Glimpses of Paradise Lost
Last weekend I was transported into a world not of this age. The 40-acre farm I visited near Mumbai has recently been converted into near-paradise. Only pure love can engineer such a miracle, combined of course with the will of God. God in this case is Krishna whose presence is ubiquitous all over the farm. Paintings of Krishna, the divine cowherd in his different moods, adorn every wall. And cows there are aplenty, (43 in all including bulls and calves) each with an enchanting name given by the lovely lady under whose care they seem bovinely content.
Soft-spoken Latika Malik now in her sixties, migrated from England to make India her home some years ago. She is completely devoted to Lord Krishna and her beautiful animals, for whom she rises at 4 a.m and lovingly tends to their every need. Her husband Prakash is an equally lovable individual whom I met for the first time, but feel I have known him forever. Living off the land, Malik is continually witness to natureâ€™s perennial search for survival, even as it adjusts to the needs of the environment.
For instance, a pipal tree on the farm which normally grows in full length and breadth, wasnâ€™t getting too far because the cows would nibble away its leaves. So, for survival the pipal decided to forget about spreading sideways and shot up vertically into the sky. Thereâ€™s also the example of karvandha plants growing on their own and attaining full bloom wherever, as is the case with several other plant species whose seeds are continually being dispersed by the herd. Malik assists the earth to conserve water during the rains by digging areas close to the well to recharge it. Other crucial areas are also dug up so rainwater doesnâ€™t dissipate downhill.
An IIT-Bombay engineer, Malik chose to retire from corporate life to Roha, Maharashtra, bought this land in the vicinity and over the past ten years has transformed it into an ecological haven. Having worked in a chemical company he knows enough to nurture a chemical-free farm. The more people interface with chemicals in their daily lives, the more they become averse to them. So averse that they never want to have anything to do with chemicals.
On the other hand those who are strangers to chemicals find it difficult to visualise their insidious ill effects. We cannot imagine the real effects of chemical fertilizers mixed into the earth to grow the food we eat or the pesticides liberally sprayed on fruits and vegetables.
Those who worry about chemical content are reassured by manufacturers and advertisers that the amounts used are within limits. Yet, who determines these limits? And are limits imposed without considerations of affordability and profit? Has anyone studied the cumulative effect of small amounts of chemicals over a period of time? And what of the effect on our children whose bodies are much more vulnerable? I am sure the answers to these questions â€” if ever they are given â€” will be revealing. The global spread of cancers, asthmas, low immunity and the like, are in my opinion indicators of the infiltration of chemicals into our lives, our cells, our very genes. Not to mention our lakes, rivers, seas and the air we breathe.
Thatâ€™s why it was so refreshing to meet the Maliks practicing a chemical-free, environment-friendly lifestyle in their suitably christened paradise, the Govardhan Charitable Trust. After a weekend with them, I was mesmerised by the marvel of communion with nature. When I expressed a wish to follow their example, Malik was quick to remind me that they need me in the city to market good, pure produce from farms like theirs.
Yet itâ€™s difficult to forget that I have not enjoyed a meal since returning from their farmhouse. The white butter, ghee, milk, mango icecream (milk and mango from their farm and golden sugar from Conscious Food), raw mango curry, brown rice, pineapple, all tasted so pure. I have no doubt this is because Lord Krishna was ceremoniously offered the food first. Not only was it organic (including the feedstock of the cattle), the calf was not deprived of its motherâ€™s milk to facilitate human consumption. Only the excess milk was used and this ensured no cruelty was imposed upon the animals.
It should hardly be a matter of surprise that the cow is considered sacred in India. Only those who live close to the soil truly understand this. For instance Malik, in league with ayurvedic vaids has patented his panchgavya tablets â€” a preparation of cow ghee, milk, curd, cow dung and cow urine â€” which help to keep our immune system in a high state of preparedness. Besides itâ€™s well known that cow dung is also the best manure for soil, is used as a cooking fuel (gobar gas), and a less known fact is that cow dung is probably the only natural material that keeps all kinds of radiation â€” including nuclear radiation â€” from harming human beings.
The Maliks grieve the fact that immediate convenience seems to be the only measure by which far-reaching decisions are made. For instance the moment a villager can afford it, he will switch from using cow dung as fuel to kerosene. And as his income rises he will convert to gas and electricity. Not to forget the convenience of the refrigerator, which advertising tells us is an essential sine qua non!
Itâ€™s truly surprising that despite our ancient traditions and wealth of knowledge, Indians have allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by western lifestyles and amenities without realising how much they stand to lose. Given their expertise in cattle rearing, the Maliks informed me how the indigenous Lal Sindh breed of cows is extinct in India because it was exported to Australia where people, aware of its unique characteristics, have since been breeding them.
Thereâ€™s more to wealth than money. By this yardstick, the Maliks are probably one of the richest households in the world.
(Kavita Mukhi is a Mumbai-based eco-nutritionist and CEO of Conscious Food)