Friday, 8 March 2019

The Nishaan Rite

I arrived at the Kumbh just two days before it was to end. The iconic Naga Sadhus, had already departed for Kashi in readiness for Mahashivaratri on Mar 4.
The crowd had ebbed, but there were enough to keep the waterfront throbbing. I walked from the end of Civil Lines Road ogling the variety of faces from every corner of India. Most were fit and nimble rural stock striding briskly towards the river. Rest were mostly small townsmen, less swift than the villagers. I saw, much to my relief, very few of the Indians of the kind who had no sense of who they were. Everyone around me seemed the salt of our earth. I felt a great camaraderie with them all.
I walked on marvelling at the arrangements and the orderliness. Trash cans, toilets, drinking water vends and helpful policemen were everywhere. The vast acres by the river had come through clean after experiencing tens of crores of footfalls.
In a few hours, I finished my snan in the river directly in front of the Bade Hanuman Mandir, taken a row boat to the Triveni Sangam for another snan there and returned to where I had started.
I walked slowly up the gentle slope from the river’s edge and found myself a place to settle down, resting my back against a post. A wave of bliss came over me. Peace reigned all around. The strange silence despite several thousand people around me was only broken from to time by soft announcements from speakers- not intrusive at all. I sat gazing at the row boats in the distance heading towards the Sangam and returning from there.There must have been over a hundred of them out there, plying in eerie silence.
I felt very proud I was heir to all that was happening around me just as it must have done for several thousand years. I may have sat a couple of hours, enveloped by a great sense of belonging.
Suddenly I quickened.
I saw close to the water’s edge, a very tall pole being stood on its end .A red pennant fluttered at its top. Three men had stood it upright. Shortly it was lowered, and the men -and some women- walked off carrying the pole horizontally. A couple of drums attended their progress.
I was curious. What was that? It was the most dramatic thing I had seen that whole day.
I sprang to my feet and walked briskly towards them. When they were off the sands, an old man pushing a bicycle joined them. On its carrier was a battery driven music system and on its handle, a speaker. Devotional music joined the drums and cymbals. The small procession marched on.
Soon, I saw another similar group in some distance. Again the same pole and its pennant, a brisk group of ten or fifteen, drums and bicycle mounted music.
Before long, I saw several more spring up all over the waterfront, and briskly heading in the same direction.
What was going on? The vast silent spaces had suddenly come alive with new energy.
In my travels in UP I have always found its rickshaw men the nicest folk for a conversation. They are witty, bold and loquacious. I found one such. He was a wiry man and was in no hurry to hustle me for trade.
He explained what I was witnessing.
Every Monday and Saturday villagers from around Prayagraj arrive to fulfil pledges made to Bade HanumanJi. They come to offer their thanks for his help in their difficult times or in thanks for happy tidings. Some come from as far as 100 kM but most are from within 40kM.
Bamboo poles they carry are about 30 feet long. It is draped with red cloth. A red pennant bearing a Swastika, is mounted on its thin end and never allowed to touch the ground.
Family and friends of the person offering tribute to HanumanJi join in. The votive pole is taken to Sangam, the pennant is dipped in the water and then the pole is stood proudly to declare the vow fulfilled; which was the scene that had started me on exploration!

Then they resume the march with much fanfare, and head for the Mandir. Some dance in front. Now and then a man will stand the 30 foot upright and wobble it in ecstasy as he marched. Women, children all walk in a brisk clip.
I asked the rickshaw man to pedal me to the Mandir, just to have the great raconteur go on with his tales.
He left me near the Mandir with notes on what to watch for and from where. I promised i would as he instructed.
Finally, I asked him what was the rite’s name.
“Iska naam Nishaan hai,” he said and peddled away, all very friendly.

The contingents began to come thick and fast. There’s a designated opening in the wall of the Mandir into which they may thrust the pole and dip its pennant in the direction of HanumanJi reclining within.
There’s frenzied dancing and music as this done. Retrieving the pole, they march to a nearby yard, lower it and stash it against poles already parked.
The next contingent takes its place and the rite is repeated. Thus it goes on and on, as the huge gathering stands bewitched. I among them.
When I arrived I roughly counted about 50 already in the stash. In the next hour as I stood transfixed watching the pennants arrive, it grew to over hundred.
I found a new confidence rise in me. This is the salt of this land that keep Dharma alive. A stone’s throw away stood the fort. Akbar had come, built the arrogant fort and was gone as did his tribe. The British came and left. Motilal Nehru of Allahabad founded his dynasty and I sensed its end in the air.
From before all this and all this while, villagers have come twice weekly to connect with Bade HanumanJi to pledge their devotion to him.
I doubt if they are even aware of the talking heads on the TV. I am certain they don’t read the New York Times or kindred trash.
As long as these Bharatvasis assert ownership of  this land, all will be well 

Monday, 9 July 2018

Small Forests that Citizens can grow: Part-1

The graphic above cheered me up. That there’s been an increase in forest cover is good news indeed.  6,600 sqKm increase in one year is not small either!
Then I did a double take and pondered a while. And that led me to see forestry entirely differently.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Small Forests that Citizens can grow: Part-2

