Finding Paradise

This post is the unedited version of ‘The pursuit of paradise’, the first article appearing in ‘Rooting For Nature’, my new monthly column for Deccan Herald. The published column is linked here.

When we dropped anchor on a small patch of parched earth over three-and-a-half years ago, we were unprepared for what was to unfold. It was the culmination of many years of questing for paradise and the quenching of a visceral longing to return to the farming ways of my ancestors from the mountainous Western Ghats.

Our two boys were growing up in a heartbeat, and I couldn’t imagine raising them without the adventure of a childhood soaked in nature.

At the start of our search, I had a clear picture in my mind, of the proverbial paradise — a blissful wonderland enrobed in lofty trees with moss-clad limbs, by a gurgling perennial stream somewhere in a misty mountain, and away from human habitation.

Our wild goose chase over the years had led us to many prospective wonderlands. That dreamy mountain perch with fern and orchid-laced trees either lacked clear access or was mired in legal tangles. The stunning view was inevitably offset by inadequate paperwork. The fairyland hemmed-in by a bubbling brook would cost us not just an arm and a leg, but our kidneys and livers too!

With all leads running dry, we had just about given up on paradise when an unlikely prospect turned up serendipitously with the said parched earth for sale, somewhere in the dusty and populous plains of Mysuru district. There was no bubbling brook, the only standing trees on the land were the ten fully-grown tamarind trees and a beautiful, ancient Shami tree (now succumbed to old age). The distant Chamundi Betta was the closest we’d get to any mountain.

The endless and exhausting weekend pursuit of our elusive paradise had sobered us to the bleak realities of purchasing agricultural land. If you will excuse the cliché, this arid land in the plains, though bereft of bewitching beauty, was everything we never knew we needed.

Sunn Hemp (Clotaria juncea) in bloom. It is a great cover crop and helps fix atmospheric nitrogen.

It had the best access and location, situated as it was between two villages, so labour was available, even if at astronomical wage rates.

The papers were in order and the land was ‘vaasthu-compliant’ as our seller gloated, and government roads flanked its northern and eastern boundaries. As for the bubbling brook, we settled for the 2-inch water gushing out in a sparkling white foamy jet from the 500 feet deep borewell. And the water was sweet to boot! Sweeter than the tap water that passed-off for potable water in Bengaluru.    

Nanjangud town was a 10-minute drive away and as we’d discover later, boasted of supermarkets and pharmacies better-stocked than an average Bengaluru supermarket or pharmacy. The assortment of quaint little stores along Devasthanada Beedhi, the broad cemented temple street leading to the famed 11th century Nanjundeshwara temple, stocked wares that had all but disappeared from the shelves of big city stores.

There were more important considerations that sweetened our deal – the land was ready to move in. An unpretentious tiny white cottage stood in the centre of the rectangle with a little fruit orchard planted to one side. Saplings of coconut, mango and moringa were planted in neat columns, watered by a full-fledged drip irrigation system.

A solar fence secured the boundary and a local caretaker with the know-how to operate the irrigation pump and the drip irrigation valves would keep an eye on the place while we slaved at our city lives in between visits.

There were benches of slatestone on cement blocks in the shade of some of the trees, holding out the promise of a perfect setting to soak-in ethereal sun rises and fiery sunsets each day.

We were in the land of giant banyans with three large trees of the species standing guard over our rectangle in three directions. Among others, neem and sandalwood trees appeared to be mother earth’s favourite offspring in these parts, as we would soon learn.

We eventually gave the rectangle a name, Navilu Kaadu – the forest of peacocks, after the many peafowl that roamed the land and peppered our days with their haunting peeooww, peeooww calls.

There was something else that came with the land, which we dispensed with in a jiffy – a can of Roundup, also called Glyphosate, the carcinogenic weedicide used extensively by Indian farmers.

Lethal chemicals no longer had a place in Navilu Kaadu, determined as we were to restore the land that was until then poisoned with toxic chemical pesticides and weedicides, and make it a safehouse for any critter that sought refuge.

Slowly but surely, over annual harvests of sweet-sour tamarind, fragrant golden turmeric and plump yelakki baaLe, endless hassles with power supply and labour, many a gaffe and heartache, and eventful encounters with fellow-residents of the wild variety, Navilu Kaadu natural farm is morphing into our own little paradise.