Vanyaa is our small, shy and immensely heartwarming farm where we are growing our food, eager to do something more to feel the richness of the gift of Nature. So, we wanted to spread the word that
growing your own food is a trip of its own kind…
It’s just a one-acre patch of land, away from the involving life of the town, surrounded by low undulating hills on the west and a gentle, monsoon-fed river, a tributary of the great Betwa, behind the jungles in the east. A bit tentative in the beginning, wary of taking on more than we could look after, we planted just a few trees. They grew and with it grew our elation. And it seems that excitement has a much greater pull than fear; thus, eventually we got carried away by our own effervescence. The happy outcome: We now have a tiny wealth of trees swaying in the breeze, adorning our peaceful sky. Tall, quiet, pulsing with life. One can almost hear the vibrations as we sit under them.
The first ones were Gulmohar, Neem, Palash, Bargad, Harsingar, Baans… But what names can one give to the joy of planting something that grows…
and grows on you?
Music exists in the meaning the words. In the cultural connect that you have with the sounds. Palash is called Chheula in our native dialect. Poets prefer the evocative name, Tesu. In every language, a tree or a plant has a different name. But that inner connection with the human heart, that symbiotic knowing, has no single word to describe it. Amrood, Neebu, Aam, Papeeta, Kela, Sehjan, Anar, Santra… There’s juice flowing within those words. Green, yellow, red, river-coloured…
To be able to pluck a fruit from a tree that you have planted is…
It suddenly makes you sensitive to that other life. There’s a tenderness that wells up in your heart as you ask for permission to take something from it, and give thanks for being given such aliveness in the palm of your hand. It also makes you value your effort, and those of others, equally, and value food. You stop wasting. You stop throwing away what you are habituated to cast away as ‘waste’. It turns into life giving compost. Energy always transforms. It never dies. So we were taught at school. Here is a spectacular and simple way to apply it.
We tasted what we grew, shared it with everyone around us. The love so dazzled our senses, we lost our bearings. And more comes with more love. The flowering all over of Kena, Shevanti, Gulab, Bela, Champa, Chandini…was heady, heady, heady…. A crop of Gehun, another one of Til and Moongphali, growing side by side. They are different in every way. Yet, to them, their difference does not matter. As long as the Earth holds them to her heart, they know how to balance each other, support each other. And they coexist without bandying about the word, any word, any philosophy. And not long ago, the farm was a yellow field of Sarson, swaying below the cerulean. Amir Khusrau wrote the lilting, lingering song, full of love for his beloved:
“Saghan ban phool rahi sarson…
Ambua phoole, tesu phoolay,
Koyar bolay daar,
Gori karat singaar...”
– Amir Khusrau
A maiden adorns herself. Vanyaa, She, of the forest. Soul of the Earth. The soul within each one of us. Her beauty knows no bounds. Enchanted, in new grow bags on one side of the field, we have sown Basil, Cherry Tomatoes, Salad Leaves, Baigan, Hari Mirch, Mooli, Spring Onions, Methi and Baby Potatoes and Dhaniya. What a spread. What an intoxicating journey it has become. Because now when you make a salad in your kitchen, you know what’s going into it. You can see the essence of Everything That Is running into your dish, bringing alive your insides with its spirit.
And, on the other end, the tall rippling Palash has waved in the fall. The leaves are slowly turning autumn-yellow, setting the tone for the coming hush of winter. Early spring, when its branches are bare of any raiment, it’ll burst forth with fiery orange blossoms, unique in their form. They are picked and used for making a gentle orange colour for Holi, even to this day. The ritual is something to look forward to. The flower is the festival.
It is not as if there weren’t any difficult experiences. Bundelkhand, where Vanyaa is, is rocky, hard and arid. The soil isn’t naturally as fertile as some other parts, of the country. Rain, when it comes, leaves one thirsting for more. Farmers here mostly grow vegetables and seasonal crops, since water is scarce and difficult to reach beneath the solidity of the huge rocks. You’ll find more thorny shrubs and trees like Babool, Keekar and Palm here, that can make do with less. And what stops one from growing where even a little is enough? But Nature listens. It yields itself to efforts made with gentle decisiveness. Thus, in persistence we found answers.
In struggle we found other ways. In squabbles, which did happen, we found solutions greater than ourselves. The process continues…and we continue to learn and rejoice alternatingly.
