I loved staying with you and the dogs and playing with the toys.
Jonas aged 8, Switzerland
A very welcome break from the crazy world of India – wonderful house, food and hospitality. Thank you so much.
Katie Buxton, Bath, UK
I loved seeing the crocodiles, and I learned a lot about deticking the puppies. Coming to the farm was a great experience.
Stella Bartholet, Washington, USA
Peaceful and quiet. By the time you leave us we expect you will be rejuvenated. There is much to keep one occupied on the farm, when not exploring beyond. Birdwatching is one of them (See Birdlife).
If reading is one of your pastimes, we have a well-stocked library for all ages to choose from. You can relax in the garden or on one of the verandahs and while away the hours as you soak-up the sun. We have even arranged yoga classes on the farm for our guests.
Why not learn about the local farming methods and local social customs as you watch the cows being hand milked.
For those of you who had an unusually wet October you will be pleased to hear that we had no rain at all. The temperature began to cool down and a minimum of 21oC at night had become 17oC by the end of the month.
The germination of the mustard had been patchy and in the Tonk region to the north farmers had to re-sow or plough the mustard in and plant wheat. We started to water our mustard from 21st and scattered more seed in the bare patches. It will eventually catch up by harvest time in March.
We continued to water the rice at night and the mustard during the day as it can easily be over watered. The rice had its last watering by the middle of the month and the weight of the grain was starting to cause it to fall over. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between nilgai and pig damage and heavy seed heads being the cause.
Our termite battle continued. The room that had had the wooden door jamb and drawers stripped out of it was decorated while Vijay was away in Scotland gliding at the Deeside Gliding Club and spending time with our grandchildren on Glen Tanar Estate. The termites were found to have been coming up through the drawing room floor as well and nibbling the wooden structure of one of our comfortable armchairs. It is now on the south verandah for Doosra (one of our dogs).
As the monsoon was over we bought a trolley load of peeli mitti, which means yellow soil and is mixed with gobar (cow manure) to form the leepna which we spread on our paths. Shyam, wife of the man who looks after our cows, laid the new coating each evening after returning from work.
The women arrived on 31st October to start hand cutting the rice. Here clean drinking water is brought straight from our well for the team. Clean drinking water is essential to life and as I write this the people of Gaza are deliberately being denied water, food, electricity, fuel and basic human necessities in full view of the world. India’s policy is to support Israel in its fight against terrorists and while the Global South is united in sharing its anger about the situation, India is unusually quiet and disengaged.
A main issue of concern in October was our oldest dog Tigger’s health. He had stopped eating and was getting weaker and weaker. The new competent private vet, as opposed to the free government vets we had consulted before, tested Tigger’s blood and heart including an ECG and was able to tell us that Tigger had tick fever, anaemia, low platelets, cataracts and arthritis, but the best set of teeth for a 14 year old he had seen in a long time. He was on antibiotics for over 20 days and with a diet of meat and cream he recovered and started being vocal again. When Vijay was in Scotland however, the other two dogs sensed an opportunity and attacked him by the throat. That put him back and made him vomit with anxiety. He had to be accompanied when outside and needed help getting up for a couple of days. The worry is what will happen when he can no longer get up and walk outside.
The Rajasthan state elections are coming up on November 25th and the police are stopping and searching vehicles at check points looking for cash and alcohol used to bribe the voters. I was stopped and had to get out while my Honda Brio was searched. Now they recognise me and wave.
And as for Bardhi Bai, it seems that she will have to get her Aadhar card changed so that her father’s name appears on it and not her son’s. This may be possible in the local e-Mitra (electronic friend) or she may have to take time off and go to Kota’s Aadhar regional office. I will wait until after Diwali to tell her.
September was a month of termites and mustard. We had waited until after the worst of the monsoon before tackling the termite problem. The first stage was to take out the wooden door jamb and replace it with a stone one. The plywood cupboards were removed and all wooden strips and pegs. The fitted desk and drawers were ripped out and the amazing amount of contents within stored in plastic tubs.
One method of tackling termites we had heard about was to capture the queen and then dispose of it. We decided to try it out. Three matkas were bought and holes made in them (using my best French sabatier knife I notice!). Sugna, our maid, comes from a family of potters and was confident that she could make small round holes in matkas and she did it. The matkas were then filled with cotton seed cake (which we feed to our cows) and buried. The theory is that the queen will take up residence within a month and the whole colony can be removed. We will see.
There had been very little rain in August but it did rain on 12 days in September and soaked the ground enough to sow the mustard. We bought Pioneer hybrid seed this year at Rs.800/kg. By the end of the month approximately 29 bighas had been sown with mustard. The submersible pumps were running continuously to water the rice.
Kota’s bid for fame is a massive Riverfront Project which had cost over Rs.1400 crores and which involved building 26 different styles of ghats and replicas of the Red Fort in Delhi amongst other buildings on both sides of the River Chambal downstream of the barrage for over three kilometers. There are legal questions hanging over its existence so the Chief Minister avoided coming to the grand opening and it was inaugurated in the rain on 12th September. A week later 13 gates of the barrage had to be opened because of heavy rain further upstream and some of the facing stones were washed away as the project facade disappeared under water. Access to the riverside is said to cost Rs.200 a head and booking has to be online. A maximum of 5000 a day are allowed free registration - probably until after the elections on 25th November.
Another long term project that began in September was the re-surfacing of our tarmac road and the concretisation of the section through Umedganj village, separating us from our usual access to the canal road.
On 19th September JCB’ started destroying the current surface and dumping it along the sides. It is not clear if this surface material will be removed.
The Riverfront Project and electoral freebies have to be financed and one major source of income for the state government is duty on petrol. The other is tax on alcohol. Around 14th September the petrol pumps went on strike for three days over the high taxes on oil products in Rajasthan. Only when I went to Gujarat did I find that petrol costs Rs.96/litre there and in Harayan it is even cheaper. In Rajasthan it is Rs. 108/litre so trucks drive through Rajasthan without refuelling, not surprisingly, and the petroleum dealers are upset.
Tigger, the oldest of our three dogs was getting weaker and weaker and refused to eat. He did not have the energy to wag his tail or bark but walked a short distance around the farm. He is heading for his 14th in October.
The Bardhi Bai saga continues with officialdom having found yet another area of confusion to exploit. She states the name of her father on forms when requested but lives with her son who is a different person. Forms never ask for son’s name, only father and husband’s. She is an elderly widow and of course she lives with her son! Each month we hope for a resolution and for her Provident Fund money to be paid to her and each time they come up with something else....
The main story for August was the lack of rain. Less than 3 cms. fell in the entire month with rain being recorded on the farm on only seven different days. This was said to be the driest August since 1905. The worst drought had been in 1899 when only 15" or 33 cms. had fallen in the entire year with 7" or 15.4 cms. falling on 8th July, 1899 and "thereafter not one drop of rain fell". The fields were too dry to sow and much of the grain that was harvested was whisked away on the new railway line. In 1905 there was another drought and the unemployed and needy were put to work on the Nagda-Mathura and Kotah-Baran railway routes. None of the regular droughts were ascribed to man made climatic change!
The agricultural potential of this area has been improved dramatically by the barrage across the River Chambal and a network of main canals and minors across a large ‘Command Area’. Good rainfall in the Chambal’s catchment area in Madhya Pradesh means that the canal could run in August so the farmers could irrigate their soya bean and the ground was recharged so rice farmers could continue to pump ground water day and night.
