The beginning of life for a new permaculturist….
Living in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, there is a terrible smog and a mild stench of ammonia in the air. I try to ignore the noise that comes from the various households. People are busy with their morning chores, children are getting ready to go to school and there is a constant sound of buckets being filled and the showers turned on and off in the bathroom blocks. I try again and close my ears to all these and concentrate on some beautiful things….
In the hustle and bustle of the morning in the city, the birds are chirping and the koyal is singing his beautiful song in a lone mango tree that’s swaying in the soft morning breeze. There are sparrows sitting on the window sill waiting for me to fill their bowl of water and the crows are waiting for the occasional roti being offered, again, on the window. I realise, once again, the wonder that is Nature. Even when the trees are smothered in dust and pollution and the breeze brings with it all the toxins from the slums and the factories, mother Nature is all forgiving and offers shelter to the birds and the bees and tries to maintain a balance in the environment. The city has been good to me, for the last so many years, and I also must confess that I am spoilt with the comforts and the luxuries it can offer like having a source of income, a home and a great school for the children, who love it.
And still, there is a crack in the smooth surface that is my life, and a great void that gets bigger and bigger every day. I feel the little tug again, as if something or someone is softly calling me. I have had this feeling for quite some time now. Actually, now that I try to remember, the same feeling has been haunting me occasionally for many, many years — only, till now, I have chosen to ignore it. Slowly, I start to dream of a forest calling me, the trees swaying and singing a song. I can’t ignore it any longer and now, I realise, the sound that I hear is of Nature, calling me to be with her, to nurture her, and to find peace within….
It is because of personal reasons and some silken ties with the city that makes it impossible for me to say goodbye and live like a recluse, far away from the people I hold dear. So, I try to compromise and become the caregiver of this beautiful patch of land we name, Chaitraban. We fell in love with these three beautiful acres, overlooking a body of water, with mountains beyond. It is not too far away, so I can easily get there from the city on weekends. The land had been a pasture and there is a small patch of paddy. We lovingly call it ‘Chaitraban’ — The spring forest.
It is some days later, when the monsoon ends, that we realise how dry the area is and how hot! With no house for shelter and only two trees, with no leaves whatsoever, we decide to rent a small place in the village for the family that takes care of the land when we are away. We are lucky to have lunch ready for us and to have chai in the afternoon. Still there is much work to be done on the land if we need to get it ready before the next monsoon. So, we buy a small tent and camp there. In the summer it is too hot to be cheerful and tempers rise often. The children play in the hot sun and also help with their little hands. There is an occasional panic attack about whether all this is worth it. But we are thankful to have this dream when we go back home to the city. At Chaitraban, we are muddy, hot and perspiring all day. But it is an adventure we all love, and we sing on our way back to the city, planning the day when we return next. We plan and work and camp with the children and it brings us closer than ever, as a family. We realise we are lucky to have this paradise to keep our city children in touch with their roots.
Slowly, the land takes shapes. We hadn’t heard about Permaculture in the early days of this project, and after I did, I realised it could have been a different, but then, we do our best to make a home and a garden with trees full of the fruits we love. It is so hot and dry the first summer that we just go on to plant any green plant and any green tree we can get our hands on. Friends keep giving gifts of plants and we go on planting them! Luckily, we have lots of space to plan for other things later.
In the search for the books that can teach something about soil and gardening to us very ignorant city folk, I stumble upon Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden, and it opens a magical world of Permaculture for me. It is just the answer to so many questions I’ve had lined up for some time now — about soil, about the garden, and about life! For Chaitraban, I learn how important it is to design and plan for the future and how I can retrofit our existing design to make it more sustainable for the years to come. Never mind the mistakes we make, I realise the best thing we have done is to have made a start! I make a list of things to do in the order of priority and start working on it. The list gets longer and life gets more interesting and beautiful!
Now, as I read one book after the other and watch videos about people, real people, doing all those things I dreamt of doing, I slowly feel the big crack in my heart mending as I know I can plant a tree, I can survive and I can have a life with the birds and the bees and the trees and the flowers after all….
As I learn to live closer to nature at Chaitraban, I also learn to try and transform life in the city for the better, rather than running away from it. And real life begins….