Reclaiming one’s identity

Reclaiming one’s identity

Why would anyone let go of a cushy government job in the state liquor department? Think of the perks! That too to take up farming. It becomes all the more intriguing, when one can do both — have a government job and farm as well.

Shashidhar thought differently. A farmer from Gauribidnur, a town located 75 km from Bangalore, he cultivates betel-nut, ragi, maize, vegetables, some fruit trees, and flowers on 8- acres of his family farmland. He sells the betel-nut and flowers, while the rest is for home consumption. Currently, he has cultivated kanakambara ( a popular flower in south-India) on 1 acre from which he harvests around 10 kg flowers every alternate day. So 3-4 times a week he gets into a KSRTC bus from Gauribidnur at around 1 am and reaches KR Market by 3 am to sell his produce. For the unaware, Krishna Rajendra (KR) Market or City Market, as it is popularly known, is a wholesale market for fruits, spices, and other commodities and is also Asia’s biggest flower market.

But Shashidhar wasn’t always into farming. At least not full-time. He and his brothers used to help out their father as kids and continued to do that even after they all landed jobs. His older brother is a teacher while his younger brother is a KSRTC bus conductor. He too had a job in the government liquor department and was posted in Bangalore, which he gave up to become a farmer. Though the three brothers live together, it’s he who manages the farm.

I ask, wasn’t the government job better? Almost reluctantly, he says, “Selling liquor was not a good job. I did not want to earn the hate of so many people. Is that even a job? It’s akin to selling poison.”

To him, there is no work more honorable than being a farmer.

Tending to the earth, making things grow. He lists out the advantages of staying back in the village and tells me that I should visit his farm, for more than the wholesale market the farm-gate is where the real action is. While showing me the pictures of his farm on his phone, he comes across a picture of his son who studies in 5th grade — milking a cow.

Proudly he tells me, “We wake up our kids by 5 am so that they can milk the cows and learn to take care of the farm. We are farmers, we need to be connected to the soil. We cannot let go of our identity.” Shashidhar hopes his son will study agriculture, maybe at GKVK ( College of Agriculture), and give back to the land that nourishes all of us. His enthusiasm is so infectious, I forget we are chatting in the middle of the crowded City Market.

A very pleasant and chatty person, Shashidhar’s demeanour can lead one to believe that he is easy-going and laid back. But not only is he articulate and clearly a progressive farmer, he rattles off the various technological advances in farming, he is also a shrewd businessman. Even when speaking to me he has one watchful eye over the two young boys who are selling his produce.

Even after these years, more than 20 years now, Shashidhar makes it a point to come to the market himself. He doesn’t mind the 4 hour commute, and having to stay back in the market till the entire produce is sold. He knows the perils of simply sending across the flowers through someone else to the market. It’s after all a question of profit or loss in his business.

In the middle of our conversation, he instructs the two boys to go slow on the sale. He explains to me, “The sale is pretty dull today for a Sunday. But I know it will pick up in an hour or so. I want some produce to be available then.” I am impressed.

One of the boys ask me, where do I stay in Bangalore. When I reply — near Rajanukunte, he says, “That’s very close to my village — Doddaballapur. Madam, can you find jobs for 5–6 young boys who have completed SSLC and PUC?” I don’t know what to tell him. I mumble a huh huh.

Suddenly, the full import of what Shashidhar has done hits me. These days all we hear is about youngsters wanting a government job, and the talk about moving people away from agriculture to other areas.

And here’s a person who gave up a government job because he felt that it was morally wrong to sell liquor!

The Next Generation

When Shashidhar steps away to answer a phone call, a younger person who was listening to our conversation starts talking to me. Harish’s grandfather and Shashidhar’s father were brothers, so that makes him Shashidhar’s nephew. Harish too used to grow flowers on his 2-acre land in Gauribidnur but now is a cab driver in Bangalore.

Harish has completed an electrical course from ITI and for some time did odd jobs as an electrician. After a stint with Ola, which he refers to as a bad decision, he has gone solo, as a cab driver. He is doing well for himself, but longs to get back to farming. He agrees with most of the things that his uncle has said so far, especially about farming being their identity. At the same time he’s all too familiar with ground realities to make the switch. Right now, his land has been leased out for farming. His parents are here in Bangalore with him.

He tells me, “Floriculture is lucrative, unlike growing vegetables. It’s not like tomato that customers complain about price fluctuations. Will you not have flowers for your daughter’s wedding, if the price is high?” When I ask him about competition from exotic flower varieties, he retorts that everything can be cultivated in Gauribidnur. “People are growing delicate varieties in a polyhouse, all one needs is the money to invest in the technology.”

But… he trails off. “Water is the main issue.” All farmers have seen a steady decline in yields over the past decade. 15 years ago when Harish was a young boy, his land used to yield 25 kg/ acre of kanakambara flowers. Now it’s just 10 kg. Rains have decreased, everyone has to depend on borewells. For a small farmer with the high cost of inputs, making money from farming alone is impossible.

He tells me, “The solution is not giving up on my land and getting into something else. I need to make it work. We used to grow shamantige (chrysanthemum) and sugandharaja (tuberose). I used to come to the market daily. I miss it all. I don’t like driving a cab. I am doing it only to save up money. I have a plan. In a few years I will get back to farming.”

I couldn’t help but wish that life comes a full circle for Harish and he does find a way to get back to farming.

As I make my way out of the market, I take in the sights around me — a sea of coloured flowers, people haggling over prices, the narrow crowded lanes. I dislike chaos. I prefer order and predictability. On that day, the milling crowd did not bother me.

Oblivious to everything around me, my mind was in a conundrum of its own. The questions I wasn’t ready to answer yet, were: What is my identity? Who do I want my future self to be?

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