Monday, 24 November 2014

Rice Transplant!

Some folks transplant rice for wages,

but I have other reasons.

I watch the sky, the earth, the clouds,

Observe the rain, the nights, the days,

keep track, stand guard till my legs

are stone, till the stone melts,

till the sky is clear and the sea calm.

Then I feel at peace.

A Vietnamese poem after my own heart!

Our rice nursery, after its tryst with  a bunch ofbovine grazers, still survived and after 4 weeks is now ready to be transplanted into the main field.  These little,  baby rice plants, lovingly protected so far are now ready to venture out into the big world!

So D-day dawns with a clear bright sky.  It has been raining quite consistently but the field is only wet and not yet waterlogged.  So our irrigation channel has been opened up and the water is flowing into the fields.  Ganapati is ready with his bullocks and plough at 7 am. 
Ganapati, with the pair of beautiful beasts! 
 This is something new that we learnt – just tilling the land is not enough, you have to ‘muddle up’ the land to a fine squelch now!  As the bullocks walk through the field, the plough churns up the soil with the water .  Up and down, over and over again, till the mud looks like brown porridge.
Muddling up the mud to a fine squelch!
  By 9 a.m. one section of the field is done and the 6 women have arrived for the actual transplantation. They walk over to the nursery, their sarees tucked up to avoid trailing in the mud. When they near the nursery I hear an audible cluck-cluck of sympathy.  “What is it?” I ask them.  “Oh these saplings are so small – You don’t put fertilizer is it?  You should have,  the saplings would then have been this high” one of them explains holding her hand a good 6 inches above our saplings.  It is alright I explain – Fertilizer is not good – it will ruin the soil I say, but their blank look seems to say “Oh these mad city folks”. 

Anyway, they start pulling up the saplings.  Their movements are smooth and swift, they work with both hands – a fluid movement akin to churning buttermilk with a rope wound around the churner. When the bunches in their hands reach a particular size, they bind them with  a couple of saplings and toss them aside.  They find it very amusing when I do the same, gingerly, not wanting to hurt the roots of the delicate looking plants. But a swift brisk movement is what you need to uproot the saplings and with a little practice I get it right. 
Geeta (leftmost) is amused at my slow, gentle tugging of the saplings.

Bundles of Saplings lined up swiftly.
By mid morning, all the saplings have been uprooted and tied into neat little bundles. 

A short break with a meal of idlis, chutney, a sweet potato patty, some tea and it is time to do the transplantation.  Squelch, squelch , the mud is unbelievable soft and squidgy – all you do is pull out 3-4 saplings from the bunch and push them deep into the squidge. The trick is that when you pull your hand out, the saplings should stay in and stand erect.  Mine looked pathetic at first but soon I learnt the trick and could do it almost as well as the others, though not at that speed.  And definitely not for that long.  My back was already beginning to sing a different tune. The others continued until the entire field was covered with neat rows of saplings.    

Ohhhh, this sad looking lot is mine.

Experienced hands - see the difference?
 The evening sun reflected on the still waters in the field and the little saplings  revelled in their new found space.  Have we really made a mistake by stubbornly refusing to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Will our home-made mixes of Jeevamruth andPanchagavya work?  Well, all I can say is Wait, and we will soon find out.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Rice Nursery.

It is now more than a month since we got our paddy area prepared to a fine tilth.  We had purchased one sack of rice seeds, which is actually rice with the husk itself.  The only available variety was a local variety called MTU1001, so we brought it. When I opened the sack, there was a small sachet double wrapped in a plastic with an instruction sheet in Kannada. I asked Manjunath about it, he said it will help the seeds to grow better. Now I better check this I thought, and tried to decipher it, without much success. But the last sentence helped me figure out what it was.  It said  in Kannada ‘Poison - Wash hands after touching’.  so obviously it was some pesticide.  So I kept it aside to discard it appropriately, as we had planned to do everything organically.

