Society

These families spent the lockdown at farms, away from the buzz of city life

Shrekanth, Banu, and Aarush

Shrekanth, Banu, and Aarush   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The nomads

While the rest of the world was keeping track of day-to-day COVID-19 cases, Shrekanth RG and his family were foraging for fruit for breakfast at a farm in Pavunjur near Chengalpet, Tamil Nadu. The family of three — including Shrekanth’s wife Banu and nine-year-old son Aarush who is being unschooled — have been spending the lockdown between three farms in Chengalpet, Tiruvallur, and Kanchipuram districts. They have been living off farm produce — sometimes, just fruit for all three meals of the day.

The family has been travelling for two years now, and as Shrekanth puts it, are “wanderers who do not have a home”. They have been to several reserve forests, cities and towns across the country. But lockdown was special because they got to pitch a tent in the middle of a farmland, rise with the sun, eat raw food, and make friends with parakeets and cows.

Aarush, Shrekanth’s son

Aarush, Shrekanth’s son   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“We learned survival skills, spent our days and nights amidst wind and rain… it’s like we were animals in a forest,” says Banu. Shrekanth meanwhile, was converting their host’s farm into a natural food forest. “We made friends with local farmers, who sold us fresh produce,” explains Shrekanth, adding that they learned some valuable lessons along the way.

“We listened to stories from years ago from the locals,” he says. Such as how, during a famine 50 years ago, people in the region depended on the palm tree to feed them through the year.

The family, too, shared their knowledge with people they met. Shrekanth, for instance, showed some farmers how they could make jam out of mangoes that they could not market due to lockdown. Their next stop is a farm too: a 300-acre dry patch in Ramanathapuram that they hope to convert to fertile land.

Watch | These families spent the lockdown away from the buzz of city life
 

Calf love

It was a path he always wanted to take. Thanks to the pandemic, Chennai-based photographer P Panneerselvam made up his mind to relocate to his ancestral farmland in Sooradimangalam village, seven kilometres from Kalpakkam. He and his wife Parvathavarthini Eswaran, an artist, lived in Ekkattuthangal in Chennai during pre-pandemic times. “After the lockdown was announced, we spent 30 days indoors. We do not have a television set at home — we never felt the need for one — so we played indoor games, caught up on news online...we found it difficult to stay cooped up at home. Finally, we decided to pack our bags and move to Sooradimangalam,” explains Panneerselvam.

Parvathavarthini Eswaran

Parvathavarthini Eswaran   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Financially and career-wise, the move did not affect them much, since both of them are freelancers. But the change from a busy city life to one in a quaint village, was dramatic.

“I start my day with cows, and end my day with them,” says the 34-year-old Panneerselvam. His family owns a farmland in the village, on which they grow paddy, ragi, and chillies. There are plenty of chickens to tend to, and 10 cows. Panneerselvam wakes up at 5 am to clean the cow shed and milk the cows. Then there is work at the farm; since they want to cut down on labour costs, Panneerselvam and his father do most of the work.

Parvathavarthini is busy with her art; she sometimes conducts sessions online. The best thing about the move, feels Panneerselvam, is that they get to eat the best kind of food.

“Our eggs come from our own chickens, and we know for sure that they are free range,” he adds. “And with all the work I do, I’ve lost all my flab without hitting the gym.”

Then there are other perks of life on a farm. “Our three-month-old calf has taken a special liking for my wife,” laughs Panneerselvam. “It responds to her instantly, but doesn’t bother much if I call for it.”

Myna goes home

Vinod Jayaprakash did not want his 10-year-old son Kishore spending lockdown glued to a mobile phone or laptop screen. The Chennai-based businessman who makes metal sheets, decided to shift base for three months to his one-and-a-half acre farm near Sriperumbudur. “We moved there along with my friend’s family; they have a 11-year-old daughter,” he explains. Vinod grows apples, oranges, strawberries, papaya, grapes, walnuts, and almonds in the farm. “I would wake up at 5 am every day to water and tend to the plants,” he says. The kids would join him too. “They even prepared a small patch of land and sowed green gram seeds,” he adds.

Vinod’s son Kishore and his friend Vinodhini at their farm

Vinod’s son Kishore and his friend Vinodhini at their farm   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

They vowed not to use their phones much, and as a result, had plenty of time. “We went fishing in a pond nearby; I taught my son to brush his teeth with a neem twig; he played to his heart’s content; ate fruit in place of junk food; bathed in an open water tank…life was good,” says Vinod.

One night after rains, they had a visitor: a myna chick. She was quite frazzled. “The kids took good care of her,” says Vinod. “Once she was better, she flew back to her parents.” The bird taught the children what no online class can teach.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 3:34:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/these-families-spent-the-lockdown-at-farms-away-from-the-buzz-of-city-life/article32571513.ece

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