Thursday, 2 November 2017

An Ode To a Grain of Rice

Oh what joy to behold,

this single grain of Rice!

Red, in all its beauty,

against this backdrop of green,

It tells a tale of struggle,

a will to survive.

Ravaging boars

in the dark of the night,

Fiesty peacocks

shimmering their feathers

in the brightness of the day,

Swarming bugs,

 at sundown,

It held its own against these,


 by just a home-made concoction

called Panchagavya,

It grew,

 unaided by chemicals,

drank on a nectar called Jeevamruth,

It survived the lashing rains

 and harsh winds,

A miracle of creation!

O what joy to behold

this single grain of our

Home grown Rice! 

You can read about our experience with Rice cultivation in the following articles  :

Part 1    A Fine Tilth

Part 2.  Rice Nursery

Part 3.  Rice Transplant.

Part 4.  Keeping Boars at Bay 

Part 5   Machan Musings

Part 6. Rice Harvest

Part 7. Rice - Post Harvest Processing

Saturday, 29 July 2017

A different perspective.

Naka-Bandi by the 'Brake - Inspectors'

Rush hour! Pushing their way to enter the gate first!
In Mumbai for a week, as I stepped out of our building, I could hear a loud commotion nearby.  It was the usual fight for parking space.  Oh what a way people bicker and squabble for a mere 2 square metres of space in the city.  Later, travelling by my favourite BEST bus, the squabbles were of a different hue. The passenger did not have the change and the war of words escalated above the din of traffic. 

Well coming back to our village life, what is it that gets these peoples ‘goat’? 

The other day there was a loud squabble in the empty plot of land close to our farm. The area only has some jungle trees on it and one woman was busy raking the fallen dried leaves and tying it into one massive bundle. Apparently the land did not belong to her, so when the owner happened to pass by it, there was a bitter argument because she ‘stole’ the dried leaves.  Well, I guess in some countries, people would be happy to have their dried leaves raked and cleared up for free.

Why?  Can't I help myself to a sackful of dry leaves!

Parking in the path of the traffic, halting your vehicle in the middle of the junction to carry on a conversation with a passing biker, stopping a bus in the middle of a narrow road while all the passengers embark at a leisurely pace -  which has us fuming when we are caught behind, none of these things ruffle the villagers. But let a neighbour's cow stray into their field, let a few hens escape their pens and scratch around on someone else’s land and you can see trouble brewing.

I think the grass is really greener on the other side of the fence!

The other thing I noticed here was how possessive people are about the large used-gunny-bags which are meant for 50 or 100 kgs of stuff. When we first came here we did not have any such bags, and we kept needing them – to bag the bananas to save them from the monkeys, to haul some farm produce on and so forth. So we had to source used ones from the hardware store. After we started getting the cow-feed in bulk, our collection of bags steadily increased.  And we noticed that people always return the bag if they borrow it. The arecanut dealer comes to collect the produce with a large bundle of empty bags, and should he need to borrow some from us, he turns up the very next day to return them. Whenever we take any of the farm produce to the local dealer, after weighing the stuff, he hands over the money along with the exact number of empty sacks. Now coming to think of it, I surely must have annoyed a lot of people here by not returning their bags until I realised how important it is to do so.

Years back, before mobile phones made their entry, I was working as a Computer programmer(in that era of Cobol programming, Batch processing of Data), and Vivek was working as a Sales Engineer.  I would sometimes call Vivek at his office and often get to hear ‘He is not in the office, he is out in the field’. Today, more often than not, he leaves his mobile  behind when he out working in the farm.  And to the calls that he gets sometimes, my answer is almost the same ‘He is out in the field’.....really! And yes I seriously do ‘Cloud Computing’ now – I can gaze for hours at the gathering and receding clouds and deduce an algorithm to figure out whether it will rain or not! 

So it is a learning experience all the way – a new way of life, a different perspective in every way!

Batch Processing - of Summer Surplus

Python (?) Programming! 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Aaarrghhh! When will I ever learn!!!

Each time some new affliction hits one of our bovine family members, I realise how little I know about the health problems that can ail our dairy animals!

