By Yashasvi Desai
“In the beginning of 2020, a close friend of mine had asked me, what would you be doing in your life if you were not afraid? I said, I would be living close to nature, probably in a village set-up. She asked me, what is your fear? I said, I think I am too used to the comfort of city life and I am not sure if I can live without them.”- Yashaswi
Yashaswi, was facilitating empowerment workshops for adolescent girls in small towns and cities of Gujarat and Akshay after working in pharmaceuticals in his mid twenties left his career to search for a right space for him to root himself and grow. They both got married in 2017 to live together a life that was focused inward.
In three years of their marriage, they travelled different places in India and met people who were living off-beat, slow and more self dependent lives. They also travelled together to Israel and US and learnt from different culture and their models of more sustainable and less consumption driven life-styles.
In their search for such space to experiment these learning, they traveled to villages of Gujarat. In the beginning of 2020 they met Jayesh bhai to share about their vision and their search. Jayesh bhai welcomed them with open heart and shared with them about his own life experiences of living in villages of Gujarat. Especially the experiences of him and Anar didi living and serving in the village of Kutchh during the destructive earthquake of 2001.He offered them support by suggesting them to visit Punadara village and live on a farm land that was bought in a memory of his late father Ishwar dada in 2010.
The place was very much a place that the couple had imagined. It was a 2 acre farm on the bank of river Vatrak. On one border of the farm was Raval-vas where families of farmers and vegetable seller lives. Yashaswi and Akshay moved to Punadara in February, 2020. This was a week before Covid-19 pandemic that shut-down the whole country. With lot of support from their neighbors and kids they renovated their house. It was peek summer and heat was a real challenge. As farm still didn’t have many trees that could help to keep the temperature down they both had to experiment different ways to keep the house cool. With the help from kids in village they gathered dry crops from farms around the village to put on the house to keep the metal roof of the house cool in summer. Later, as monsoon approached they decided to grow sesame on farm with natural methods. This was all done with the support from local farmers and their collective knowledge of local land and season. It was then a previous care-taker of the land started to give them hard time by threatening them to not farm on the land as they had been growing grass to feed their cattle for years on the land. It was with lot of conversations and negotiations, they agreed to stop coming to the farm. The whole situation was difficult for the couple but same time helped them to implement the value of using compassionate conversations and coming to peaceful agreements rather than having anger driven approach.
Kids were very happy on the arrival of these two new people in their neighborhood. They also loved watching this 2 acre farm coming to life. Kids made this farm their new hang out place. As Yashaswi and Akshay saw that kids were interested in getting involved in activities at farm, they slowly started to introduce fun-learning activities to them. They were introduced with Wanghari Mathai’s life mission for trees and environment and Chipko movement through videos and stories. Later, each kid took responsibility to look after one tree in the farm where they daily water that tree, talk with them and give them love.
Kids were also involved in making a herbal-bed and cucumber-bed. Recently a first cucumber grew on their cucumber-bed and with lot of joy they are now harvesting one cucumber every other day. Kids were also part of whole process of growing fruit and vegetable crops on farm, such as mango, chiku, custard apple, Indian barriers, lady finger, pomegranate, coconut and guava. Kids also planted 280 plants of Gliricidia Sepiam on the boundaries of the farm which is considered to be very high on adding nitrogen to the land and also used as fodder and green manure for the soil/a sustainable option to revive the soil. They both actively spread the message of cultivating crops with natural methods, avoiding the use of pesticides and its harmful effects on body and environment with their neighbor farmers.
Kids now come to them for afternoon study class. They have recently started evening prayer with them. As their friend got to know about their work in Punadara, couple received donated clothes, sports and educational games which were distributed among kids in village. They also contributed to the village during Covid-19 lockdown though art-kits distribution to kids, home-made sweet Sukhadi to villagers. They also arranged prayer-sharing and snack for girls during Gauri Vrat fasting. Their intentions for upcoming month is to arrange a photography and digital camera skills workshop with kids, art and craft and healthy cooking session with women and kids as well as meditation and thoughtful reading and reflection session with kids.