“Here I am in the middle way, Having had twenty years, Twenty years largely wasted… The years of l’entre deux guerres”. TS Eliot’s lines come to mind and it metamorphoses into “Here I am at the end of the way, Having had thirty years, Thirty years largely wasted… The years of les guerres de l’interne”
I am about to reach Sevagram. Came here first in 1982 when I was working with a Gandhian NGO the Association of Sarva seva farms, which worked to rehabilitate landless families which had received Bhoodan (land gift) under the campaign led by Vinoba Bhave, when he walked 40,000 kms over 14 years (1951 to 1965) to appeal to landlords to give some of their land to the landless.
Thirty years…largely wasted? Who can tell? Just emerging raw from the microfinance crisis. A field which was received a Nobel Prize for one of its pioneers, Dr Mohammed Yunus and was widely praised till a year ago is now widely condemned – by people like Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, and the former Reserve Bank of India Governor Dr YV Reddy. What is real? The earlier assessment or the current one? What is real is what the people say.
That is why this Shodh Yatra. An exploration of truth. Unable to match Gandhi, one can at least mimic him. Maybe, exploration will lead to experimentation. So what leads me to begin this journey? A lot is there in the name – Lok Jagaran Yatra was the first formulation – a journey to awaken the people. Then Mahashakti Jagaran Yatra, even stronger, with a Maha pun intended. But on second thoughts, I have dropped both for a simple Shodh Yatra – a search for the truth, the wisdom that lies with the people.
So that is what it is – Shodh Yatra, an extended grassroots enquiry into the lives and livelihoods of poor people. It is a hybrid yatra – I will walk while in a village or a town, stopping by every once in a while to have a dialogue; and drive between habitations. I intend to do this for 60 days over a period of Jan 30, 2011 (today) till April 18, 2011. The beginning date an place are significant to me – today is Gandhiji’s martyrdom day and I am starting from his Ashram in Sevagram, Wardha; near Nagpur in Central India.
My Shodh Yatra will end after 77 days, on April 18, 2011 (Bhoodan Day) at Pochampalli, a village about 50 km from Hyderabad, AP, where Vinoba Bhave started the Bhoodan Movement in 1951. The elapsed days are 75 but as I plan to take 2-3 days off after every 10 days, it is 60 days. At about 80-90 km a day, I expect to cover about 5000 kms in 60 days.
Sevagram Ashram, Wardha
On the first day, I begin with a visit to the Sevagram Ashram. Spent an hour there, first just de-linking with the world, paradoxically by sending SMS’s to several close friends telling them I am beginning my Yatra! But then I settle down in Adi Kutir (Bapu and Ba’s initial cottage, built for Rs 100), absorbing the spiritual ambience of the place, and something comes over me. I stagger to Bapu Kuti and search for the painted board which has the “ekadashi vratas” (the elven vows) and read through them:
- Satya – Truth
- Ahimsa – Non-Violence
- Brhamcharya (Chastity)
- Asteya (Non-possesion)
- Asangrahaya (Non-stealing)
- Sharir Shrama (Bread labour)
- Aswaad (control of palate)
- Nirbhayata (fearlessness)
- Sarva Darma Sambhav (Equality of all religions)
- Swadeshi (The Law of Neighbourhood)
- Asprishyta Nivaran (Removal of untouchability)
I contemplated for a while if I can live up to the Ekadashi Vrata all my life. But at least for these 75 days, I took the vow. I stayed for the 11am prayer since it was Jan 30, but there was none! The Ashram apparently does not observe the 11am moment of silence on Jan 30, which the whole nation does! I then went to the book shop and bought some books – Gandhiji’s autobiography and his Satyagraha in South Africa and Hind Swaraj, all in Hindi. Also Jaya Parakash Narayan’s Total Revolution. Also bought a khadi bed sheet and a khadi towel. And 100 tokens with Gandhiji’s picture, for random distribution. All for about Rs 1000.
Then I began my walk. I partially walked, partially drove and then walked again, to the Gitai Mandir, a campus about 5 kms away, where Gandhiji’s long term associate, business magnate Jamnalal Bajaj lived after retirement in his “Shanti Kutir”. Accompanying me were: Anand Naik, BASIX General Manager for Western Region , Samir Vaidya, State Head, Maharashtra; Dev Kamble, Field Manager (FM) Wardha ; Nivrutti Patil, FM Amravati ; Kedar Shete HR Executive ; Amol Ghonghe AgBDS Executive and Ms Saroj Ambagade, Unit Head Hinganghat
I saw several youngsters drinking tea at a roadside stall, so decided to stop. Asked them if we could talk to them, and once they overcame the initial hesitation, got into a good conversation. (Missed noting names, though photo is attached). One was already employed with the 100 year old Hitavada paper, and the other four were studying – One was studying for a Masters in Social Work (MSW), another after an MSW was pursing masters in mass communications; one was in first year Bachelors in Tele Communications Engg and the last one was in a polytechnic again doing communications. All had modest origins, with one whose father was a labourer, while another’s was a rural doctor in MP. Each had/would spend Rs 2 to 3 lakh before they get their degree and yet no jobs were in sight. When I asked whether they would consider self-employment, they looked at me as if I was joking. “How do we know what to do? Who will give us money to set up our own business or factory”?
