Friends of the organic farmer recollect special moments they shared with him

“Ayya” is how everyone addressed G. Nammalvar, the crusader of Indian organic farming. They also called him the half-naked fakir who walked bare-chested with just a green shawl thrown around his shoulder, and a white dhoti, reminisced Perur Jayaraman. Jayaraman was one of the speakers at a tribute meet organised by the environmental NGO Osai for the organic farmer activist who passed away recently.

Nammalvar stayed at Jayaraman’s home whenever he visited Coimbatore and the two of them have covered hundreds of kms on a moped. “Once we rode till Satyamangalam. We chatted endlessly through the night. He would off to sleep in a matter of five minutes like a child. But, he was always up by 4.30 a.m. Vaanagam, his institution that promoted organic farming at Karur resembled a sea of people on his funeral day. He’s not a politician or a leader, yet he touched people,” recalled an emotional Jeyaram.

Advocate Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal also spoke about his friendship with the scientist. “We had a 30-year age difference! But we respected each other and shared a special bond. I was amazed at his knowledge of laws that protected farmers. He called modern agricultural practices a ‘criminal conspiracy’ against farmers promoted by western companies who introduced Bt seeds. He wanted farmers to be legally empowered. His foresight was amazing. He approached everything from a farmer’s point of view. He wanted us to set up a special team to simplify laws for farmers. We have initiated steps to set up Nammalvar Memorial Centre to fulfil his wish and take his legacy forward.”

Friend of the earth

Another friend, activist V.P. Gunasekaran shared Nammalvar’s thoughts on how salt in urea and fertilizers ate up the soil’s fertility. “He was well-versed with bio-intensive cultivation techniques which prepared the soil in layers of bio-degradable waste for better yield.”

Advocate Mathivanan highlighted the role of Coimbatore in taking Nammalvar’s concept of organic farming ahead. “His book Iyarkkai Velanmai (Part I) came out of his lectures to TNAU students. He emerged as a crusader for environmental issues in the 1970s when wastes from dyeing units devoured soil in places such as Dindigul and Tirupur. He highlighted how the issues affected humanity. We became aware of our soil because of Nammalvar. For him, the fight for environment was fight for humanity. ” At Nammalvar’s request, Mathivanan also worked with the southern chapter of movements such as Chipko and Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Arachalur Selvam fondly recalled his first meeting with Nammalvar in Erode. “No one had seen him. Suddenly, a man who resembled a paradesi with unkempt hair and beard raised his hand and said Nammalvar vandhuttaen. He lived a simple live. His only assets were two manja pais. In one he carried a couple of shirts, dhotis, towels, and dates. In the other pai, he collected seed of dates, sapota and sometimes also banana skin for use as manure in farms. He always washed his own clothes. He fondly accepted colourful shirts when someone gifted them to him. He would also wear them to make them happy.”

At organic farming events, Nammalvar urged his associates to share their experience rather than talk about farming. “He advised us to never backtrack from a project out of fear. To make farmers understand the plundering of their wealth by globalised companies, he came up with a simple term Adavadi economy,” says Selvam.

He never wrote down a number or addresses, he practised memory technique to remember the details and shared it with his friends. Selvam recalled how Nammalvar had a partiality to chakkarai pongal.

Selvam mentioned a train journey to Delhi. “We packed coconut, aval, jaggery, carrot and beetroot. We ate only raw food during the journey. He insisted that uncooked food is always healthy. Once, he was on a diet of tender coconut for 15 days. He believed that when your stomach is fine, your siddham will be good.”