Traipsing around with a sickle in the middle of a paddy field on a stifling summer’s day with temperatures threatening to touch the 40 degree mark would hardly qualify as a leisurely activity done purely out of choice, for most.
But then there are those such as Harikumar Madhavan Nair, a National Award winning sound engineer, who would wilfully spend every spare day he can get away from his profession, farming at his precious 1.2-acre tract of land at Vellayani.
Unused to the physical exertion demanded by the task of harvesting rice, Mr. Harikumar had to admit being bruised and exhausted in the wake of a marathon session the day before, when he spent seven hours from 10 a.m. in the fields, cutting and bundling together paddy. Even so, he had already targeted a certain section of the field which he would complete harvesting by the end of the day. Wishing for a stray breeze to alleviate the glaring heat of the noonday sun, he acknowledged the strain in maintaining this dual lifestyle, one of a critically acclaimed and highly successful sound recording expert and the other of a farmer whose philosophy rests on the belief in not tampering with natural processes. On April 10, Mr. Harikumar will need to shed his agricultural labourer role and don the engineer one as work, alongside documentary filmmaker, K.R. Manoj, beckons. They had worked together before in the production of, ‘A Pestering Journey’, a film that explored two pesticide tragedies in India and garnered two national awards in 2010 for Best Investigative Film and Best Audiography. K.R. Manoj is working on his debut film ‘Kanyaka Talkies’.
Any brief respite in the middle of production sees Mr. Harikumar rising with the sun everyday and headed to the fields armed and ready, and rarely expectant of the support of the dwindling population of seasoned labourers. The man, whose recent claim to fame is the award he bagged for sound designing at the Imphal International Short Film Festival, has been farming thus for one-and-a-half years.
Fulfilment of a passion he has long harboured alone does not explain his involvement in the backbreaking work despite hectic schedules. Even though he does not consider himself an environmental activist, he certainly speaks of related issues with the zeal of one. “I have watched several documentaries that highlight how misuse of land in the country is one of the biggest problems here and yet barely addressed. Farmer suicides are just one tangent stemming from this subject. We are also growing increasingly dependent upon other States for food resources,” said Mr. Harikumar. He was also concerned about how pervasive practices of mechanised agriculture and reliance on chemical fertilisers have become, gravely harming the economy and health of people in the country. His careful, nurturing practices are not even slightly inimical to the myriad birds that flock to the region or the microorganisms that facilitate natural growth.
So, in his capacity, he seeks to understand those inherent problems plaguing food distribution in India. The strong views he holds have spilled over into his work sphere as well, with most of the films he has been part of bearing obvious influences of such issues.
“One of the main reasons why I work mostly with documentaries and short-films is because I feel we hold a responsibility to respond to such situations that are real and can have a huge impact.
“Regarding my role, in documentaries there is no choice of replacing sound and I specialise in weaving in live sound,” he says.