Farm to City… to Farm

by thetanvi

On the farm I got involved with helping edit the book on seeds, Carrie’s research project (interviews & lit review) on Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution, and helping put together the Seed sovereignty Course.  I was finding out lots about how Navdanya worked, how the farm ran, and learning a lot from amazing people.  I got in touch with the new intern coordinator, Matt, who let me know that in order to help out with the GMO conference, as I had agreed to do during the internship, I should go to the main office in Delhi.  It was nice to find out that there were 3 other interns already sharing a flat in walking distance of the office in Delhi, and I could stay there with them, which lessened my reluctance to work from the city.  So I booked train tickets (a unnecessarily long, complicated process with a ridiculous travel agent) for myself and Nuri, a sweet and brilliant Korean girl who was also 22 (young compared to most of the other volunteers) studying in Japan.  Nuri was hoping for her internship to be more involved and ambitious and was also restless with the slow pace and disconnection from Navdanya’s campaigns at Bija (translation: the place of learning of earth/seed). 

When we arrived in Delhi(after a departing at 3am for our 8 hour train ride and then an hour on the bus and walking around in the hot sun with our luggage trying to find it) we were somewhat surprised to find the interns were loaded with tons of assignments and excited for our help, and we were so excited to feel needed at last.  So in the week leading up to the conference we were doing research and writing and getting filled in on the current political landscape and initiatives.  And during the weekend we explored Delhi- spent some time at the Red Fort, various markets, and a few classical Indian music performances at the Delhi University & we caught the end of one at the India International Center or India Habitat Center… we had to take two rickshaws from the metro* to the show so we were separated. One rickshaw driver gave us a reasonable rate and we got to our destination within a couple minutes.  The driver our friends had agreed to go by the fixed rate with the meter (as is actually legally required), and then proceeded to drive around for 30 minutes an extremely roundabout route.  Confused about their whereabouts we waited by one (of 3) entrance, realized there was another entrance and checked there, split up even smaller to check out an art exhibition while someone was waiting for our friends, and then finally all somehow met up at the entrance to the auditorium where the musical performance was going on.  It was absurd, and I missed cell phones a bit.  Though I was sick of my own mobile ringing off the hook throughout my time in India.  It’s nice to be loved but it’s irritating for it to be shown through annoyingly pointless calls.  Glad for people to care but I was generally busy and distracted and stressed by the incessant interruptions and the awk questions I didn’t want to answer.  I need to work on my patience, tolerance, inner peace… and the strength and willpower to hurt and cut off crazy disillusioned people.

We were living and working in the posh and pretentious gated area of Haaz Khaus- that is ironically overrun by packs of wild dogs at night- in an extravagantly spacious and beautiful marble apartment that once housed the restaurant, but now serves as a elegantly furnished Navdanya guesthouse.  It was nice to have our own kitchen and to choose and prepare our own meals.  Back at the beautiful relaxing farm meals would come on the dot at the same time and almost same composition with the ringing of the gong hanging outside the dining hall.  At first we shared our meals in the kitchen with the farm/kitchen staff, sitting together in a circle on the floor. When there were visitors the volunteers would end up segregated into the dining hall, enjoying the new variety of dishes served- on such occasions I generally carried my thali outside to picnic by the mandala shaped garden and watertank/gazebo adjacent to the dining hall, fields, and dormitory.  The food came straight from the field and I would sometimes find a way to help out with the harvest or prep of the veggies. But I was talking about Delhi.  We got food from the basement of our apartment building… which also happened to be the storage place from which distribution of Navdanya’s network of organic growers produce was delivered to households which registered for a weekly supply of veggies.  The fruit was very different from the small naturally disfigured fruit I bought north in Dehradun. No, down in Delhi the fruit was large, perfectly round, imported and stickered… quite unnatural less fresh and tasty.  I was able to reach a lower price than my foreign friends by bargaining using 1. my indian face 2. a glare to explain my lack of vocal contribution to the negotiations 3. the few hindi words I knew as a pretense for knowing what I was talking about.