At the beginning of August we were experiencing a normal monsoon and the cows could enjoy grazing in this field of grass and urad grown for green manuring. You can see the young rice in the fields beyond.
A team of eleven women came for 81/2 consecutive days and hand weeded the rice. They earned Rs. 250 a day for about 51/2 hours work plus an hour for lunch which they brought with them. They would arrive before 10.00am having walked 1.5 km. from the village and would change from saris into clothes they could weed in.
On 7th August an unknown kabari wallah named Lala appeared and we sold 35 kgs. of newspaper to him at Rs. 10/kg. He took most of our plastic but refused the glass bottles. This is a sorry state of affairs when glass cannot be recycled as it is much easier to make new glass. I don’t know what to do with our glass bottle collection. I wonder what happens to all the glass bottles thrown into bottle banks in Europe and the UK? The eleven women weeders line up very nicely for this photograph.
15th August, Independence Day, was a normal working day for the women and Vijay put up the Indian flag on our roof as part of the national campaign ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ or ‘On Every House the Tri-colour’. One woman rejoined the weeding team, having come back safely from a family pilgrimage to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine 5,200’ up in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a direct train from Kota that takes 17 hours and then the last 13 kms. are covered on foot or on ponies or palanquins. A ropeway will be finished soon. The rich take helicopters. Kamala and ten family members, carrying a young girl between them, walked barefoot in the rain "A whole day and a whole night" as she remembered. Over nine million pilgrims visit Vaishno Devi a year.
An ongoing saga that is taking indefinite time is trying to get Bardhi Bai’s provident fund for her out of the system. Another document has been submitted and I am still pursuing for a successful outcome.
One outstanding matter that has been resolved is re-registering the Maruti Gypsy. When bought in 1991, there was a lifetime registration fee for the original owner. Since then we as second owners have to re-register it every five years as per current law. We had not realised that the last five-year period had expired in March 2022 which resulted in a monthly penalty since then of Rs. 500 per month plus a hefty fee to an agent to expedite re-registration. The Gypsy needed a new exhaust system, brakes and a hood, but the alternative was scrapping it which would have been painful for "Gypsy Madam".
And August ended on a ‘Blue Moon’ note with a second full moon happening in the same month which is a rare event. India also successfully landed Chandrayaan-3 on the unseen from Earth far side of the moon at the south pole, being the first country ever to do so. Within hours it had discovered that although the temperature at the surface is 50oC, only 8.2 cms. underneath the surface the temperature is -10oC. An unexpected finding and the first of many.
July is the rice planting month and adequate rain is key. There had been nearly 15 cms. of rain in June which is unusual so the fields were too wet to plough and prepare for rice and green manure. Before floodiing a rice field you have to prepare the dolis by tractor and we couldn’t do this until the 7th when we just got them done in time before heavy rain.
It rained on 17 different days in July but never very heavily and was well spread out giving a total of 18.6 cms. The birds love flooded fields after the dryness of summer and all sorts of goodies must appear at the surface to be eaten. The farm goes from dry brown to verdant green in two weeks and it is very humid and hot in the mid-thirties. Rain had been pouring through our ceiling but we identified the problem and dealt with it.
On 4th and 5th July some dhaincha was broadcast and some urad as green manure. Once the dolis or soil ridges were made for irrigation control the tractor could guddle and break up the fine clay and then the women’s rice planting team moved in. White ibis enjoying a flooded field.
The women bring the rice seedlings from the nursery on the next farm in bundles. They then throw them expertly to spread them out just where they need them in the flooded field.
White-necked storks join ibis in enjoying the flooded fields.
The women go on planting through heavy rain unless there is lightning when we insist they come into the veranda. They carry colourful plastic capes with them to keep them dry. This photo was taken towards the end of the rice planting on 23rd July. The sun had come out and the eleven women looked like a row of colourful cranes! Do the water birds see them as fellow feeders?
A health problem for humans this month was conjunctivitis known as eye flu which has affected all our workers and their children and has been a problem in Jaipur and Delhi as well (likely in many other areas as well). Children are asked not to come to school but most adults seem to carry on regardless spreading it around as they do.
Despite seasonal infections some people seem to live to a great age. Laxman went to his Nana’s funeral in Jhalawar district. He claimed she was 120 and had ten children who were all living. She had new white hair but no new teeth and had had no illnesses before her final two months in bed spent at home cared for by family members.
My subzee seller claims her Nana is having breathing problems at 106. She claims she has regrown hair and teeth!
The moral would appear to be to keep away from doctors and allopathic medicine and hospitals!
Our negotiations with the local cow hospice reached the point of being able to deliver some unwanted young males to the gaushala in town which houses about 150 head of cattle and they appear to be being looked after. It is illegal to sell cattle for slaughter and so moving them around attracts interest from the police. I furnished the driver of the vehicle with a letter for the gaushala and Vijay accompanied the van. It took the ring road rather than a more direct route and all precautions had to be taken to prevent being stopped for 'cow smuggling'.
An elderly cow was loaded first, but Henry, an up and coming bull said to be infertile, refused to go and was given a reprieve. Three young males were persuaded into the van and one known to us as Bojo was definitely surplus to requirements and so we managed to diminish the herd by four.
Having solved the problem of surplus animals we were then faced with a smaller but more virulent problem, that of termites. While trying to open a drawer it was found to be stuck tight with termite trails as were the two below it. On examination, termites had come through the floor and were chewing their way through everything in the fitted cupboards. Depressing to say the least. We had to empty every cupboard, drawer and book shelf and sort the ravaged from the clean and decide what to burn. Several pairs of leather shoes and my father’s leather cricket bag from the 1930’s went to be burned. It pays to have few possessions.
On 6th June our new hali Dinesh and his second wife, Chandini, and 10-year old son Gautam from his first marriage were received at the gate. They had travelled by bus from Madhya Pradesh with a knapsack full of clothes and sack containing some cooking utensils and a few onions.
Dinesh had worked for us before when his son Gautam was much younger and was being looked after by Dinesh’s mother here. His first wife had left for another man with their young baby and he could not manage on his own here after his mother returned to her village. He went home to his parents’ so she could look after young Gautam and he became a daily labourer. Now with a second wife, and subsequent debts, he needed regular work to pay them off. He told a story of a bus ride in which he, Chandini and Gautam had survived an accident when the bus fell 30 feet into a ravine. He had to extricate Chandini from the wreckage where she was trapped and had sustained a fracture. She seems to have fully recovered now and is a loving stepmother. You can see that she is wearing her sari in a tribal style, unusual for here, with a big brooch fastening the pallu at the front.
We provided beds, lockable steel cupboard, bedding, a fan, a bicycle and a rat trap. Later we gave a desert cooler, and a gas cooker for wet days.
It did not rain in June until 24th and herds of camel and sheep and their Raika tribal owners from Pali district were camping locally looking for fodder. This is an annual migration and they go back once the rains arrive. By the time they reach their home areas the grass has grown locally to provide fodder for their animals.
On 14th June a Raika herdsman named Rama came into the farm saying he was searching for a camel. Then he proceeded to seek permission to bring his flock of sheep to our farm and they arrived at 1.00pm. He and one his four daughters called Pappu were herding about 300 recently shorn sheep. Pappu had come by bus from Pali to join her father to help herd. They were keen on being photographed and I sent some photos to Pappu’s sister in their dera or camp. They also came to water the sheep the following day despite our cow man complaining that the cows did not like eating vegetation that sheep had wee’d on. By the next day they had gone.