In my previous post, I had mentioned the minimum viable size for a forest is 1,400 sqFeet [130 sqMtr]. While a large area is indeed welcome, lack of acre sized lots need not deter an individual from creating his own little forest. That approach to foresting is enabled by the work of Akira Miyawaki, a legend who revolutionised our thinking about what forests are and how to rapidly grow them. Do go over here and patiently read through his ideas and successes.
Based on that and my own little proof-of-principle experiment, I am confident citizen level action can be more successful than government or large groups' initiatives..
Let me now make a series of lists to convey my dream quickly

Friday, 18 May 2018

Future of pointReturn - Part 2: Thus far

pointReturn is located about 100 kM south of Chennai, in south India. The Google Earth co-ords are  12°25'57.88”N,  79°55'27.74”E
It is is 20 acres in all. The land slopes 6m over a half kM run West to East. At the western end is a chain of small hills. 
The land had never been farmed, attracted no buyer and had been rutted by vehicular traffic between two villages east and west. Water run off and soil erosion ensued. It was an orphaned, abused, abandoned piece of India, when I decided to adopt it.
Over the last decade, my work has mostly been to create water harvesting bodies. I dug a couple of ponds and a canal. But what I believe turned the land around is a set of six swales, laid out about 150’ apart, down the slope. I have written about swales elsewhere and posted a slideshow as well.
I have not availed of grid power. All the water until 2 years ago, was lifted using a windmill. Now there is also a 1HP solar pump installed in a small well. Given the constraint on water, pointReturn’s revival has been of great satisfaction to me. 
When I was wondering if the restoration was in fact happening, I realised I was blind to the evidence of success staring in my face. There was a lesson to learn: I was being to blind to the gifts presented all around me. 
Here’s link to another slideshow which summarises the work done so far.
What is happening now is a phased effort to turn about 10 acres into a wooded walking trail. How I came to decide on that as an assured future for this restored land is told here.
I am aware I have littered this post with too many links, but it seemed the best way to quickly compress my long story. 

That is the story so far. I am now in an anxious phase, wondering how to ensure the work goes on and the land is cared for after my time. I shall share my hopes and some ideas on it in my next post.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Future of pointReturn - Part 1: The desire

The land regeneration adventure at pointReturn began 12 years ago. I was 64 then. It’s time now to plan for its future without me.
Work of the last decade has reached one milestone; a few more lie ahead. 
In a perfect world Nature needs no nannies. But given our times some assistance is required. Hence the need for regeneration work at all. 
Strictly speaking, no one regenerates wasteland. Nature does it. All one does is ring-fence the area so that it can lavish its resources of seeds, birds and moisture to begin the work. Just that protection enables nature’s work to be done a lot quicker.
The fulfilment in seeing Nature claiming a space and reigning over it is what urges us to help its work whenever,wherever we can.
There is a need for unhindered spaces for other living forms, whose importance to man, he may not entirely be aware of. That he finds such spaces striking a deep chord in him is confirmation of their essential need for him. 
Such spaces are diminishing. 
I would like pointReturn to become such a space.
To be honest, when I began, my goal was an economically sustainable food and energy growing community of 10 people, all of whom would however be committed naturalists. That experiment ended four years ago. I considered bailing out. A bit later though, I decided to mark time to discover another purpose. And I am glad to say, I did find one. I have told that story elsewhere:
Each passing day reaffirms my conviction that a living, throbbing woods is what pointReturn should become.
I am keen -paranoid, even- that it should not fall into some commercial hands, as it easily could. I do not want it to become an entertainment centre for man; not a place for weddings, parties, picnics and fairs. I want it to be a sacred grove of permanence where trees, birds and small game shall have the first claim, with man soft-stepping on its walking trails as a mere visitor. I would like it to be a space which curious scholars and enthusiasts study and discover its myriad mysteries in. I’d like it to pull and hold volunteers who will care and defend it. And all the while, Nature will go on doing what it always does: nourish the planet
How easy is that to realise?
When I list the threats to the idea, I find myself thinking up complex arrangements rooted in distrust. And yet, I must have one that secures the property from prowlers. My preoccupation now is to develop a structure that is not a complex maze and yet be a secure workable one.
I am toying with a number of ideas but must soon incorporate them in legal terms. So, this post and others to follow, are to seek your reactions, to point me to leads that’d help me as templates or people who you may know be of assistance. Out of these exchanges might even come volunteers who can help manage pointReturn. Not having a conventional successor has this advantage for me: trust myself unto the world to inherit the space.

My next post in this series will give you the basics on pointReturn as a physical entity.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Permaculture: an interlude

[Repost of an article I wrote in Nov., 2008]
Bill Mollison, 80 years old, toddled up to the blackboard and wrote "You are so lucky. Three teachers!". Then swinging around, he stood, cuddly as a lad, cocking an eyebrow up and smiling the friendliest conspiratorial smile you ever saw.
That kick started the Permaculture Design Course [PDC] in Melbourne, Australia on September 22, 2008.

