V. Deepan and R. Muthukumar aim to document organic farming through the length and breadth of the country. Subha J Rao meets them on the first phase of their journey
Buddies V. Deepan and R. Muthukumar first met as classmates at Plato's Academy, Tirupur. Even then, the teens decided they would not live a routine life — learning, earning and saving for a future. Instead, they would experience it to the fullest, every single day.
But, after college, they ended up on the bandwagon too — Deepan was a popular radio jockey with Hello FM and Muthu was climbing ladders in the IT industry, in the Big Apple. But, they paused, rewound to the promise they had made themselves, and set out to fulfil it.
An inspired journey
It would be a bike journey across India, they decided. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (a biopic about the 1952 bike expedition of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado), and “Winged Migration” (which showcased birds' journeys) inspired Deepan. He was also fascinated by organic farming, and the lifestyle of tribals and their farming practices, so he worked the journey around this concept. Goan environmentalist Claude Alvares' book that listed India's organic farmers was his guide.
Muthu, who says, “I was falling into a loop. I felt like a machine. I wanted to live”, was game for the odyssey, expected to last two years. Their friend Gladies Selvakumar helped by putting them in touch with people who could help the project, and by lending moral support.
By the time they set out on July 25, 2011 at 8.30 a.m. from Coimbatore, the project had cost them close to Rs. 8 lakh. They have equipped themselves with a Dell laptop, a Canon 7D, Sony high-definition handycam, a tent, and their companion through the trip — a souped-up 2006 Royal Enfield. “Except the petrol tank and engine, everything else is new. ‘Bullet' Mohan, known for his skillful work, ensured our vehicle is road-worthy,” says Deepan, who dipped into his savings for this project. His wife Vinitha and Muthu chipped in too. Other friends have promised help along the journey.
Deepan and Muthu decided to cover 28 States, spend at least a fortnight in each one, visit organic farmers, and document their way of life. They will cover nearly 40,000 km, across hills and vales, jungles and streams, with 100-kg backpacks in tow.
Nearly two weeks into their trip, the friends have visited farms in Pollachi, Udumalpet, Mettupalayam, Gobichettipalayam, Sathyamnagalam, Namakkal, Karur and Trichy, documenting unique organic farming practices. Muthu and Deepan, who normally ride from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., don't travel with a fixed plan. “That'll defeat our very purpose, no?” laughs Deepan. “We want to live with farmers, and experience their life.” Which is why they don't have a budget for food and accommodation — “farmers are magnanimous. They happily share their home and hearth with us.” However, for the odd rainy day, they do carry a tent.
“By 7 p.m., we decide where to shack up for the day. After a dinner of fruits, we compile the data gathered. We are up at dawn to accompany the farmer,” shares Deepan. Once they park at a place, they use the local transport. “That's how we can see the local lifestyle, record people's conversations, their thoughts…” he explains.
They've met renowned organic farmers such as Madhu Ramakrishnan, Sundararaman and Navaneethakrishnan. “I felt like a child holding on to his granddad's hand and exploring Nature when I walked on the farm with Ramakrishnan Sir,” Deepan reminisces. Up next is a meeting with revered organic activist Nammalvar.
Romanticising the journey is easy, but how hard is it for city slickers to give up creature comforts? “Is it such a big deal?” asks Muthu. “Where else can you get this feeling of space, and the peace that comes from knowing you've not harmed the environment? What is comfort, anyway? Sleep conquers us when we want to rest.”
During the course of their journey, the duo discovered that organic farmers were not a minority. “There are so many of them out there, but they are not aware of each other's existence and experience. If only they all came together and shared techniques, the world will be a better place,” says Deepan.
Among the inspiring people they've met are Gunasekaran and Raghunath. In his “self-reliant” farm near Pollachi, Gunasekaran grows kambu, ragi, cholam, pepper, vegetables and fruits. Only the excess produce is sold at the market.
In Alandurai, Raghunath raises vegetables and fruits. To help him with any sudden financial emergency are valuable savukku and maravembu trees. It is these stories that Deepan and Muthu want to share with the world. “Especially because, what many people practise now is not really agri-‘culture'; it is agri-‘business'. Everything is measured by money.”
After the trip, the friends want to bring out a reference manual to link all organic farmers, as also a documentary of their life-changing journey.
Their dream? That they get to set up an organic commune on the lines of the Tibetan settlement near Thimbam Ghats; where life is in consonance with Nature.
The duo will visit Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Ladakh (J&K), among others. Between them, they speak English, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi, but need a local host in some States to help them around
Mail them at travelalong.vd @gmail.com or call 89036-62071 or 89036-18460
Follow them on www.facebook.com/deepan.velusamy & www.facebook.com/muthukem