Then I turned the talk around to what excited them? One, the BE Telecom, said “Save the Tiger”. I asked him why and he said he was interested in wild life. Had he been to Tadoba or Melghat or Pench, the three tiger reserves nearby? “None, because I have barely heard of them and don’t know how to go there.” I gave him the contact of Kishore Rithe, the Amaravati Nature Conservation Society and invited him to visit our work at Melghat. **Nivrutti Patil to follow up.
By now the others were rapt with attention. The second one, the polytechnic guy, said though his father was a doctor, he was not interested in medicine, so he joined engineering to please his father. I asked he him if he had shown his dad the movie Three Idiots and he laughed. But he said, “I love farming. We have over 20 acres land and I want to farm it properly.” Immediately, we offered agricultural guidance support to him and offered to visit his village. **Amol Ghonghe to follow up.
The two MSWs wanted to become lectures in MSW colleges or join NGOs. I asked them what was the reputation of NGOs and they said, many had a tarnished image, Why? “Because they eat up the benefits that they are supposed to provide to the poor”. I advised them to work in NGOs before joining as lecturers. Offered them an internship in BASIX. ** Kedar Shete to follow up.
The others said – NGOs eat up in the middle just like the government staff do and politicians do. This was an easy opening to ask – would they join politics ? No I will not, said the first, because they are all bad people and do nothing good for the people. But the BE Telecom said we have to find the good people and support them in politics. I asked him how? Would he stand for Sarpanch or Ward member elections in his village/town? He looked at me as if I was joking. We parted by my asking his e-mail id and he saying he does not have one and I said he should andwould he please send me a mail from his new ID?
Gitai Mandir, Wardha
This is a beautiful park with several big trees, with a fence of tall stone slabs, each carrying one sloka from Vinoba’s Gitai, the Marathi traslation of the Bhagwad Gita.
Here we had a meeting with the Wardha Soya and Cotton Producer Co (WSCPC) Ltd, Deoli, Dt Wardha. In response to farmer suicides in Vidarbha, BASIX had proposed a project called Agrarian Sustainability Action Research (AGRASAR) by its non-profit affiliate Indian Grameen Services. Supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT), work began two years ago. Over the last two years, 115 Producers Groups (PGs) spread over 25 villages were formed with 1500 members, incl 680 women. The PGs were of cotton and soybean small and marginal farmers. WSCPC Ltd was registered as a Producers’ Company (a special staus under Indian Companies Act, 1956) after a year of effort on 17th Dec 2010 with a paid up share capital of Rs 90,000. The effort was organised by Ms Saroj Amabgade, Field Executive (FX) of IGS, now promoted as Unit Head of Hinganghat Unit of BSFL.
There are 15 elected Directors, including 3 women. The office bearers are Mr Dilip Fulmali, President ; Mr Umesh Vakil, Secretary +91 98230 57964; and Mr Dhyaneswar Dewane, Treasurer. Milind Kamble (+91 98500 38083 Milind.firstname.lastname@example.org) is the IGS Field Executive (FX) looking after the work now. (see photos) Benefits to farmers – cost reduction thru bulk purchase of seed, fertilisers, agro-chemicals. E.g. On 100 bags of urea, they saved Rs 8500. Soil testing and on-site agronomic practices guidance. Crop (weather index based) insurance organised. Crop loans and agricultural investment loans from BSFL Plans: Work has started on setting up a mini dal mill for processing tur(red gram) which is inter-cropped with cotton. Plan to set up a mini ginning factory with an investment of Rs 100 lakh and a mini solvent extraction plant for soybean oil with Rs 500 lakh.
** Sajeev – I promised comprehensive technical, management and financial support to WSCPC Ltd and I urged the team to make it into one more Koutla-B type of exemplary work in institutional development. Anand Naik and Samir are all for this.
Meeting with Women Borrowers of BSFL – Over 20 woemn from several joint liability groups (JLGs) from Wardha urban and Deoli. All engaged in some small activity like grocery shops; home based food stuff making; garment stitching; one each had a beauty parlour and a photocopy centre. They said health care and education facilities are quite satisfactory for them. Their main concern is steady income. “Home based self employment is not enough. We want BASIX to set up bigger enterprises so we can work there.”
