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Learning agriculture

As a young girl, fresh out of school, I was informed by a “well meaning” random stranger that the subject I had chosen to graduate in, had no future. I was offended, to put it mildly. But I had absolutely no clue how to defend my decision.

I was heading back home by train, after taking admission for a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture. The berth in front of mine was occupied by a middle-age woman accompanied by her daughter, about my age. Casual conversation with the woman revealed that the girl was in the second year of her engineering degree. When asked, I let them know the reason for my travel. The friendly smiles turned into incredulous expressions.

“Agriculture! What are you going to be after you graduate? A farmer!” she couldn’t help exclaiming.

“Maybe you can get admission at my daughter’s college. It is fine if you haven’t qualified in the JEE. Just tell me your score. Your parents can take an education loan and…”

I just looked at her and stopped listening. Here I was, satisfied, and even proud of myself, for securing a scholarship after qualifying in a national-level exam in a subject that interested me. It stuck me how she found it unfathomable that it was possible for someone not to have appeared for the JEE or someone simply not interested in studying engineering. And evidently, for her, being a farmer was not a “respectable profession” for a graduate. One cannot blame her. Most people in urban India have similar ideas. And the present unenviable economic status of a majority of farmers in our country does little to change this popular notion.


My chain of thoughts was interrupted by her questioning eyes. I barely managed to politely decline her offer by presenting my only reason for choosing agriculture.

“I love plants,” I mumbled. She, of course, was not satisfied but it was time for dinner and she busied herself with unpacking her tiffin box. I, on the other hand, was very worried and had a long, sleepless night on the train.

Today, after seven years of that night of anxiety, I am a proud Ph.D. student in plant breeding. I am still asked the same questions by relatives, friends and strangers alike. The difference is, I have an answer today. I have had the opportunity to happily explain to many people about the work that agricultural scientists do.

My co-passenger having mouthfuls of okra and her daughter praising her cooking skills, were conveniently oblivious of the fact that okra has been selectively bred by the efforts of many breeders, pathologists, entomologists and many more scientists to take the shape of the okra that we eat today.

The many resulting varieties have gone through rigorous screening and certifications to reach the farmers’ fields for multiplication before reaching the market and to our kitchens. In the course of my study, I have been inspired by many passionate and meticulous professionals quietly working, away from the limelight, to feed the nation.

I am amazed how most of us have managed to take for granted the food that we are lucky to have on our tables, three times a day. I am myself guilty of not having given it much thought before I was taught about it. Most people in our country would be astounded by the sheer multitude and the extensive network of Indian institutions carrying out agriculture related research work.

It is, of course, apt and imperative to change with the times. We sure need more and more engineers, doctors, lawyers, and space scientists to propel our nation into the future. However, while we applaud another IIT graduate making a mark in the world and making us proud, let us not belittle someone who chooses to be something other than that. And while we celebrate another indigenously built rocket, let us not forget to appreciate something as basic and indispensable as food. A little appreciation, even from random strangers, goes a long way in shaping young minds.

If I am fortunate enough to share another journey with my previous co-passengers in the future, I would like to let them know that no matter how advanced the human race becomes, food will never go out of style.

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Printable version | May 21, 2022 5:57:20 am |