Hero..

My search for a real life hero/heroine continues.... Finding that real life hero or heroin to look up to, learn from and emulate continues to be a void which is alive from childhood days. Having given up on today's generation, I started to look for them in books. People who have lived a great life and who continue to inspire others. But somewhere I felt books were myopic in the sense that they gave the perspective of only the author and the truth of the personality may not be fully brought out. The search moved me on to autobiographies, need to attend workshops and doing varied courses :). In the meantime, any super human  I chanced upon in today's times, I made a note to try to visit and spend time with them.

One such individual whom I had heard about and wanted to visit was Babulal Gandhi. A  90 year old Gandhian by spirit who resides in a small village called Vinchurni, near Phaltan in Satara district, Maharashtra. The significant contribution he has to his credit is organic farming in his 100 acre farm, water retention and formation of at least 6 lakes within the drought prone farm area to make the place self sufficient and as a bargain bringing out amazingly sweet tasting fruits as a harvest.

On 24th February 2018, we ( Sagar, Sunishka and me ) visited his farm after confirming with Madhavi Gandhi, his niece who handles the farming activity majorly. The drive to the place was pretty dry, hot, barren . After a 2.5 hour drive, we reached Maganlal Smriti Van.We drove in and stopped at the first gate we saw. A small petite figure, dressed in white from head to toe was sitting on a chair inside the gate. I got off, recognizing him from some photos I had seen of his and he too got off his chair calling out my name fondly, like he knew me from before:). Here was a 90 year old man vibrating in energy and peace in unison.

A small white colored cotton cap adorned on his head, high powered glasses to support his eyesight, and his petite body covered in plain white soft textured cotton shirt and pant was a visual expression of simplicity and purity. His skin though wrinkled, was tanned and used to the sun and the hard work that comes along in the day. His eyes were the only part of his body that showed aging, but the newspaper was read start to end everyday and the twinkle in the eyes still continued to shine!    Babukaka as he is fondly called by everyone, then showed us where to park and asked us to freshen up in a small room - Meera kuti, which had 3 beds and a toilet and bathroom. The room adjoining the chickoo plantations was very basic but was clean and welcoming. We joined him soon to sip our limbu pani and started our conversations with him.

Here was a personality who had walked all over India with Vinoba Bhave and influenced by Vinobaji took part in the bhoodaan movement that started in 1951. He spoke about how moving a personality Vinobhaji had and just his speech was enough for people to come forward and give away all that they possessed. Like a little girl I started imagining the period, the people and the speeches that would have happened back then.

From there we moved on to why he choose to work on the farm, the village and how the whole experience of making this barren land into a wonderland happened. The life choices Babukaka made, emulates the legacy we see today. A 100 acre farm in a drought area, ironically fully green now :) surrounded by huge water bodies that are man made to support the area and surrounding village; which also welcomes on its abode birds from far away lands.

He told us how after the Bhoodan movement, he decided to do farming on his own, but had no previous experience in the field. He took the help of his brother and uncle who supported his idea and how through mistakes and experiments, they grew and have been growing. As he spoke, he mentioned how somewhere in life, consuming things starts becomes tiring and we look for options to give back. The choice to work on the farm was his way of giving back.

I asked him about how he worked on the biggest challenge of collecting water and making the land self sufficient. He spoke about contours that he built and also preserving the natural flow of water when it rained. There are at least 6 huge water bodies; most of them man made that are connected through drip irrigation to the whole 100 acres. Even today at the age of 90, he says, I might be doing something wrong and would welcome if someone tells me a better way to do things. The exuberance of his humility was spreading and making us realize where we stand as individuals.

He then moved on to talk about his women power :) Babukaka himself is unmarried, but he has 4 nieces and 1 nephew who all help him in the farm. Giving the environment for a lady to work safely on the fields is another legacy Babukaka has given. Madhavi Gandhi who primarily handles the farming is a daredevil who reminded me of Rinku from Sairaat when she gave us a rough tractor ride :) all over the fields.Being a father figure who supports women equality and safety, he has a good ladies team working on a the farm on daily basis. He also felt, women handling the farming is another reason the legacy is continuing.

The other striking feature of the farm is the co-existence of nature that is being allowed. And somewhere I feel the personal nature of the head of any family/ organization is what spreads down below and Babukaka's universal nature percolates through everyone there. We heard stories of wolves, jackals, and varanuses. In one of our rounds around the farm, we also saw a huge burrow that the varanus had made, which almost could accomodate a person in it !! The farm as of now is flooded with peacocks, which sometimes act a menace, but in the same breath he also adds that since we have taken over their land, peacocks flood ours now. The approach to tackle the menace is left to nature. Babukaka says something will come to control the peacocks too. We just need to wait until then :)

Babukaka does organic farming with no pesticides used and works on mulching providing the required biomass to the plants. Jeevamrut a concoction of desi cow urine, gram flour and jaggery used as a soil enriching agent was also made there and used across the farm. We plucked chickoos from the chickoo trees that Madhavi herself selected for us. She said after all these years, she can now recognize from afar the ones that are ready to ripen. She added how birds chirping on the trees are the first call to know when the fruits are ready to be harvested. The next morning, we had a walk with Babukaka through the farm, eating tamarind and collecting peacock feathers. He showed us a whole section of the farm that had brunt down due to short circuit of an electric pole, and towards which he had filed a case against the corporation for reimbursement. The case is on for more than 10 years and is currently in the Supreme court. As we spoke we were there in the midst of an area with gauva, sitaphal, and pomegranate plantations that were ready to give their harvest in the next 4 months. Babukaka said " The bureaucracy has still not given me justice, but nature has rewarded me back again!". In front of our eyes we witnessed the limitations of humans and the untiring power of nature.

Babukaka now believes in passing this legacy on to the next generation. At Maganlal Smirti Van, they conduct in-house workshops for school kids where they experience the farm and its various activities for 2-3 days and have talks and interactive sessions. As the camp begins, kids are allowed to just wander in the farm and he adds initially the kids act crazy with all the open space, but soon become one with it and the space brings out elements in the kids which no school ever can! He believes in sowing seeds all around and hopes some will reap and spread the solemn work going forward.

As we drove back, I felt I was returning home after a long time.. Babukaka's stories were heart felt and I had seen it with my eyes as he spoke. The story traversing more than 70 years was a treat for my ears and my imagination. When we asked him about his birth date, he made the concept seem so insignificant, and added that he really doesn't know his real age. He considers Jan 1st as a new year with new opportunities. In his 90s, here was a man envisioning a 5 year plan in every corner of his farm, his work, his contribution. A grand and positive way to look at life- an example for anyone in today's world!

A visionary, embodied with enthusiasm, humility, energy and love- I witnessed an institution in itself.
And I realized a hero I was looking for was someone abnormal who did great things in every breath, for whom it all was just being normal, just his way of life....
 A hero definitely got added to my list !                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Comments

  1. Very nice Shubha, a great experience too

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  2. Nice. You can now write a book titled 'My Real Life Heroes'.

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