A cyclone called Biperjoy hit the Gujarat coast on the 16th and flooded Pali district the nomadic Raika people’s home. We had strong winds being on the edge of the cyclone which brought down one neem tree on the border of a field, but no rain.
We built a tin shed for the cow man’s family so they could cook under it during the monsoon. Holes for the four posts were dug on 17th June and the welder made several visits before coinciding with electricity supply. By the end of June the tin shed had been erected and a gutter had been attached, held with ingenious supporting brackets.
Rain arrived on the 24th and by the end of June we had had 14.83 cms. Some bursts were so heavy it came through the house roof.
The main farming activity had been cutting the jhar or undergrowth around the edges of the fields and the men tended to burn sections which distressed us as it’s home to much wildlife.
Here to finish with is a photo of a large monitor lizard looking straight at the camera from behind the banana trees. This monitor lizard had lost a section of its tail. When chased away it ran over the flag stones with a loud thump-thump-thump.
May brought a tale of two coaches. On 6th May King Charles III was crowned in London and he rode away from Westminster Abbey in a splendid well maintained fairy tale coach that had been dreamed up in 1760.
Meanwhile here on the farm, May was the month in which our trusty bullock cart of yore, a variation of a 4000 year old design, finally collapsed from lack of maintenance. The termites eat the wood and every year parts need replacing and haven’t been for at least ten years. 25 year ago it took fodder to the Dushera Mela when young bulls were being sold and our son, aged 11, rode on it. It featured in a film on The Raj driven by someone obviously Punjabi and not Rajasthani but the BBC documentary editor didn’t seem to mind. Tourists and visitors have been for picnics on it, including my 89 year old father in 1999. I rode in it in 1980 when first visiting the farm in the days when two large bullocks were kept for the sole purpose of drawing it. It rattled and creaked when it was pulled slowly along the canal to the amusement of the villagers.Coronation Day in London was wet and we have continued to have more showers than normal here which has kept the temperature down to the mid- to late- thirties rather than the mid-forties. The trees with their fresh green leaves have sparkled after the rain.
Although the wheat was harvested in April we sold most of it in May and kept it under black plastic sheeting known as tirpals until 16th May when the first of three trolley loads grown by Ghansi Lal left for the mandi. We continued to sell our wheat from the farm since the first trolley load last month had set a market rate of Rs. 2420/100 kgs.
After the wheat was sold the bhousa had to be picked up from where it had been left from the threshing at multiple points and a family team of ten people came to do it. They worked in the hot sun for two days until they had loaded 14 trollies worth. They demanded chai twice a day and complained it was not sweet enough!
The fields were tilled for the first time after the harvest so the cows had to pick their way around the edges and nibble the hedges. They were allowed into the subjee patch after the last green tomato had been picked and the basil seeds collected. Interestingly, cows do not eat basil! You can see the jackfruit hanging on the tree. Each worker gets one jackfruit a week while ‘stocks last’.
We started to face up to how to deal with the surplus cattle. None of them were ‘worth anything’ in financial terms. We started by selling the most recent calf, born on 29th April, and her mother for a rupee each. We seem to run a cow hospice. One very lame cow has a dislocated front leg and the barbaric treatment was done too late so the joint did not mend. She received her injury from a malevolent cow in early life. She looks six months old but is six years old. Her back legs have become so weak she needs help to get up quite often. She will be staying with us but negotiations were entered into for giving unwanted males to the town’s gaushala.
In May we were on the lookout for a new hali to replace Ranjeet. We were hoping for a non-smoker under 40 with a young family wanting to live separately from their parents and willing to do physical labour. The first man interested was over 50 and wheezy so we rejected him. The next man who turned up needing a job and having a wife and child seemed interested but did not come back the next day as promised and did not answer his phone. Our cow-man, Narayan, although only in his 40’s has ruined his lungs through smoking bidis and had a health scare on 24th May when his sons appeared at 06.00 am asking us to take him to a hospital. Rs. 5,000 and a battery of tests later he was sent home with a few days worth of expensive injections and tablets. He now knows his heart and BP are fine but his lungs are in a bad way and if he continues to smoke the consequences will be very serious and we are not going to pay as it is self inflicted. With no occupant in the hali’s house the rats had a field day but seven were caught at once in this ingenious beehive shaped trap. By the end of the month we were still waiting for the right person to turn up.
We are still waiting for Bardhi Bai’s case for her provident fund with the former employer to be resolved. See each month back to November to follow the saga. I am told her case is ‘under process’ but how long can it take?
We used to be able to hear sarus cranes and their breeding grounds are near here but pressure for development has driven them away with the Kaithoon bye-pass being built through their reserve and a garbage transfer station being developed nearby. I was featured on ‘Wild News India’ channel speaking in Hindi in their defence. The garbage transfer station is being built behind the camera crew below the canal (photo). Sumit Juneja on the left and Anil Rodgers run the channel.
April is the wheat harvesting month and we hope for dry weather but the unsettled conditions of March continued and we had dust storms on four evenings followed by rain. The benefit was that April was unusually cool and rather muggy with some spectacular sunsets and sunrises - see photo below.
Our son and grandchildren were here at the beginning of April but all left before the main wheat harvest. The bansi wheat was cut by hand and threshed by beating it with a stick as the quantity was so small.
The house wheat was hand cut by a team of women and threshed by machine mostly at night. Each year the team gets smaller and their demands in payment in kind as a share of the grain harvest for their work increases. They earn 100 kgs. per bigha which amounts to about 1/6 of the crop. They cut each stalk close to the ground and the field can be ploughed straight away once the wheat chaff has been removed from the fields - no burning of stubble.
Half of our farm wheat and increasingly the wheat in the surrounding farms is cut by combine. The stubble left behind is much longer and the straw is scattered about. A hay cutting machine was employed to drive slowly up and down the field cutting the stubble and gathering the straw. We get paid only Rs. 273 per bigha but we can plough and are not tempted to burn the stubble. Our cows enjoy the bhusa or chaff from the hand cut fields produced after threshing (photo above).
The mustard had been cut in March but the price was low. It showed no sign of regaining its last year’s price and we finally called the women to fill the trolley and to sell the mustard at the market on the 13th. It sold for Rs. 52.8/kg. whereas last year it had been Rs. 67.5 and 10% more in weight. But this year we grew a different variety called Giriraj which might account for a difference in weight. We sold the mustard chaff to a contractor who collects it and we think it’s sold on to the DSCL factory near here for firing the boiler. It is cheaper for them than oil, we assume.
We had two female calves born in April. Nandi, pictured here, on the 11th and Varsha (meaning rain) during the rain on the 29th. We now have more than 20 heads of cattle and need to reduce the numbers.
We finally sacked our halli Ranjit after repeated warnings for drunkeness, and theft, but his children (and wife) stayed on in his house until their school exams were over. They all moved out on the 16th and are renting a room nearby. Ranjit now has a job in a flour mill and we hope he can keep off the booze and make a fresh start.
The saga of Bardhi Bai goes on. Her corrected papers were submitted in mid-April and her case is ‘under process’.