I explained why it is difficult for us to do that but if they come together and set up an enterprise, we will help. I gave the examples of MEADOWs watch making unit set up by MYRADA in Hosur or sanitary napkins and primus stove burners in Kuttambakam near Chennai, by Dr Elango, or the embroidered garments unit by SEWA Trade facilitation Centre in Ahmedabad. I suggested they choose a small group and send them for exposure visit. They can also see units like Tasty Bites in Pune. They were willing to go.
** Sajeev, Rama, Alivelu, Sankar, Gowri, Dr Narayana – In this connection the role of our women LSAs is important. Each has 400 plus customers How do we train them for becoming entrepreneurial mentors for the 5 to 15 percent of their customers who want to set up bigger enterprises?
Shanti Kutir, Wardha
The meeting ended at 2.30 and I decided to take a look at the Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Museum in Shanti Kutir. Wonderful. Bajaj was indeed quite a man. Very good businessman, who served Gandhiji in various ways. He was the Treasurer of Indian National Congress for over 30 years. His house in Wardha, Bajajwadi, was virtually the national guest house since 1933, when Gandhiji moved to Sevagram, “to live at the centre of India, so Indians from all over could come to him more easily”. ( Indeed Wardha/Nagpur are the only places where the Delhi-Madras and the Bombay-Calcutta railway lines cross.)
More importantly, Bajaj helped Gandhiji institutionalise all his efforts for “constructive work” . He successively helped set up the All India Spinners Association and the all india Gramodyog Sangh for promoting khadi and village industries, respectively; the Kushta Nivaran Sangh for serving the leprosy affected; and the Go-Seva Sangh, for service to cattle. Jamnalal Bajaj worked tirelessly to get temples opened to “Harijans”, as Gandhiji used to call the “untouchables”. He worked also to establish democratic government in the Princely States – even to the point where when he was elected as Praja Mandal President for Jaipur State (he hailed from Sikar,which was part of Jaipur State), he had to offer Satyagraha and was physically evicted, bleeding. Died suddenlyat the young age of 53, Bajaj was indeed Gandhiji’s “fifth son”. His widow Janaki devi survived him and continued to support his philanthropic work for decades. The awards instituted in their names by the Bajaj family (now famous for two and three-wheelers), are indeed a way to commerate this rich legacy.
The boys insisted I see the nearby Shanti Supa, a grand monument constructed as recently as 1993 to commemorate the relationship of a Japanese monk who had visited Gandhhiji in 1933 and left him impressed with a prayer for world peace, that is to this day the opening chant in the Ashram payers.
By then it was 3.30 pm and we tried getting lunch but found that as it was Sunday, the only place open was near Sevagram. so there we went for a zunka-bhakar thali, with chhachh and a puran polin at the end. Anand Naik and Samir Vaidya, both Maharashtrians, were a delight to eat this with as they explained each ingredient in detail.
By that time it was 4.30 I decided to postpone the walk to Vinoba Bhave’s Paunar Ashram to tomorrow morning and instead go back to the Sevagram Ashram for the evening prayers. An hour before, the rolls and durries are laid out in the prayer ground in front of Adi Kuti and Ba Kuti, and Ashram inmates come one by one with their portable charkhas, spinning yarn effortlessly from the slivers of cotton that they carry. The spun yarn which is collected on a spindle is then transferred to a rectangular frame which rotates and this makes a hank, which is then deftly twisted using one’s big toe into a plait of yarn. Fascinating to watch.
The payer is led by a man on an Ektara and he ends the sarva dharma (multi-religious) prayers with a very soothing rendition of Vaishnav Jan tu Taine Kahiyeje (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNad7w-aUvs&feature=related ) and Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram,, two of Gandhiji’s favourite bhajans. The prayer ends with a random reading of one or two pages of Gandhiji’s thoughts.
Back to my room by 7pm.
I have plenty of time to start my blog, thanks to detailed instructions by my son Chirag, who also sent me a lovely mail wishing me all the best for the Shodh Yatra. I make a few calls, first one to Savita, my wife, who has “let me go” for the nth time. Then to several work-friends. For all the others, this blog!
One of the things I am hoping to do is to spend no more than the NREGA wage Rs 100 per day on maintaining myself. It will take a few days to get down to that, so its necessary to keep an expense account since the time I got into the train in Hyderabad.
- Bottled water Rs 12
- Peanut packet at 2am (because it was cold in the second class compartment and I had no sheet to cover me) Rs 14
- Tea twice in the morning Rs 10
- Newspaper English and Hindi (becuase it had better coverage of Rahul Gandhi’s Maharashtra trip) Rs 8
- Idli breakfast Rs 25
- Lunch at 3.30 pm Rs 65
Oops – At Rs 134, I blew the Rs 100 limit on the first day. And this does not include the cost of local transport and the room for the night! Must cut some expenses. So I did not ask for bottled water but just “aquaguard” filtered free water. Saved Rs 12! Also skipped dinner, since it fulfils my other vow – no food after sundown.
Its nearly 11 pm. Time to upload!