Summer in Kerala is the season of the amaranth. The fields are full of them, the red amaranth in particular. The red amaranth is my favourite vegetable. When we were children, we didn’t have to buy it. We grew it in our backyards and my aunts had to only pluck them and cook them. I would insist on a meal of just rice and amaranth, refusing the curry because I believed it diluted the taste of the amaranth.
As fields, groves and backyards disappeared off the face of this land, we started buying all the vegetables from the market. Markets that sold amaranths that had been rendered tasteless by the pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on them to keep them fresh and perhaps, everlasting! Those years of home grown vegetables fresh from the garden, became a nostalgic memory, especially for my mother, who in her times, had even witnessed rice being cultivated at home. Our ancestors would perhaps be horrified by what we call development…
In their wildest imagination, they would not have conceived the idea of buying packaged water, pesticide treated vegetables or fruits, and processed, ready-to-eat food.
And so, it was with great excitement that I received this news of home-grown vegetables being sold in the neighbourhood.
Kerala has always demonstrated immense potential at creative and innovative solutions to an existing problem. The Kudumbashree organization that empowers women, particularly housewives, by productively and meaningfully engaging them in the various sectors that can utilize their potential, is a brilliant illustration of such creative thinking.
Kudumbashree is a female-oriented, community-based, poverty reduction project of the Government of Kerala.
The mission aims at the empowerment of women, through forming self-help groups and encouraging their entrepreneurial or other wide range of activities. The purpose of the mission is to ensure that the women should no longer remain as passive recipients of public assistance, but active leaders in women-involved development initiatives. Kudumbashree movement was launched on May 17, 1998.
In 2014, the Agriculture department, in association with the Gram Panchayats and organizations such as the Kudumbashree, set up a project to address the problem of scarcity of vegetables and toxic vegetables unfit for consumption. Thus was born Kudumbashree’s ‘Organic farming project‘.
Joint liability groups of women farmers are formed under the collective farming initiative to help women cultivators access agricultural credit from the banking system.
The Grama Panchayat supports by giving seeds and manure. Agriculture department officials also provide periodic technical support and advise.
Through the Collective Farming programme the twin benefits of poverty eradication food security and financial returns through agriculture and increased agricultural production are sought to be accomplished.
The leadership of women and the effectiveness of collective action are shining examples in Perambra’s sustainable employment initiative. Breaking stereotypes, women also do the harvesting and other male dominated activities. Addressing women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, assured employment, environment and food security has contributed to the success of Kaipram.
It was thus that I dropped in at Shobha’s house, asking for some red amaranth.
‘I’ll just be back‘, she replied and went out of the backdoor.
I waited, and her two children kept me company.
‘Mom will be back shortly. She is plucking the amaranth‘, the boy said to me, as I paced across the verandah.
I couldn’t help thinking how sensitive he was. He was just four years of age.
Shobha got back shortly, with a bunch of fresh red amaranth.
‘Would you have any other vegetables now?‘, I asked her.
‘You can take a look‘, she said.
I followed her to the backyard. I let out an exclamation as I caught sight of her vegetable garden. It was a big square piece of land, and she had transformed it into a green paradise. I was speechless as I took in the snake gourds and bitter gourds hanging off the trellis erected from wooden poles and dried coconut palms. It reminded me of the vineyards from ‘Namukku parkkan munthiri thoppukal‘…
King Solomon’s green paradise.
I walked into the cool shade of the trellis, the gourds hanging about me. That they were so within reach and I could just pluck them was still hard to believe! The climbers had formed a natural roof and I had to pinch myself to believe this was real. The children followed me for they were amused by my obvious excitement. Little did they know the value of what they had. By modern world standards, this was pure luxury that was beyond the reach of most children…
What money could just not buy.
I walked past the climbers and the children showed me the amaranth, rosy and basking in the sun. There were also the little saplings planted in a row, throbbing with new life. The brinjal plants stood in the distance and tender green brinjals nodded gently in the wind.
Beyond that were pumpkins. All I could see was the leaves. We walked up to the plants and moved a few leaves aside. I let out a squeal as I saw two pretty pumpkins nestled inconspicuously beneath the leaves. ‘We will give you the pumpkins for Vishu‘, the girl said to me.
The children were adorable. They were eager to give. They found happiness in the happiness of the people around them.
Perhaps agriculture rears the most beautiful children. For it nurtures the human spirit. It is in the forests and fields that children learn the lessons of sensitivity, empathy, love, selflessness and simplicity. It is here that their eyes open to the true aesthetics of human life. It is here they learn their earliest lessons of happiness and contentment.
‘I shall come back with my camera. I must take pictures’, I said.
Shobha smiled. I waved to the children.
When I went back to take pictures, Shobha shared with me snippets of her life. The events surrounding her mother’s cancer- those impossible moments that chronic care encompasses.
I took pictures. As Shobha walked across this garden she had created on her own, she seemed to belong there. I could see that she derived meaning from this beautiful creation of hers.
I clicked pictures of the children.
‘Please click my mother’s pictures‘, the boy said to me.
‘I have‘, I replied, and showed him the pictures.
‘How did you learn to click?‘, he asked me.
I loved the innocence and admiration in that question. This is how children were in the past.
When I said goodbye to them, there was a deep contentment within me. I deeply admire such women who lead very ordinary lives, and yet carve their own stories of independence and resilience within the framework of the system that confines them.
They create happy families, happy children and a happy world.