I have seen no less than sixteen calves being born here and not once have I had any problems with the calves.  But this time it was different,  maybe because the calf was not born in the stable, but  outside in the rough terrain adjoining our farm.  The first two days went off well enough and I did not notice anything amiss.  On the third day we noticed blood on the sacking on which the calf was sleeping. On closer examination I noticed the umbilical area looked swollen.  A couple of frantic phone calls to the doctor, the verdict was an infection of the umbilical cord. “Did you not cleanse it with Tincture of Iodine immediately after it was born?” thundered the vet. “Wha......t ? “ I wailed, I had never done it before, for any of the other calves.  Anyway now the solution was to cleanse the wound deep , dress it well and hope for a quick recovery.

I carried the calf into the house,  as,  however hard you may try, there always are a couple of flies lurking around in the cow shed and I did not want any maggots in the wound.

But alas I was too late. As I cleaned the wound, I noticed them. My first reaction was to burst into tears .... how could I have not seen this earlier. could I not have been more careful....
 But then I pulled myself together and braced myself to clean the wound.  If someone had asked me to clean a maggot infested wound 5 years back I would not have been able to do it. But when it is your own helpless 3 day old calf, you have got to push all your squeamishness and repulsion away and get down to the task.  The little one  - I had named her Kasturi, barely struggled as I held her down with my  knee and cleaned the wound and poured the tincture of iodine into it.    As the day progressed she seemed to weaken and grew more listless. Every three hours I was taking her back to her mother to be nuzzled and to let her drink some milk. She would immediately perk up a bit after that. But as evening progressed, even that did not seem to help her. At around 9 pm she even refused to suckle, her head hanging limply down. And when her mother nuzzled her, she just toppled over and fell.  Another frantic call to the vet.  “Ah well looks like she is too weak to suckle.  You could try feeding her with a bottle” he explained.   Now that put me into a slight quandary. With Vivek out of town on work, there was no one I could send across to buy a baby bottle. Besides I knew that the chemist shops would have closed by the time I could get there, and wasn’t even sure whether there was any all night chemist in the next town.  “Don’t try pouring milk down her throat”, the vet had warned.
Oh heavens! What was I to do!

Too weak to move, 

I decided to take a chance. With no fluids inside her the little calf would not pull through the night. I had kept the colstrum from the cow aside. I took about half an ounce in a tiny steel pail with a rim that would enable easy pouring out of the milk. I sat on the floor with my legs outstretched and took the calf’s head on my lap. With one finger inside the calf’s mouth I let a trickle of milk flow down my finger – just a few drops at a time. And then stroked the calf’s neck to ensure that she swallowed it right. Kept repeating it.  Sometimes the trickle of milk would flow out from the other side of the mouth. But I got quite a few spoonfuls through. I then let her rest for some time. After two hours I repeated the whole thing. Late into the night I kept vigil over the calf. All animals respond to human touch. So I kept stroking it, massaging the limp neck  and belly, rubbing her ears and whispering into her ears “You are going to be alright by morning”.  At around 3.00  am I gave her one last feed and decided to rest for sometime myself. You never know what new challenges the day will bring and a sleep-deprived state is not the best way to face them. So leaving a dim light on in the room, I finally slept, with my alarm set to 5.30 am.
I woke up with a start even before the alarm went off. I first warmed a little bit of the milk to room temperature and went to check on Kasturi. She did not resist when I fed her the trickle of milk. She definitely seemed better.  I could catch another half an hour of shut eye.
When I woke up again at 6.30, dawn  had broken and at the sound of my footsteps, Kasturi opened her eyes, and with a little effort lifted her head. she looked around with a puzzled look as if  saying “Why am I here in this strange place”.  I threw my arms around her and hugged her close. She made an effort and stood up! This was a miracle indeed. She had pulled through the night! I carried her to the cowshed where her mother greeted her with a loud bellow. I supported her as she weakly nuzzled around the udder and could barely hold back my tears of joy as she caught on and started suckling on her own! 
From then on it was a quick recovery.  I had to subject her to a painful cleaning and dressing of the wound three times a day, but not once did she cry out aloud. Her beautiful large eyes showed a total submission to what must have been a very torturous procedure. 

On the way to recovery!

Today Kasturi runs and plays around and shows no sign of what she has gone through. But we share a special bond and when I rub her head and hold it in my palms she has a special look for me in her soulful eyes. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Krazy about Kokum!!!

There seems to be strange new craze over kokum.......Would you believe it....Kokum is supposed to have anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory,anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidant, cholesterol lowering properties and what not.  And Kokum – butter, the funny looking waxy stuff which granny used to advise us to rub over cracked heels has been elevated to a new star for its anti-wrinkle properties and is the new beauty aid in some celebrity kits!

