By: Naga Vydyanathan
Mrinalini was up, even before the crack of dawn, fresh with renewed vigour to embark upon the day’s chores. Sipping her morning cup of steaming coffee, a necessity in most south Indian households, she quickly ran through the “hundred” things she needed to do that day. Life on a farm was hardly a romantic tryst with nature!
“Did you have a good rest last night?” – Mrinalini enquired fondly, as she stroked Vaidehi and placed some fodder and water before her. Later, when the sun was up, she would take Vaidehi out to a part of the farm for grazing. As she cleaned the cow-shed, Mrinalini’s thoughts flitted over to Subramani and Gauri. All of them had been like her own children, siblings to her son and daughter. But that was in the past. Subramani had succumbed to a health issue and was now resting in peace adjacent to the coconut sapling. Gauri had wandered away in search of a mate! All she was left with was dear Vaidehi. But life goes on! It took just a couple of years on the farm to teach her and her kids, life’s greatest lessons of love and loss, thought Mrinalini wistfully.
“Amma, come over here, its time to water the tree saplings”, shouted Vasuki. This was her most favourite chore. Twice in a day, in the morning before the sun was ablaze, and in the evening, when the land started to cool, the two of them would diligently water the tree saplings. Mrinalini would be sober and quiet while Vasuki loved to chit-chat with the saplings, but both had the same look of pride and love in their eyes. They had planted four hundred saplings and it took almost a week to water all of them! It saddened Mrinalini that the saplings got water only once every six to seven days and the slightest of change in routine, maybe due to a trip to the city for a dinner, made the gap even longer. But, on those days, when mother nature blessed them with a hundred drops, she and her kids would sit cross-legged on their veranda, munch on some yummy fritters and revel in the rains! Once again, the farm taught them to weigh carefully the repercussions of every action, however slight it may seem, and at the same time value the sudden blessings wholeheartedly.
Mrinalini’s thoughts drifted to her past. Her decision to move from an IT job in the city to tending to her own farm on the outskirts of a small town, had not been in any way sudden. Yet, it never failed to amaze her. It had all started with tiny pangs of guilt at being paid exorbitantly for mental skills at her job whilst she saw people with equal talents, albeit in physical skills, being paid much less. Plumbers, farmers and carpenters exercised their brawn, but there is an intuitive brain that guides their work, a brain that may not know the physics principles by name but by experience. As Mrinalini read and observed more, the vulgar disparity, so strongly intertwined in the society, made her restless. With the birth of her kids, these pricks of guilt had grown into large thorns that had gnawed at her – does she want to raise her kids in a world of excesses? Overcoming a hundred apprehensions, inflicted by self-doubts and the doubts of the world around her, Mrinalini had finally taken the plunge to live a life closer to that of a labourer. It had required immense courage, then and even now. Her doubts had never gone away completely. But she was more comfortable around them, the farm gave her that confidence.
As Mrinalini watched Vasuki hard at work, weeding at one corner of the field, and her son Shankar, patiently planning their tiny patch of vegetable garden at another, her heart swelled with pride and happiness. It was with a lot of trepidation, that she had pulled her kids out of regular school. But the farm had proved to be the greatest of teachers, imparting wisdom through simple, rudimentary experiences. Mrinalini pondered, “we often think farmers are illiterate, but cultivation is a highly scientific and intellectually stimulating experience”. She had marvelled at the principles behind rice transplantation and bund cropping. Planning the farm labour was an operations and people management exercise. And adapting to the vagaries of nature taught them to accept and accommodate what life throws at you. Shankar’s vegetable garden was a pet research project and even the seemingly simple process of weeding germinated deep philosophical questions on implicit social hierarchies in Vasuki’s mind. The farm, in all its pristine glory, was like a looking glass into the small and simple world around them, prodding a growing mind to appreciate, think and question. The farm taught them empathy and the strength to navigate grief. And most importantly, it held the three of them tightly together in its rustic clasp!
Mrinalini, Vasuki and Shankar huddled excitedly around the rice grains that they had harvested. It had been a wait of a hundred days to reach there! A hundred days of hard toil – sowing, transplanting, irrigating, tending and caring. A hundred days of careful planning, forecasting and mitigating nature’s vagaries. A hundred days of childish eagerness mixed with nervous anticipation, like a mom awaiting her baby’s birth. Would they reach their milestone of a hundred measures this time?
Mrinalini caressed the grains, letting them run between her fingers, as she carefully filled the “arisi padi”, the measuring cup. “Seventy-four … seventy-five … seventy-six …and seventy-seven”. They had harvested seventy-seven measures! They did not meet the hundred measures this time too. However, rather than being disappointed, they rejoiced in the magic of transforming paddy seeds to grains! The magic of creation and getting better at that! For they knew that life was not about meeting goals, but experiencing and enjoying each step of the journey. And the journey must go on! Their farm taught them that!
Naga Vydyanathan, a computer scientist by profession, is an aspiring writer. Being passionate about language and reading, it has always been a secret desire for Naga to be a writer one day. A thoughtful and deep thinker, Naga writes flash fiction, focusing on the minds and thoughts of her characters. Her pieces have appeared in Twist and Twain and Flash Fiction North.