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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST)

On a trek from tech to tractors

Aradhika Sharma is amused by the joys and travails of two city-bred IT professionals who have become sons of the soil

WHAT kind of a person will, un-absolved from the responsibility of earning bread for himself and his family, pursue something that is intensely challenging, tough and dissimilar to anything he has hitherto experienced?

It is safe to assume that there must either be a strong driving motive and/or an overwhelming ennui and dissatisfaction with what life currently offers to consciously take the leap into the unknown, completely seceding from the familiar and the certain. 

The writer and protagonist, Venkat Iyer is one such person who eschews the life and career in technology (microchips) for shifting to an underdeveloped rural area where he buys his own their land, tills it, plants seedlings and watches things grow. Iyer wasn’t born on a farm, but seems like he ‘got to one as soon as he could.’ 

 Mumbai-based Venkateshwaran Iyer quits his successful career in IBM in 2004 to live on his own organic farm in Peth village in Palghar district, Maharashtra. He’d worked in the IT sector for 17 years and was richly rewarded by his employers with high salary, perks, foreign trips et al but gave it all up. The reason: “I seemed to have everything I desired, except the time to enjoy all of it.” Iyer is willing to simplify his needs to adjust to his chosen lifestyle calculated that after the initial outlay, a wholesome, healthy life on the farm would cost him Rs 6,000 a month.

The quest for a suitable piece of land to farm proves to be quite a task. He finally acquires it after the inevitable combat with red tape and bribery prevalent in the Indian system. That done, Iyer turns to full-time organic farming. He experiments with various crops, hunts out indigenous seeds that have been victim to hybridisation and genetic modification and devises efficient methods of direct marketing. He learns many lessons along the way — that Mother Nature can be harsh and inclement weather can ruin the hard work and investment of months, that marketing of produce can be frustrating and why the farmer must bow to the middleman. He faces obstacles like lack of transport facilities, healthcare, superstitions and the initial disbelief and derision from the locals that this being just an experiment by a city slicker. Iyer discovers ways and means to deal with these, sometimes by overcoming situations, sometimes by changing track and sometimes simply by accepting things as they are.

When he chose to give up microchips (and megabucks) for moong dal, Iyer chose a road that is rough, labour that is backbreaking and returns that are fickle. However, in the final analysis, the rewards are great in terms of the quality and satisfaction of life. 

Iyer’s book is well written and researched, giving deep insights into how, over 14 years, he has sustained and transformed himself into a successful organic farmer. He shares his philosophies and concerns — about development, human needs, man’s interference with nature and the need to coexist with it, the condition of the farmers, the need to revive the almost extinct vibrant indigenous seeds that provide the greatest advantage to environmental systems and human health. There is great veracity in Iyer’s writing, making the book an excellent resource book for anyone wishing to quit the city life to live in a village.

WHY would a person deliberately disrupt a perfectly ordered life that offers him and his family a comfortable livelihood to go back to the soil? Although this instinct does arise in the hearts of professionals who live, trapped in the glass, chrome and concrete jungle of metropoles, but only the truly passionate would actually take the plunge.

For those who do so, it doesn’t seem entirely necessary to have the experience or the know-how, but simply to dive into the deep end and hope for the best. Some (like Venkatesh Iyer, author of From Moong to Microchips) do beat the odds and sustain, while others must pack up and move as is the case with protagonist Vijay Sharma of this book. However, the driving motive is the same — to break free from the shackles and stresses of city life and to explore the fundamentals of life in nature.

Yashodhara Lal’s How I Became a Farmer’s Wife is a light-hearted book about the dairy farming adventures of an engineer and his family. Vijay is a thoroughbred techie, an engineer by profession, who works and lives in Gurugram. Much to the consternation of his wife, Yashodhara, Vijay decides to become a weekend dairy farmer and grow his own produce. The driving motive is the ‘mooli, gobhi parathas’ which would be washed down with a glass of milk from their own cows. 

Unheeding of his wife’s unspoken trepidation and armed with enthusiasm and some encouragement from friends and family, he rents some land in rural Haryana and starts on his pet project. Things, naturally, don’t go exactly as foreseen or planned.

The book, however, is not just about Vijay and his experiments in agriculture and dairy farming but also about Yashodhara, who must manage her own high pressure working schedule. She juggles her day job is as a marketing professional with her work as a fitness instructor besides being a mother of three highly energetic children, Pickle, Papad and Peanut. The family has its hands full between the farm, their jobs and the sundry teething problems that they face like eccentric farmhands, erratic crops, encounters with snakes (and other animals), delivery woes of milk supply from their venture Milk Wonder et al, which they finally sell to their neighbours via Facebook groups.

Yashodhara’s tongue-in-cheek, droll humour makes for happy reading. The book is part fiction and part memoire and if it doesn’t serve as a testimony to a successful farming venture, it does, at least, succeed in making you laugh!


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