Ha! And this stuff has been around for ages. But frankly, when we were in Mumbai (and I was unaware of all the medicinal benefits of kokum) I hardly ever used it. An occasional Sol-kadhi, or a dark dry lassoon chatni... or if I run out of Tamarind, these were the only times that I used Kokum. 

In our first year at the farm, in fact our first week, I had asked our farm-hand to ‘introduce’ us to all the trees, or rather introduce the trees to us because apart from identifying a few common fruit trees, we were clueless about the biodiversity on our farm. He had mentioned the name ‘Birund’ (the Konkani word for Kokum) as he pointed out to a clump of nondescript looking trees in an overgrown corner of the farm. There were no fruits on the tree.

Look I spotted the Kokum tree in this clump of Bamboo

About half a year later, the trees started bearing fruit. Green plum shaped fruits started appearing along the slender branches and soon started turning a brilliant red.

Our first harvest was a couple of huge buckets full. And I had no idea what to do with it!

So I called up a couple of friends who had farms in the Konkan region, got a detailed description of the traditional method of processing and got down to work.

Cut open the fruit, scoop out the pulp and seeds into one tub, rind into another, throw the stalks away.

Squeeze the seeds and pulp through a colander to extract all the juice.

Spread the outer rinds of the fruit onto clean plates to sun dry.

Keep the juice aside.  When the sun goes down, put all the semi-dried rind back into this juice and let it soak overnight.

In the morning drain the juice out from this mixture and spread the rinds out to dry again.

Repeat this process for 4 days. The juice keeps getting absorbed into the rind, which gets darker and drier and finally on the fourth day, there is no juice left to be drained out.

Another day in the sun and the rind gets the characteristic colour and texture of the kokum that most of us are familiar with.  This is the traditional way of processing and the only way to ensure that all the goodness of the juice is retained in the rind. 

The seeds are sun dried separately until their shell, becomes crisp and breaks open easily. The seed kernel needs to be removed and collected. These kernels contain the precious kokum butter. The seeds are ground to a fine paste with water and then this milky liquid is boiled. The fat floats on the surface  and when cooled can be skimmed off  - and this, is the wonderful kokum butter. Delicately coloured and melts on touching, it can replace your moisturisers and lotions if you wish!

Our front yard is turned into a kokum processing unit and our drying tables are laden with the richly coloured fruits in varying shades of red.

And a new favourite accompaniment to our meal is a warm Kokum clear soup with just a dash of  our home grown pepper!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Have you named it yet?

I love to assign names!

And so does everyone else in the family.  So the scrawny looking crow who came each morning to eat out of Divya’s or Dipika’s hand  when they were young was called Albert (named after none other than the one with the famous frizzy hairstyle who revolutionized science with  a simple formula e=mC2).   

The cute walking stick that we got on one of our trips to some hilly region was named Moses, and so on.

Let me think.................!

When we moved to the farm, we were quite appalled by the fact that no one bothers to name their bovine families. So we got down to naming all of them, beginning with Bheem and Balaram and now our extended family includes the perky Kalavati, Saraswati and Purna. Madhubala’s calf Madhuwanti and the latest addition to our buffalo family Madhukauns.

Madhubala and Madhuwanti enjoying their weekly wallow
Madhukauns - enjoying the sunshine.

A few days back during the end of the rains, a huge frog had decided that the best place to rest during the night was in my rather shabby looking farm floaters. Each morning when I want to wear them to walk into the farm I have to shake that reluctant guy out of my footwear. And he would get back into it unfailingly when I left them out again.

Then in the course of our post-rain cleaning and sprucing up, I decided to paint the ledges on the porch as they had turned dull. I had barely completed the first coat of paint, when all of a sudden, the frog decided to abandon the shabby floaters for a new perch and plonked down in the corner of the freshly painted ledge.
Leaving the floaters for a better perch!  Phoenix is unperturbed by froggy!

He looked so handsome with his grey-green skin perfectly offset by the terracotta paint of the ledge that  I could not help but exclaim to Vivek who just walked in from the farm “ Look at this guy, I should call him “Raajnandak”   (Nandak being the Sanskrit term for frog).

Hence forth, you will be called Raajnandak!
Now I guess this pleased him mightily because the next morning, there was not only our Raajnandak on the ledge, but he had a pretty companion in tow.  They both presided over the application of the second coat of paint without moving from their perch, watching me with a glazed look.

Any guesses as to what I named her?...........Rani Roopmati ofcourse!

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