Our neighbour, and relation, Lt. Gen. Ajai Singh, former governor of Assam passed away in Delhi aged 86 on the night of 17-18th. But a few days before he died he sent a letter to the present governor of Rajasthan requesting that a proposed garbage transfer station being built in the wetlands next to the Umedganj canal and the bird sanctuary known as Pakshi Vihar be moved. That is our next campaign.
Dawn over the wheat harvest. In the distance the women are piling the harvested wheat in the cool hours of early morning in preparation for threshing in the evening.
We had 10 days with some rain in March and rushed to thresh the mustard crop before the first shower. On 1st March the thresher arrived and it took 2 days to finish. We sold for Rs. 5280 for 100 kgs. which was well below last year’s record price of Rs. 6751. The yield was well down too, which can be attributed to a warm winter, but the temperature remained below 40oC but still above the ideal temperature for mustard. The word on the grapevine was that yields were down for most farmers in the area.
Once the mustard had been threshed the cows could be let out to graze in the mustard fields.
Another male calf was born on 19th March to Poonam. He is called Chand or Moon.
The wheat was swelling well and it was a constant battle to scare wildlife away, especially the very destructive nilgai. This bansi wheat is a traditional variety which has come from a tribal seed farm in Maharashtra. We had 1/2 kg. to start with here and were growing it for seed. We now have 151/2 kg. and will grow it next season for seed mainly and hopefully some for consumption. The taller or rogni wheat plants, shown in this photgraph, had to be pulled out by hand.
A team of men with a truck came to collect the dead timber on the farm including our beloved gul mohar tree from near the well. Vijay had cut it into convenient lengths. They also had a chainsaw to make further cuts.
7th was Holi. The dancing, singing women have not been for the last three years but I asked them specially so they bypassed the other farms and came to us. It was already lunch time and Sugna emerged from the kitchen and joined in. The gangs of little boys we used to get no longer make the effort to walk out here.
All March we had been working towards a visit by our son, Anand, and his two boys Henry aged 7 and Arthur aged 5. It was our grandsons’ first visit to India and they had a wonderful variety of experiences. Our daughter, Anjali, returned from six months travelling in India and we could spend some time together before they all flew away together to the UK.
Here is an evening expedition to feed the cows with rotis and kitchen leftovers.
The Bardhi Bai saga has not progressed (see November 2022). But we haven’t given up and have been pushing. Hopefully there will be a resolution next month? It looked as if an OTP or one-time-password to her phone was going to be necessary, and since there is weak signal in her village her son left his phone with us for a day, but false alarm and it was all for nought. High tech systems far outpace our infrastructure.
A strong animal theme this month. We had not a drop of rain but we started with coolish nights at 10oC/11oC but remarkably hot days. In fact it was the hottest February on record despite heavy snows in the Himalayas and the cold of January.
Suraj was born to Tiku on 2nd February. Another male. He was very weak but with hot sun and mother’s milk he was soon standing and tottering. We are buying 50 kg. bags of churi which is chickpea skins, and khul which is cotton seed cake after the oil has been pressed out. The cows also get bersim, an alfalfa type fodder, and rice straws. The milk is thick and creamy but can only be sold for Rs.28/kg. to the 'doodh wallah', who comes to the gate every morning on his motorbike with his brass churries hanging off it. To get good milk and cream for the house we are paying dearly.
The young wheat was watered and as the month progressed the ears developed. The wild pigs chew on the green wheat and extract the goodness. They then spit out the residue. We find these little offerings as we walk around the farm.
Along with upto 14 wild pigs and 12 nilgai that have been spotted, we have a few hares. Sadly, Lucy and Doosra were caught with one. It was skinned and cooked for them and the dogs enjoyed hare stew for three nights. We hope it wasn’t the mother of this little leveret spotted living in the aubergine patch.
Along with young wheat we have been growing mustard. A team of eight women came to start cutting on 16th February, once they had cut the mustard on the next door farm. The wild pigs that had been living in their mustard moved over to our farm. The air was thick with little flies at that time both in town and in the mustard fields. They sucked the juice out of rocket salad leaves that had been doing well and our experimental broccoli being tried for the first time. Other vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes were unaffected.
After the women had cut the mustard it dried in the fields and then before threshing was piled up into small mounds called gullas.
Different people have different ways of making ends meet. One lady called Mamta Sharma calls on the farms around here every few months to ask for money and food. She is a widow and always has tragic stories to tell. She rents a room in Kota and must get a basic pension of Rs. 750 a month but it won’t even pay the rent. We gave her money and 3 kgs. of rice.
Ranjeet, who works for us, was caught selling our metal angle irons to a nearby trader for Rs.90/kg. which is the going rate. He had to return the angle irons and was given notice but since his three boys are having exams he can stay until his year is up in May. Although his earnings are paid direct into his wife’s bank account, he has access to the ATM card with which he can withdraw drink money.
The Bardhi Bai story has not progressed in a month. Her employers used an arbitrary date of birth for her in the absence of documentary proof but now she is claiming a different date of birth and the Provident Fund will not pay up. The employers have to sort it out and haven’t. "Just give us a few more days..." etc.
And a new development to worry about is that the Municipal Authorities are planning to bring small open trucks with rubbish from the town to a compressing plant next to the canal and close to a bird sanctuary. They claim that the rubbish will be then 'transferred' to the trenching ground/landfill on the other side of town. There has been no planning process or discussions with locals for this plan. The Opposition politicians say they oppose it and won’t allow it but is this political posturing? Watch this space....
And to finish with a photo of an international group from the Royal Asiatic Society travelling around Rajasthan in the footsteps of Col. James Todd who was Political Agent for the East India Company two hundred years ago and wrote 'Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan'.
January is always the coldest month and we had some night temperatures of 5oC and misty days when the sun barely came through at all.
We have had no rain since October and the main farm activity was watering the wheat and protecting it from the pigs and nilgai.
On 5th January it was a misty morning but the sun came through at 1.30pm just in time for Charlotte to have her fifth calf, another male called Kohra meaning mist. He gradually warmed up in the sun and was soon strong enought to stand up and suckle. Charlotte was born in 2012 and is named after the young designer who designed our drawing room suite fabric based on our own plants.
The young wheat was short and tempting for wild life: there is so much about we are unaware of. One night while Vijay was standing quietly watching for wild pigs a jungle cat shot past him and ran along the verandah. You can see that the palm tree looks strange. Some of the fronds have been cut off to make jharoos and will soon grow back.
Makar Sankranti known as ‘kite flying day’ was on 14th January as always. There was reasonable breeze and our four farm boys made the most of their evenings after school flying kites. Here Vijay is passing on tips to Pintu.
We knew that heavy rain was expected at the end of the month and covered up the piles of fodder in readiness. On 29th we were told that a wounded nilgai had become trapped by the end of the farm and was struggling to get up. Our neighbours dog had already attacked its hind quarter - it was tied-up. We don’t know how it received its head wounds and suspect a fight between two males. That was at 9.00pm. At 10.30pm the rain started and continued all night. We had no power for 14 hours. By the morning the nilgai was dead. There was nothing to do but dig a hole and bury it where it had died. We had had 2.25 cms. and some areas of Rajasthan had large hail stones that were cleared away with a JCB.
Gangs of women with head loads of dry wood could be seen heading back to Umedganj village every day. We were lucky in having our own wood neatly cut into logs with the chain saw. The Gul Mohar was cut up and a local dealer will come and remove it. The wood is soft but the trunk was solid. Termites had destroyed its roots which is why it had blown over. A tragic loss.