The two young women I was staying with in Delhi were darling and brilliant and great- of course Navdanya is a magnet for my kindred spirits.  The two enlightened compassionate young men that were staying in the flat and interning with Navdanya were incredible cooks, and very health aware, as well as creative and inspired- they reminded me of the two people who first swept me into the environmental and healthy eating craze I’ve been falling into since my junior year of college.  It was wonderful to encounter males as gentle and welcoming as them, since valentines weekend, which was right before I arrived in Delhi, I had gone on a weekend trip with a guy who thought it was perfectly accpetable and hilarious to act condescending, cynical, critical, chauvinistic, who drove me crazy.  We had a good time but we were at odds and I found myself more argumentative, insulting, and sarcastic than I wanted to be.  most of the other people i encountered through navdanya were thankfully really positive and hopeful, he however was not one to have such attitudes but i find it constructive to have discussions with people I disagree with. 

So its mid-february and I’m in Delhi and we are having an international conference on 20 years of the gmo-free movement. There are various ‘GMO free zones’ throughout the world. GMO is the acronym used for genetically engineered foods. I’ll post more on gmo in a bit. For now, I’ll just talk about the conference.  The room was packed, a long conference table quite surrounded with people and video cameras.  Various speakers from around the world gave a number of views on the topics.  Some were scientists, some farmers, some politicians, some activists.  All were quite relevant, many were moving and fascinating.  I was still sick, unable to perform the duty of herding people back into the room after the tea and lunch breaks which was commented on by my hero which did jab… but anyway I was able to help out a bit by running the laptop for the powerpoint presentations, and decorating the room with the banner and baskets of eggplant.  The decision on Bt Brinjal (genetically engineered eggplant) had been passed only a couple weeks earlier. 

(two weeks earlier) I was sitting on the floor of the empty dark lecture hall trying to get a grasp on a rhythm on the doloks and harmonium, two local instruments.  Jeet-ji had given up on his music lesson to me- his expertise in medicinal herbs and music a direct result of the entrenched culture in his village in the Himalayan mountains after he had given up on me he was watching the news as the other volunteers remained outside conversing under an awning protected from the rain, huddled around the nightly fire that marked the cold nights earlier in the season.  The news was in Hindi and I hadn’t picked up enough to follow along but the subtitles ran headlines in english and thus I ended up hearing the latest news- the minister of the environment had placed a moratorium on the Bt Brinjal. Bt Brinjal(egglant) is genetically engineered with the Bt toxic pesticide so it emits it from every cell continuously.  The only other genetically engineered plant growing in India is cotton, which has failed (bollguard) to survive the pests it was designed to and led to major crop failures.  The scientific uncertainty and hazards to environmental and human heath held back the decision.  Phazed, the day before our conference, the following law was proposed to parliament: any Indian citizen to voice any criticisms to GMOs to be thrown in jail for doing so. ABSURD.

As things moved along, and to add to the confusion, there came a report that If the Ministry of Science and Technology has its way, criticising genetically-modified (GM) products could land you in jail. An Indian citizen who questions the safety of any GM food or medicine could be put behind bars for a minimum period of six months under a new law proposed by the ministry on the grounds of misleading the public (14). That, surely, is an interesting and novel way for a democracy to resolve what ought to be a technical issue.

Many of the interesting and brilliant speakers and attendees at the conference traveled up to the farm from delhi for the seed course where i got to know them even better and lend a hand.

*Delhi is building an amazing metro that beats out london, new york city, dc, san francisco and all the underground subways i’ve ever been on.  This one is ridiculously nice, and brand spanking new, security lines get long at rush hour though. But only for men, cause generally, women are not expected to be leaving their homes to be traveling about the city, and for most cases this is true.  I went on my own to a fascinating meeting of concerned Delhi-ites on Operation Greenhunt and wandered about alone trying to find my way… it took me a good half hour to find a building when I was within a block of it because of the insane layout of streets and buildings and a confusing barricade placed in a ‘road’ by a temple that threw me off. As I was leaving the meeting early to meet my cousin who was in town, a guy around my age followed me out and started asking me where I was from etc.  Which generally doesn’t happen as much in India as it does in the US I thought, it might be a phenomenon that goes with being out and about alone, which I didn’t do too much in India.