Rice Seeds for the Nursery
 Preparing a seed-bed for the rice nursery is indeed an art.  The seeds are strewn around, artfully does it, in a small patch of land.  If you get it right, then the shower of seeds looks well spaced, you cannot have clumps and heaps of seeds in any spot.   About 20 kgs of seeds were strewn around and then Manjunath demonstrated the method of picking the soil with a large spade and hurling it over the seeds. The soil is picked in such a way that it creates a neat channel around the border of the nursery.  The soil hurled onto the seeds raises that level a bit. And there - you have a neat raised seed-bed with a well-defined channel around it, through which we can release some irrigation water.  On the third day a pretty green carpet could be seen on the seed-bed , our rice saplings had pushed their pretty little heads above the damp soil to see the sun!
The rice nursery at the far end of the field

The saplings grow at an amazing speed and within a week the saplings were rippling in the breeze and looking taller.  But we were not the only ones admiring them.  a group of local cows had noticed them too and one morning I found a whole herd of them merrily chomping on the tender greens.  I whooped and yelled and drove them away.  But something needs to be done! Maybe I could make a make-shift fence out of old clothes and sarees.  I spent a good part of the day doing it, my sewing machine happily humming a tune after a long hiatus.  Towards evening I picked what looked like a small mountain of coloured strips of cloth and carried it to the rice nursery.  The entire length of what I had stitched did not cover even one complete side of the nursery!  And it had taken me so much time.  So I had to think of a better option.  The Jute and Plastic sacks in which we buy the cow-feed!  Yes they would do fine, I had to cut open two sides of each bag, shake the remnants of husk, bran and whatnot out and then join them together.  My sewing machine was not very happy with this rough course material which left a layer of grit and lint all around, but it still complied.  The next day, we rigged up the fence around the entire nursery.  I was worried about the saplings that had their heads shorn off, but Manjunath was confident that they would still grow. 
The makeshift fence of jute and plastic sacking in place, but you can see the gaps where the cows have munched.

We kept at our schedule of spraying Panchgavya on the saplings and hoped they would turn out well.  The majority of them looked quite ok, though there were patches of pale and short saplings in the nursery, which might need to be discarded later. 

Another week, and we will be ready for the transplantation!  The plants seem to be thriving and the cows are casting longing looks at the green feast that is now cordoned off for them.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Puzzle Mania

What is it about these perfect little coloured bits that has us in such a grip?  
May be because of all my childhood toys, the one that I loved the best was a little cardboard ‘States of India’ jigsaw where every state could be fitted into its slot.  We  have always been enthralled by Ravensburger puzzles ever since we did our first 500 piece puzzle way back in 1993.  Vivek  had got one for the kids on one of his trips abroad, and given the size of the puzzle, it had remained unopened for several months.  Until one rainy, floody day when Mumbai came to a standstill and we were cooped up indoors, we opened the puzzle.  And we were hooked!

We have moved on from the 500 piece puzzles onto 2000 piece ones.  And we have maintained the tradition of opening a puzzle only when it rains too heavily and we are stranded indoors.  So this time in the first week of June, Vivek was away in Mumbai and the skies threatened to open up, I got out my very favourite ‘School of Athens’ puzzle.
A painting so fascinating, you could look at it for hours.  It is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, depicting nearly every Greek philosopher.  It was painted between 1509 and  1510 and adorns one of the walls in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.   Little must Raphael have imagined that 500 years later, copies of his painting would be painstakingly rebuilt piece by piece by puzzle lovers the world across, including two in a remote farm in Chitrapur.

So how does this mania take over?  First we sort out the edge pieces.  The table which is normally cluttered with our laptops, books, manuals, notes, plates of drying mace and nutmegs and other odds and ends, miraculously gets cleared to make way for the pieces.   The stage is set and the border starts taking shape. Every spare moment is spent poring over the pieces. Sorting them is essential, so plastic  containers, baking tins, bowls find their way to the table to hold a shade of purple or green that you know has to belong to this or that corner of the puzzle.

  Bit by bit the figures evolve, the rich tapestry on the walls comes alive, your eyes start noticing the ever so subtle differences in the shades of brown  that make up the robe of   Euclid and Plotinus or the blue streaks that highlight the robes of Aristotle and Diogenes.
Plato and Aristotle
The sculptures on the wall depicting Apollo,  god of light, archery and music, holding a lyre  and  Athena, goddess of wisdom, take shape out of the million shades of cream and beige.  The arch above the group of figures which is a classic Greek ‘meander’ a motif made with one continuous line gets done as we match each line for its thickness and colour. 
 And so on it goes until we are down to the last 50 pieces and then it is a race to the finish.

The whole puzzle is done and adorns our table for some days while we admire the painting  and the precision with which the pieces fit into one another. and then it is time to  take it apart and put it back into the box until the next rainy season, when hopefully we will have another masterpiece from Ravensburger.
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