December was another toally dry month with pleasant sunny days and temperatures in the twenties.
The electricity supply meters had blown in the transformer thanks to a gecko that had managed to get into the MCB box located in the brick cabin some 10 metres away which had somehow caused a fire in the transformer on 30th November, so it was theorised. We were without electricity for one night but a man from the company came within 24 hours to reconnect the supply bypassing the meters. A round of written reports, applications, visits to distant offices for signatures and sanctions began. The little gecko had lost its life and caused Rs. 12468 worth of expense and a lot of time and energy. Here the electrician is preparing the two new meters to go up on the poles now to be situated outside the transformer and by December 17th all damage had been rectified.
The main headache at the beginning of December was selling the rice. So many trucks and trollies were trying to get into the mandi from other states including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, that all surrounding roads were jammed. Trollies had to queue all day and were allowed in to the mandi from 11.00pm to 3.00am only. Trucks were allowed in after 3.00am to lift and remove the sacked goods from the mandi. We sent two trolley loads at 10.00pm on 1st December. The first trolley sold at Rs. 34.10/kg. and our rice that had been flattened by nilgai and pigs went for Rs. 26.50/kg. - a significant loss. Rs. 36.31/kg. was our our top price for the next trolley, a record, but the yield was low.
While winnowing the rice and loading it into a trolley (See November photo) the sari of one of the women got caught in the machine and jammed it. Luckily it stopped and the electricity supply was disconnected immediately and she came to no harm physically but was in shock.
After the fields have been cleared of rice the watering can begin and birds are attracted from far and wide including white-necked storks. In the close up you can see that the stork has captured a small snake.
Once the field has dried out the right amount it can be sown with wheat. Urea and DAP were hard to come by. We got 16 bags of urea on Vijay's Aadhar card and ten on mine. The seed is mixed with DAP before sowing. Some fields had zinc added at this stage and some will get zinc just before the first watering next month as an experiment. The last field was sown on 21st December.
It was a mild December but we cut logs on the 18th and had our first log fire of the season on Christmas Eve. The painters painted the outside of the old part of the house, the white gate was painted and we decorated the inside of the house with paper streamers and stars for Christmas.
The early mornings were misty, particularly over the fields being watered. The date palm in this photo has had its fronds cut to make jharoos. They soon grow back. Raju, from a broom making community, has been coming for a number of years to collect the fronds gratis and in return gives us half-a-dozen jharoos. Sustainable rural living.
Crop protection went on every night with 16 nilgai gathering to see in the New Year at 11.45pm on 31st December.
And now an update on Bardhi Bai's story (see November). By 10th December she had a new passbook for her bank account, a PAN card and an Aadhar card all in the same correctly spelled version. The images were sent by WhatsApp to H.R. The pass book had not been stamped by the bank was an instant response from H.R. So on the 12th I took her personally to the bank and oversaw the stamping and signing. The images were submitted again and on the 18th we were told that her application would be processed "In the New Year...".
We had no rain in November and generally clear sunny days with temperatures still in the 30’s. Last month’s heavy rain is thought to have affected the rice yield. The rice that had been combine harvested was spread out thinly to dry out for a week or more and then moved to near the house out of the fields so the fields could be cleared and ready for sowing wheat.
The rice straw called pral is spread around the fields in the course of combine harvesting. You can sell it for fodder and a large family team came for several days, gathered the pral and left with two trolley loads a day.
Here a trolley is trundling past the end of the house. The windows are in urgent need of restoration and repainting. The plinth is flaky and fungus ridden.
From 28th November the painters arrived and transformed the appearance of the windows and cement sections. The mustard started to flower around the middle of the month and one painter wore a matching mustard yellow tee shirt unconsciously.
After the rice was dried, it was cleaned by machine and loaded straight into trollies by this team of women.
Some ten bighas of rice was hand cut which results in pral being in neat piles near the threshing site in the fields. These have to be loaded into a trolley and brought to the cow shed. There is no stubble left in the field to burn.
On 9th November a male calf was born to Meera - the first birth in a year due to the death of the last two bulls and the immaturity of their replacement. This was the first calf he had fathered and is called Dhola meaning white. After five days we started drinking Meera’s milk. Dhola was given two teats and we had the other two. Dhola is sturdy but very shy. Meera is very aggressive unlike her mother Mun-Mun, who would let you come close and handle her calves.
The house wheat has been eaten by the nilgais and we may have to resow it. The subzee enclosure was finally ploughed on the 19th and sowing of potato started on the 23rd. We have planted a traditional variety of wheat called 'Gaavraan Bansi' which was sourced from a tribal seed fair in Madhya Pradesh. We are growing it for seed in this nilgai proof enclosed space which leaves less room for vegetables.
Once the crops have been removed from a field and the ground tilled, many birds come to forage for dropped grain. One evening a flock of parrots was enjoying this rice. Almost invisible on the ground, the sun caught their wings as they wheeled and soared before settling down again.
And to end with an insight into how hard it is coping with the corporate digital world as an illiterate widow. Bardhi Bai is a widow in her seventies who worked for a company with its H.Q. in Delhi that had the contract to run our nearby sewage treatment plant. She was on daily wages but qualified for contributions to a Provident Fund. After five years J.M. Enviro Technologies Pvt. Ltd. ended their contract and paid their workers their provident fund - except for Bardhi Bai!
Her name in English has been spelled various ways by data inputers and the spelling of her ID did not match the company’s records. She had been running pillar to post trying to get momey for over a year and in desperation appealed to me. Anjali, our daughter, happened to be staying in Delhi and went to the H.R. department at the company headquarters personally and has been able to Whatsapp the documents to the HR contact as she has got the spelling changed; she had to produce a bank passbook, her Aadhar ID card and a PAN card (income tax) all with identical spelling of her name. We started the process on 17th November and hope for a successful closure to the saga for Bardhi Bai soon.
We have had a good monsoon but there are often trees that die from termites and/or flooding and this year’s casualty has been our unique bitter orange tree the fruit of which won the Commonwealth Prize in 2018 at the World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain in Cumbria, U.K. My Bitter Orange and Ginger marmalade can no longer be made but there are green shoots coming from the roots so maybe one can be nurtured.
The mustard was sown on 28th September and the concern was that it might not germinate before forecast heavy rain on 5th-10th October. We had 4 cms. spread over a week and luckily the mustard germination was not affected.
Rice was the key crop in October and it gradually developed feathery sprays of grain which ripened towards the end of the month. We had two varieties as we had run short of seedings of Pusa-1 and so brought in Pusa-4 from another farmer to be planted in about 3 bighas of land. The stem of the latter variety is longer and the plant seems to fall over when ripe. We are not sure if the extensive damage to this variety was from pigs and nilgai, over watering, or heavy grain causing the plant to fall.
The wildlife comes to the farm at night and we have no way of knowing. If the dogs bark we can go with a torch. If they are caught in the light they move away and can be chased off the farm that way. Here you can see a female nilgai in the torchlight in our Pusa-4 field.
On 31st October the first fields of rice were "combined" and the grain left spread out to dry for a few days before being piled up.
