming over sometime. In the recent peanut harvest, work that used to be done in two weeks extended to six, as the same harvesting gangs moved from one field to another.
So shortage of helping hands is a reality I must live with. But how? One, I have taken to staying over for two nights in a row every week at the site and try to do the labouring myself -painful, slow and amateurish maybe, but something does get done. Two, Chellamma, the lady who has been at work in my Muttukkadu farm for 20 years camps with me and Raju those two days. She’s a pocket dynamo- small, energetic, enthusiastic and smart. Annamalai, father of Kutty and Sami is a frail 70 and shows up everyday and sits it out. He works too at light jobs. He stays over with us. We dig, we haul, clean up and do whatever we can. We mix mud, do repairs, build mud walls. We cook in the cosy kitchen in the Rocket Stove using mud pots, share the meals and sleep long and good through the silent cool nights. Raju of course is there everyday, commuting 80km each way by bus. He and Annamalai do the watering of trees and the odd light jobs.
That’s the game at pointReturn now: a holding operation at best. How does the project grow from here? One, I must think of some kind of machine to help out with the grand earthworks plan in my dreams- in fact I am close to buying some machine muscle. Two, I must create facilities to attract volunteers to stay for longish periods.