Bikers V. Deepan and R. Muthukumar criss cross the country, meet farmers, almost lose their lives and take down notes in between on organic farming. They share their adventures with Subha J Rao

Agitators in Nepal must be wondering what happened to the bikers who they held captive for a few hours. Elderly organic farmers in Punjab and Gujarat must be praying the two men who came to document their way of life have reached home safe. And somewhere in Assam, cooks at a roadside dhaba are probably experimenting with sambar and idli, taught to them by two ‘Madrasi' boys.

V. Deepan and R. Muthukumar set out on their motorcycle odyssey on July 25, 2011, hoping to cover more than 28 States and nearly 40,000 km. When they returned on May 26, 2012, they had visited organic farmers in 23 States in India and some in Nepal and Bhutan.

First-hand account

The plan was simple. Meet people who practise organic farming, stay with them and document their way of life. The two friends met organic activist Nammazhwar and Julie and Vivek Cariappa who showed them it is possible to live a life not dictated by market forces. They met Wayanad-based farmer P.J. Chackochan who markets finished organic produce — jams, pickles, dry fruits, herbal/ayurvedic medicines and Chyawanprash — and a chips seller outside India Gate who rushes back to tend to his farm in Uttar Pradesh six months of the year…

“Almost everyone we met turned out to have some past connection to farming. But, they had all moved on to other jobs,” says Deepan. Muthukumar says that not a single small farmer wants his children to till the land. “Those solely dependant on farming are the worst affected. They will not go organic unless the Government supports them.”

How will they sustain themselves for three years till the land is clear of chemicals, asks Deepan. The ones doing well in the organic way of life are those who have another source of income, they say.

Vivek was a huge inspiration say Muthukumar and Deepan. They intermittently spent more than a month on his self-sufficient farm in H.D. Kote, Karnataka. “We cooked, helped process fresh turmeric, milked the cows… everyone chips in with work on this 40-acre farm,” says Deepan.

The beginning of their landmark journey was not smooth. Nammazhwar told them they would return depressed. “There are not too many traditional farmers. You'll only waste fuel and your energy,” he said. They went ahead nevertheless and met around 200 farmers during their 11-month journey.

In between, they ran out of money and switched to a cycle for the Gujarat-Pune stretch. “If we covered 200 km a day earlier, we hardly did 50 km a day cycling.” That transition also showed them how much extra load they were carrying. “We needed just a change of clothes and a few essential things,” says Muthukumar. They sent back half their stuff.

Most part of their journey was good, but there were some pitfalls. Deepan was hit by high-altitude sickness after they did the Jammu-Sonamarg section in just two days and moved on to Drass, without waiting to acclimatise themselves. Muthu had to send him down to the Army post in Sonamarg for treatment. “I travelled with drunk tourists who insisted I take photos of them even while I was dying to breathe!” recalls Deepan. Muthu admits that was a low point. “As they piled on six sleeping bags on him to keep him warm, Deepan kept saying he would die,” says Muthu.

The duo rode through highways, hills and forests as the seasons changed. For company, they had each other's voice, Ilaiyaraaja's songs and the theme music of Motorcycle Diaries and Winged Migration. “We kept speaking to each other even when we had nothing to say.”

Wherever they went, farmers opened their homes to them, serving them whatever they had. But, after overdosing on potatoes for 11 months, they've temporarily banned their favourite vegetable from the menu. When they returned, the first thing both ate was their favourite arisi paruppu saadham at Muthukumar's home in Tirupur. Deepan headed to Coimbatore.

“We did not speak to each other for 10 days. In fact, I did not even speak to anyone at home for a while. The journey overwhelmed us,” says Deepan. Muthukumar says it was initially difficult to sleep in a concrete space after lying in Nature's lap.

The two are now working hard to come up with a book and two documentaries on the journey.

How did the third member of their party — the souped-up 2006 Royal Enfield — handle the 20,000-km rough ride? “One puncture, just one puncture. Everything worked beautifully. Even the battery. It gave way only after I pulled into the house on May 26,” laughs Deepan, patting the well-worn bike.

What they observed

Sugar cane, paddy and fruits are the most cultivated, organically

Farms located near forests have the most bio-diversity

Pest-eating predators have nearly been wiped out