Ranjit, who lives on our farm, with his wife and three young boys, acquired a second-hand Bajaj Discovery motorbike for Rs. 21000 with money given by his mother. He can take the whole family on it to visit his in-laws some 40 kms. away. He also takes his wife to work every day and collects her at 12.30pm. She works in a private nursery school about 10 minutes ride away by bike. His hours are adjusted so he can take her. Narayan, our cow man, also takes his wife to work, or their son does. They have two bikes in the family and Ranjit has one. Many of the motorbikes crowding Indian roads are ridden by men transporting their mothers or sisters to work.
Divali is an auspicious time to buy a new vehicle and it is honoured and decorated on the second day of Divali at Govardhan Puja which this year was moved to the next day because of a partial solar eclipse. Divali was 24th October and Govardhan Puja the 26th. Here Sugna Bai and Mohini Bai are preparing gobar figures of Krishna and his brother Balram honoured in farming families in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
To prepare for Divali Asha put leepna on our paths which will survive intact until spoilt by unseasonal rain.
We had a good crop of pumpkins this year in our vegetable garden and if you have tried to hollow out a pumpkin you will know how hard it is. These small pumpkins were left outside for a few days and the squirrels hollowed them out!
We had rain on ten different days in September giving a total of 10.62 cms. with over 4 cms. falling on 10th September. Queen Elizabeth II had died on the 8th and a thunderstorm overhead sounded like a gun salute marking the end of her reign and the beginning of Charles III's. 11th September was declared a day of mourning but being a Sunday few noticed. Older Indians mourn her passing and all that she stood for but younger Indians are indifferent.
We were able to move into our new kitchen on the 8th as the teak doors had been fitted and varnished. It is wonderful to have plumbing that works and a floor that isn’t sunk, uneven and cracking.
The cows had been grazing freely on monsoon vegetation but the fields were ploughed, again on 8th, and that marked the beginning of their incarceration in the cow shed until the rice harvest when fields would be grazable briefly before the wheat is put in. You can see the tractor ploughing in the background as the cows snatch a last bite.
The lawn got its annual cut. It is only cut once a year during the monsoon and looks distressingly brown for some time but soon recovers.
The rains always leave us with very muddy tracks and this year we had the chance to get a load of broken bricks which we laid into the mud to provide more support for vehicles.
Apart from watering the rice we were ploughing for mustard. The usual DAP fertiliser was not available and an imported APS was bought - ammonia, phosphate, and sulphur. Our usual American Pioneer mustard seed would have cost Rs. 30000 so we decided to try a local variety called Giriraj for Rs. 3600. Here it is being sown. Rice is in the foreground.
And to finish with a very Indian story of two young drunk youths who crashed their borrowed car at sunset a little way down the road from our gate and ran away having broken an electricity pole, caused a couple to fall off their scooter and themselves ending up nose down in a ditch.
The owner must have been very influential. By morning the electricity pole had been replaced, the power restored and the car extricated - all without the involvement of the police.
The main themes of August were kitchen renovation and heavy monsoon rains. There were 34.1 cms. of rain in August which was less than July and less than 56.25 cms. of last August, but because the land was already waterlogged all fields were under water and not just rice ones.
Having planted the rice in July, the women began hand weeding it on 16th August. Whatever the weather the women would keep weeding and take their lunch break on our stone flagged path.
The family living near the cowshed fought valiantly with sandbags to stop the flood water coming into their house. The water round about was deeper than wellies and the children had to wade to get to school. The cows were happy with their new concrete flooring and suffered less from foot infection and none of them as yet has got the dreaded ‘Lumpy Skin Disease’ which has killed thousands of cows in Western Rajasthan.
By the 10th of August the granite floor tiles had been laid, the sink countertop put in place, the wall tiling, grouting, countertop moulding, skirting had all been completed. By the end of August the walls had been painted and then after some reflection repainted from green to grey, and joinery work had started on the under counter storage spaces to take rails for sliding drawers. Simultaneously, the teak wall cupboards and teak fronts to the storage spaces were being prepared in the local joiner’s workshop.
All this time we were cooking in a bathroom. Being August it was very humid and unpleasant. Most of the components of the old kitchen were reused: rubble on the drive, wooden doors given to the mason for reuse and stone counter slabs stored for future placement. Nothing to be taken to the local council ‘tip’ as in Britain. (The old steel sink was sold to a kabari wallah in October for Rs. 28/kg.)
This was the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and private individuals were encouraged to fly the national flag from every house between 13th - 15th during the day and at night. 15th is Independence Day. Vijay made a flag pole, bought a flag via Amazon and ran it up the new flag pole which was on the roof. Previously, the national flag had to be made of handspun and hand woven khadi cloth which limited production. Last year that was amended to include machine made, hence the unlikely introduction of Amazon into a previously very small Indian supply chain.
On 22nd August our iconic gulmohar tree near the well blew over in strong winds. Termites had eaten the roots and it did not stand a chance. The bright red of the gulmohar flowers against the harvested and bleached wheat fields in April will be sadly missed.
Here is a 1997 photograph from our album of this lovely flowering tree.
The main activities in July concern preparing the fields for rice to be transplanted. The seedlings were grown in a nursery on the next door farm and transplanted from 8th July onwards.
Each section of a field has to be flooded and so the more rain that falls the better. In July we had 42.5 cms. which was double last July’s and was spread out throughout the month. The non-rice fields were also under water.
The women worked most days until the end of the month bent over standing ankle-deep in mud, and sometimes in pouring rain. A team of about 10 came.
I was away and so taking advantage of my absence the kitchen was totally redone. The floor had sunk over the course of 25 years and some of the Kota stone tiles had cracked. The plumbing had become a problem and no sink water could be allowed to drain down the pipe. Washing up bowls were tipped straight onto the bananas and other plants outside which was good for the plants.
Mishrilal, who worked with the contractor for building our house back in 1996, and who had just done our cowshed floor, came to talk about it on 14th July. On the 18th the men arrived and ripped out the old wooden units and supports, dug up the old floor and ripped the kitchen sink out. Dry gitti (gravel) was laid for the floor on soil and pounded down before a lattice work of sariyas (rebars) was placed over it and raised by 1.5" spacers to provide the appropriate amount of concrete cover between the gitti and the rebars. Each rebar crossover was tied with thin wire.
By 21st the concrete was mixed and laid 4" deep over the gitti and the rebars. By the 31st all the brick pillars were built to support the three granite countertops. Granite shelves were built in the units as the pillars were being raised. Two slabs of granite were glued together to give the required thickness of the countertops, which were put in place over the brick supports. The usual practice is to put the granite on the top and a less expensive marble slab underneath. Only the countertop for the sink remained to be done by the end of the month.
And while all this was happening, a temporary kitchen was setup in a downstairs bathroom!
By the end of July the rice fields were fully planted. The cows were grazing in the rapidly growing dhainch and the basic infrastructure was ready for our new kitchen. Broken up bits of old kitchen floor had been scattered on the muddy drive and so it was less muddy than usual and there were no deep ruts to be negotiated.
The new cowshed floor worked well and provided a dry are for the cows despite surrounding area being under knee high water. The family in the ground floor house were marooned but they managed and did not complain. At such times snakes can be a problem as their house was flooded. No major incidents though.
Taking advantage of dry weather before the monsoon, Vijay used his new Husqvarna chainsaw to cut down overhanging branches and dangerously leaning trees. Here he is with his team.