The Little Space
While we grow with Vanyaa, we invite you to another story in action, hundreds of miles from this rocky earth of Bundelkhand, in the dark and rich Deccan soil: It’s called, The Little Space. There the dynamics are different and the struggle, too, a different one:
“It’s just a very tiny parcel in the garden of my apartment building. The soil is fertile but cultivable only in spots. The sunlight comes in patches. So, one spends the day chasing it, working with and around it,” says Shambhavi, the solitary caregiver/gardener. She loved to lose herself amongst the big trees in her lawn when she was a little. At that age, a small cluster of trees seems as big as a forest. There are invisible friends. There’s conversation for those who can suspend disbelief, like children do. Like she would. Now, years later, the magic of that connection still alive in her heart, she didn’t wait for another time or a bigger area. She just began with what was immediately possible.
A few hours. A little space. But, yes, big dreams.
“The idea wasn’t just to grow plants,” she said. “It was to grow oneself through the experience… and share the learning, both vibrationally, through the food we grow, and by telling our story.“
There is so much one overcomes within, even as one takes the initiative.
There are cobwebs of old beliefs in the mind. They fall, having served their purpose, like dry leaves, if one just opens a little window and lets in the breeze.
And then comes the process, from which pours a continuous stream of learning. She learned big things, provoked by simple, childlike realizations.“We don’t truly realize how important the Sun is… It is the source of everything, metaphysically and otherwise.” One knows that. But…does one? If it doesn’t stir something in one’s heart, one doesn’t. ‘Knowing’ is different from just knowing as a fact. This knowing is the beginning internalizing the knowledge. It is the beginning of becoming it.
“Nothing grows under the shade of a great tree. Even though they are representative of life itself…” she gathered. How does that connect? It’s nature’s way of decentralization.
The seed is forced away from the parent via the wind or birds and animals, so that it may travel a little distance and create its own forest. Here and here, and here…. So that, a network of forests may come into being and the entire Earth may be green. So that there may be balance and nourishment everywhere, for everyone, not just under one immense tree. It is power which turns into joy when it spreads.
She grew Tulsi, Turai, Spinach, Hari Mirch, Lemon Grass, Baigan…all in The Little Space. The produce, though small, was organic, healthy, vibrant, pure…all qualities and adjectives of life. And then came the strong urge to share, which is a natural byproduct of having discovered something new and different. But how does one share? For the other dwellers, society members, came, saw, and left. They found it silly, perhaps, to try growing food in an rectangle. Plus, a society garden is meant for ornamental plants, not for food. It is awkward to grow food…
When we feel awkward for someone else, it is our own diffidence at letting our true self be seen. Children are not awkward. They love their silliness. They have so much life.
Someone gorgeous wrote in the Bible:
“Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven…”
To become that trusting and open again… How does one break out and enter that realm? Just by wanting to. And, then, staying open. Something might happen. A nudge from the outside, perhaps. Something serendipitous. And when it does, notice it. Flow with it. Don’t stop. Don’t worry.
She packed separate little bunches of the produce, made labels, drew flowers and herbs on them, and shared her selfless effort with everyone–with even those who may not have even noticed this little revolution taking place in a corner of their lives.
It was unexpected. When things come unexpected, there’s a sudden joy. The beginning of a feeling of pure gratitude. Now, weeks later, someone has noticed the quiet offerings from The Little Space. And has sent a word of thanks… Perhaps, in another few weeks, they may even come down on a Sunday and, putting aside the shyness, take a look at the blissful Turai which is growing with the support of another tree…
One doesn’t need to find time. There is no time. All one needs is a heart. A hand that will lend support, so that we may form a chain of continuity and embrace the Earth.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” – Masanobu Fukuoka
Farming is a work of art, where the work is you. Me. Her. Him. Our minds. Our bodies. Our beating hearts. Farming is the method.
Shambhavi says of her work, “And these days my plants give me a lot of raps on my knuckles. It’s because I haven’t been listening, truly listening. I have only been acting from my mind space. So, the plants are forcing me to pause, to listen, to allow, to get into the glow first and then, only if required, ‘act’. This takes getting used to. It takes re-learning your ways, and I have duly been put back in school for the purpose.”
What a lesson! Tremendous learning…
It hasn’t been easy. But there’s home-grown food, lessons, gratitude, joy and a freedom that comes from being yourself as a result. And more confidence with which to plunge into her work. The Little Space in her life is full. And spreading.
For everything that she has learned and received, for everything we have learned from through her experiences, we kneel and kiss the ground.