The best education of all……

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves

- M. K. Gandhi

Sherveroy hills, Yercaud

Sheveroy hills, Yercaud, S. India

Last week, I had the good fortune of visiting a farm on the serene hills of Yercaud, on the Eastern Ghat stretch of hills in Tamil Nadu, southern India. I was on the lookout for essential oils which these hills are famous for, as part of my eternal quest for chemical free alternatives to healing and day to day products. More importantly, I wanted to touch and feel the plants and trees where these oils come from, to understand the origins of many of the things that I normally behold only in a bottle or some other human-made packaging or in a book. I wanted desperately to make that “connection.”

Jaggu Singh at his estate

Jaggu Singh at his estate

Jaggu Singh met us at the entrance to his 20 acre estate. The first thing he did was to ask me to guess his age. I thought he was about 70, when I realised I was way off target. At 82, he was remarkably agile, trudging around his estate effortlessly during the 3 hours we spent with him, right upto one of Yercaud’s many beautiful viewpoints. He jested about his age and claimed that he breathed in 100% oxygen, and we get to take in only 20% in Chennai, thanks to the pollution! A third or fourth generation Rajput migrant from the north west Indian state of Gujarat, his Tamil was remarkably impeccable.

Basil leaves, with pepper vines in the background

Basil leaves, with pepper vines in the background

The three hours with Jaggu were absolutely amazing. In his estate was a veritable treasure trove of medicinal plants and trees, spices, ornamental plants, all interspersed randomly, quite unlike the massive monotony of large plantations that I expected to see. His use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides was minimal.  Lavender jostled with lemon grass. Different varieties of greens grew here and there with gingers and mint. Citradora (Eucalyptus family) trees loomed majestically above, along with silver oak, interspersed with coffee and pepper plants, herbs, ornamental ferns and ivies.

Jaggu’s farm abounded with surprises. He’d stoop down suddenly to clear an overgrowth, and show us a hidden plant underneath. He’d encourage us to pluck and crush a leaf, and take in the splendid aroma it had to offer. He’d goad us to pop in the different greens in our mouths. It was with an enormous sense of wonder and gratitude what we took in what the earth was offering us. With Jaggu’s help, I could make the “connection.”

I had a feeling that apart from the fertile soil and the cool clime of Yercaud, Jaggu’s energy and passion for the land had a lot to do with the lustrous growth. He made and lived the “connection” every day of his life.

Growing up for a few years during middle school in Africa, I had weekly periods of Field Work, literally labouring in the fields which were part of the school premises. It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve done. I remember I’d be given this huge and awfully heavy hoe for about 2 hours to dig around the maize plants, and I had to pull out the stubborn weeds with my bare hands. Some of my classmates would tease me, saying my skills in Maths (at least they perceived me to be good in Maths) were of little use in the fields. Looking back, I feel fortunate I had that education… to see earthworms wriggle in the soil, to feel the blisters in my palms and the wet mud in my fingers, to understand what it takes to grow the many things we take for granted.

The best education of all, is one that reminds us constantly about our intimate kinship with Nature, one that helps us understand that every single thing around us, in our homes, our offices, on the streets, has arisen in some form or other from the earth – the food we eat, the stuff we wear and strut around with, the roofs that shelter us and all the myriad contraptions with which we surround ourselves.

In an urbanised setting, it is easy to lose this kinship with our earth, as our nearest contact with Nature’s products are on a supermarket shelf, most likely in a severely processed form, with a plethora of artificial additives.

When we lose this connection, we lose the respect for our soil, air and water, we become arrogant in our illusion of control over the planet’s resources. We forget our roots. We forget ourselves.

EcoWALK today… and I hope for us to make that connection again. Let’s make a visit to a farm, a field or to one’s own garden more often.….even to that pot on our window-sill, in order to feel the sense of gratitude to the Earth for everything in our lives. If that feeling touches us in any way..we’ve received the best education of all…to appreciate, value and respect Earth for her own sake, as well as for the patient bounties that she offers every day.


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Posted by on Dec 29 2008. Filed under Green Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “The best education of all……”

  1. What a beautiful post Bhavani! Absolutely right, the connection to earth!
    See ya soon!

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