The major work was concreting the cowshed half of which still had an earth floor that turned into mud during the rains. Mishrilal, who built our house some twenty-five years ago organised it with Siyaram, the diminutive mason, who would arrive on his motorbike with an assistant - sometimes male and sometimes female. One day a young mother came carrying her three month old baby on the motorbike. The baby, Karthik, slept in a sari jhula or swing between feeds and didn’t seem to mind the 45oC ambient temperature.
Plastic mesh was used as reinforcement inside the concrete floor to strengthen it. The work took three days to complete and then the concrete was covered with plastic sheets and kept wet to cure it. Meanwhile the cows spent the nights in the empty vegetable garden and the days in the bagh or garden, a small tree plantation close to the house which gave shade during the scorching heat. After ten days, and just before the first heavy rain, they moved back to their cowshed.
We had 13.58 cms. rain in June which was good and moistened the ground ready for sowing. Dhaincha was broadcast by hand and then a tractor went over with a tiller and plank to bed the seeds down - used for green manuring.
On the 22nd we spotted a tiny Collared Scops Owl on the pergola frame just outside the kitchen door. We have never seen one before in 25 years. It posed for photos and we could get very close to it, before it flew silently away.
May is always the hottest month and this year it was relentless with a little rain on two occasions but the temperature remaining well over 40oC and topping 46oC on several days. We brought our thermometer in fearing the temperature might damage it as it was near the maximum it could record.
We had a good crop of jackfruit (katail).
We had harvested the wheat last month and were waiting to sell it for a good price as the world wide demand went up with grain shortages forecast and blamed on the Russian-Ukranian situation. We sold our wheat at Rs. 2275/quintal, the top of the market. Last year’s price was Rs. 1931. But alarmed by the inflationary pressure the Government banned export as yield is down due to the high temperatures in March across the Punjab and other wheat growing areas of North India.
Contracts to some African countries and to neighbours such as Bangladesh will be honoured but the Government feels it does not have spare capacity to compensate for shortages in Europe. The next trolley went for Rs. 2211/quintal, indicating the market had peaked.
Before loading a trolley with wheat it is winnowed to sieve out the numerous little weed seeds known as baathli. We stopped these seeds from being fed to the cows, who love it, as they would have distributed them around the farm in their cow pats!
A team of men from one family came to pick up the mustard bhousa and sell it on as bio-fuel for the factory furnaces. These people have their own survival problems and are not interested in Ukraine. The son of the eldest man had had a motorcycle accident and had a broken arm and head injuries. The doctors were asking for Rs. 50,000 to put a plate in this arm. Another day they had a phone call to say a 30-year old nephew, who had greeted them in the morning, had dropped dead with a heart attack. Doctors world wide call these deaths Sudden Adult Death Syndrome or SADS but their families suspect vaccine adverse reactions.
May is the traditional month for spreading the cow gobar/manure on the fields. This team of six loaded four trollies a day for two days in temperatures in the mid-forties and were paid Rs. 500 per trolley. It was then scattered in one of the fields by shovelling out of the back of the trolley as it was moved along with the tractor.
We got a quote for re-concreting the cow shed and that will be June’s story ....
From the beginning of April the temperature was in the 40’s and so some farming activities took place at night. We put green netting around the house desert cooler to keep the direct sun off it and it ran day and night.
The garlic was harvested and plaited into separate plaits for each farm hand. Cherry tomatoes grown from Indian packeted seeds were a great success and a big surprise for Laxman who tended them so carefully and couldn’t understand why they did not grow into ‘proper’ tomatoes. Our own flax seed was harvested and winnowed using a big pedestal fan.
On 7th April the first mustard trolley was sent to the market and received the top price that day having been judged to have the highest oil content. In a world wide shortage of vegetable oil, it sold for Rs. 6751 for 100 kgs. Last year the price was Rs. 4891 and in 2017 it was Rs. 3555. The second trolley was sent on 12th April and was sold for Rs. 6560 which was above the quoted price for the day.
The main harvest in April is of wheat. The women cutters used to get 95 kgs. of wheat for each bigha of land area they cut. This year they negotiated 100 kgs. per bigha which we only agreed to if they hold it for 3 years. This means that 1/6 of the crop goes to the cutters. We require some hand cut as we need the chaff or bhousa for the cows. We had 15 trollies from 20 bighas of it loaded up at night over 3 nights and dumped in the bhousa shed or next to the cows in a big heap. Bhousa has become so expensive that it was probably worth one lakh rupees by some estimates.
Having negotiated the rate they wanted, the women cutters came on the 10th with their sickles, lunch packs and work clothes and started cutting, working through each day in temperatures in the forties. By the 18th they had piled the dry bundles into heaps and were ready to thresh by moonlight. They worked all night for two nights with a night off in the middle.
The rest of the wheat was harvested by this combine harvester. It started at 1330 hrs. and left at 1830 hrs. Last year’s rate of Rs. 500/bigha had increased to Rs. 700 because of a steep rise in diesel prices.
Our C306 heritage wheat grown for the house was hand cut by our women who live on the farm. Some seed from a shorter more modern variety had got in at the time of sowing and enough individual stalks had to be separated at the time of cutting to get a consistent seed for sowing the next season.
Our cows enjoyed being able to roam in the fields after the grain had been cut. One day, Henry, our young bull was reported to be very uncomfortable and rolling around. Over the phone the vet said to give him a pinch of cooking soda in water, so Narayan did just that and he was cured immediately.
On the last day of April the women wheat harvesters came with their men folk to weigh their share of the harvest. It is a joyous occasion for them to finally get their just rewards. The occasion has a lively, bustling atmosphere.
The temperatures in March started in the 30's and ended in the 40's. It was unusual for March to be so hot. There was only 3 mm of rain and so unceasing sunny days.
The main activities were cutting the mustard during the day and protecting the growing wheat from nilgai and pigs at night. The night time rota continued as last month and at one point 20 nilgai were chased off the farm with a powerful torch. Here is a lone male in full day light brazenly defying us.
Feeding cattle became a national problem. We had kept back wheat bhousa from last year but ran out. The green fodder dried-up in the heat and local wheat bhousa was prohibitively expensive.
We finally found a small truck load of 18.5 quintals from Madhya Pradesh that had come all the way to Kota to sell hand cut and threshed bhousa. We had to pay Rs. 1100 for 100 kgs. or a quintal, so Rs. 20350 in total. No cows are producing milk at the moment and so their manure is being very expensively produced! Keeping cows is only economic if you produce all their fodder yourself.
On 6th March the women resumed cutting mustard and it was threshed on 23rd March and loaded into two trollies. The price of vegetable oil is soaring on the world market and it seemed a good idea to wait before selling.
March was the month of the Holi festival. For the last two years strangers have not been welcome. With all covid restrictions lifted we didn’t know if the village women would come back and greet us. They didn’t. Another tradition has died with covid. We had 9 men, 9 women and 5 children all morning as opposed to nearly 100 three years ago.
The early mornings were too cool at 9oC for breakfast outside in the garden until mid-February, which is unusual but the day time temperatures were in the low 30's. By February 24th it was too hot for lunch outside. The main activities were watering the wheat and cutting the mustard from 25th February.
At the beginning of February the mustard crop had dropped its vibrant yellow flowers and the pods were swelling. The young wheat was growing and tempting the wildlife, which could hide in the tall, dense mustard all day and come out at night. A rota was arranged of Ranjeet, Narayan and Vijay to walk around the farm each hour at night and chase away the nilgai deer.