Monday, 1 January 2018

When lost, find a new start

"Everybody sets out to do something, and everybody does something, but no one does what he sets out to do." - George A. Moore
The woods-to-be, soon after planting out on Nov 15, 2017

When I began the land restoration work at pointReturn in 2006, I had dreamt big. Big dreams get us started, but it’s hard to tell where they might take us.
I dreamt the derelict land would become rich in water and topsoil, that it’d  provide food, water, shelter and energy for 40 people; that it’d be run by volunteers who’d live on it and protect its newly created water bodies and fields; that they would live off the produce and lead frugal lives; that it’d attract and motivate back-to-the-landers.
Well, ten years down the line and pushing 75 now, I find it has evolved in a way all its own.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Why the fear of Yoga?

←This Tweet set me wondering.
I did some researching. Sure, there are many varieties of Yoga out there.
Hot Yoga students do Yoga in hot humid conditions. If you don’t care for that, there’s Beer Yoga which is done while drinking cold beer. There are other kinds, too tiresome to list here or to bother with.
It is clear these have mushroomed, triggered by the vogue word that Yoga has become. This happened to Dosa too, when it became a global darling. There are tens of varieties being invented to excite and attract the bored classes. We best leave this Yoga marketplace to the idle class to study the more curious struggles that Yoga has triggered.
There are now Muslim Yoga and Christian Yoga. The latter is of a lesser interest because Christians, at least in the West, have mostly broken free of any fear of disobedience to a judgmental god. In fact, some of the finest teachers of classical Yoga are to be found among them, having been students under traditional Indian Masters. The question of how the clergy deals with Indian Christians is another matter and I shall return to it later.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Blind to wealth

In 2014, after a two year absence, I returned to actively manage pointReturn. One of the reasons was that the land needed immediate drastic action.
During a visit prior to my return I had stood and stared at the fields overgrown with brush and tall grass.In several places, I had to part my way to enter the tangle. They rose close to my arm pits. It was impossibly thick and prickly in places to even wade through.
I went weak with despair. What has gone wrong? And, why?
That evening -after I had ‘done’ reacting in panic and calmed down- I realised they were wrong questions to be asking.
I was in fact, staring at wealth sent my way. The wealth was biomass to be used to add organic matter to crumbly soil. My task was to harvest and incorporate it into soil.
‘How’ was the correct question to ask.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

A windmill is my Murti

Puja WMill2
[The following article has been republished by]

I have heard it said that if you truly seek an answer to a spiritual question, you’ll invariably come by a Guru’s wisdom. 
This is my story of such a discovery.
For forty of my 75 years, my work has had something or the other to do with the earth, plants and water. I have spent most of that time with rural people who work with their hands. 
Almost daily, I was witness to their Hinduism in actual practice- spontaneously, consistently and without question. Things were done instinctively.
A workman would touch the soil before starting work. They  would start the day after seeking to be blessed by their work tools, be it a trowel, a mattock or a saw. Many would take the first fistful of food to their bowed head before eating. Work on a area was always begun at the North East corner. A peepul tree was never to be cut. Most knew when it was likely to rain, what crop suited the time, when the moon began to wax and when to wane. It was best to sow seeds at amavasya and soon after. Steps in a stairs and pillars in a verandah had to be odd numbered. Most everyone knew basic arrangement of living spaces in a house. And of course, plenty of agreement on what was good to eat, for whom and when.
These and more, I could narrate here but that’s not the point of this article.
What struck me was a great rootedness in the very soil and a connectedness with the space around us. “Religion’ was not something apart that  you go somewhere to practice. It emerged in everything they did. Every practice seemed to be based on a great conviction.
No verse from any book gave them instructions. Their response seemed driven by an unspoken fundamental belief. 
What was it?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

How to spot a Leftitute

#In 1946, Gerald Celente a business consultant in USA, felt impelled to coin the word ’presstitute’. It’s a portmanteau of two rather obvious words. The word remained little used until social media grew in strength, and the word was rediscovered as a very valuable one indeed. It is so handy to call out all the various shades of humbugs in mainstream media.
A group of friends recently discussed the need to coin a word or phrase that is an alternate to the 'Right Wing' label that is thrust on them. No suggestion came up that lit everyone’s eyes. And there the matter ended.

Later this struck me.  Why not just embrace being called Right and invent a word to define the opposing motley crew that comes in many shades? They get called secular, libtard, pseudo-secular, liberal, lib-sec, leftist, regressive left, anti-national  etc. But being the artful dodgers they are, they evade being uniquely branded and get away looking good.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Food growing at pointReturn

On a land where food had never been grown, restoration efforts are beginning to yield some results. Beginning 2010 some modest quantity has been grown, on small patches.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Water bodies at pointReturn

The key to the restoration work at pointReturn, that began in 2006 has been rain water harvesting [RWH]. Between 2007 and 2012 I undertook to create various RWH bodies- these were canals, swales [also known as Continuous Contour Trenches] and ponds.
Below is a table of all of them. Click on image for an enlarged view.