Some nights there were none, but on 17th February twenty-one nilgai were spotted. While jumping out over the gate one of them clipped the top bar breaking the pin.
We had a good range of organic vegetables in February including some delicious peas and a good potato harvest. We shared them out and kept some for ourselves. We also had a good crop of kumquat or Chinese oranges and I made kumquat and ginger marmalade.
Our former cow man, Mewa Lal, who had been coming every day to touch my feet, didn’t turn up on 5th February and we discovered that his wife had died and he had taken her to his village near Hindoli, north of Bundi, for the cremation. She had literally faded away as she had been unable to swallow and digest food for months, but had never been seen by a doctor for this. She was in her sixties. Mewa Lal has recovered from a stroke but has to take care of his middle aged daughter with Downes Syndrome. There is no help from the state. We have heard that there is a tenant doing the cooking in his home. In such circumstances survival is a daily pre-occupation and foreign wars have no relevance.
One of the calves also died in February. Narayan, our current cow man, claims that he was feeding it but we have our doubts....
And to end with, a photo of a flock of little brown birds enjoying insects on the mustard as the pods swell and aphids try to suck the juices.
We had 2 cms. of rain on 28th December and the rice crop was still unsold and covered in black plastic but the dogs scampering after squirrels had left holes and the rain had got in. When the plastic was removed on 1st January it was found that the top layer had sprouted in patches.
The sprouted rice was passed through another sifting machine and dried in the sun before being sold on 15th January for Rs.13.51/kg. or half price. Nearly 900 kgs. had been damaged in this way.
More rain was due on 6th and so the damaged rice was removed and dealt with separately. The women came to winnow and load the trollies and it was sold on 3rd January for Rs. 25.11 per kg. The yield was 20% down on last year perhaps because of the heavy rain in November.
Ranjeet, the father of three boys, had not been giving any of his earnings to his wife and was running up debts at local shops and drinking heavily. On 2nd January a deputation of women and children came at 2100 hrs. to ask me to do something as Ranjeet was being abusive. I called the police, and to help ‘Gypsy Madam’, three burly policemen arrived in a vehicle with flashing lights and removed him in his socks as he was too drunk to put on his shoes.
Next day the police rang Asha, Ranjeet’s wife to ask her to bail him out, but she didn’t have any money and wouldn’t go. In the end Ranjeet had to arrange his own bail and they released him. The situation has been resolved by Ranjeet having to agree, in writing, that his earnings are to be put in his wife’s bank account to which he has no access. So far so good.
The general feeling has been that January was colder than normal. Local firewood is removed by the head load as cooking gas has become so expensive. The minimum temperature was 5oC and on a couple of days the sun didn’t get through and the temperature struggled up to 10oC. One calf succumbed to the cold and the rest were given mustard oil everyday to fortify them.
The elderly find the cold hard to bear and on 29th January, the Maharao of Kotah, Brijraj Singh, died of a heart attack aged 87. Schools and colleges have been closed this month and there has been a night curfew in place and Sunday lockdowns forcing shops, restaurants and shopping malls to be closed on one day a week.
Our dear daughter Anjali was home for a month and was able to continue her teaching online. She got a negative PCR test in Jaipur and was able to travel back to the UK before everyone on the farm caught one fever or another and experienced mild symptoms.
By the end of January the skies were clear and the air crisp after the rain and Asha and Shyam spent a day redoing the leepna while Sugna podded peas. The slow rhythm of a farm day was restored.
Narayan, his wife Shyam, their eldest son Deepak aged 19, and their younger son Nitesh aged 14, had moved into their new home here at the end of November with Fruti their Pomeranian bitch. We have a rule that no other dogs can live on the farm but Fruti helps fill the gap left by the suicide of their middle son who hanged himself with his mother’s sari this time last year.
Lucy, our bitch, is very jealous of the pretty Fruti and attacked her on 9th December in full view of everyone. Tigger and Doosra dashed to join in and within a few seconds she was on her back, totally traumatised with three sets of teeth marks. Since then she is locked up for a short period in their house when we go round with the dogs for our evening walk.
Another animal drama has to do with cows. Narayan reported some maggot wounds in feet and bleeding and we called the local vet compounder. He announced that the herd had foot-and-mouth but there was no talk of slaughtering them. He gave each 3 injections costing GBP 2.50 (Rs. 250) per animal. He said we could also try the local cure involving fish. I was keen to see this and gave Rs. 50 to Narayan to get some fish.
On 8th December a Bhil arrived on a bicycle with a cotton bag of small fish caught in the canal. He tipped them on the ground and Narayan chose four. These were boiled up in water on his outdoor chula until they had disintergated. The water was diluted and cooled and thrown at the cow’s hooves with a plastic mug. The idea seemed to be that the smell would kill the maggots or drive them away. Since the injections had already dealt with the maggots it was declared a success. But what effect did the fish water have on the foot-and-mouth?
After heavy rain in November the land was quite moist. The main activities of the month were to hand cut and thresh the last 20 bighas of rice and sell the straw that had been left scattered around the field by the last month’s combine harvester before further rain arrived.
This family were originally from Pali district, and have settled near Kota. Using unpaid family labour they raked up the straw and took it away on a trolley doing two trolley loads a day for several days. They paid a nominal amount per bigha of Rs. 500, but it meant straw was removed and not burnt.
This is our team of labourers this winter rather depleted in number. They have cut 20 bighas of rice and loaded the straw into trolleys for our cows. They wanted to be photographed in the mustard with the house in the background.
After the rice fields were cleared of straw, the few remaining wisps were burnt and then the fields were ploughed and wheat planted. Before sowing our stored C306 deshi organic wheat had to be cleaned to remove any insects but this year there were none.
Our Christmas preparations include trimming this orange tree into a neat round that we can decorate with tinsel and baubles. This year, for the first time in 16 years our daughter Anjali was with us to help decorate the tree.
December ended with another 2 cms. of rain and more is forecast for January. Having stored the rice we winnowed it and loaded it into trolleys to be sold on 24th December. The rest was well covered in thick black plastic to keep it dry.
Divali was on 4th November this year and as crackers were once again allowed, the air in Delhi and North India was foul. Delhi was so bad that schools and government offices were closed for days.
The second day of Divali is Govardhan puja, when the cows are decorated, honoured and venerated. The boy on the left - Deepak - has been looking after the cows while his father, Narayan (third in line from the left)was finishing his contract elsewhere. Now Deepak has gone back to his pre-lockdown job of selling mattresses in town and the family has bought a second brand new motorcycle. Here at Govardhan puja, they have decorated the new bike to invoke divine blessings.
And here is the women’s team that did the puja.
The combine harvester came on the 7th and cut half the rice crop which was then spread out to dry. We knew rain was on the way so it was loaded into trolleys or gathered in a big pile and covered with black plastic when 3.51 cms. of rain fell over three days from 18th November.
The rest of the unharvested rice was standing in the fields and after it had dried after the rains, it was cut by hand partly because a lot of it had been blown over by the high winds and partly because we wanted the pral or rice straw as feed for the cows. We had to pay the women Rs. 1800 per bigha to cut the fallen rice, well above the going rate of Rs. 1500. (Spot the young deer/nilgai where the line of rice meets the green hedge!)
In contrast to hand-cutting the rice, the combine harvester leaves the rice straw scattered across the fields and the easiest thing to do is to burn it, but this illegal as well as being undesirable. We sold it cheaply to someone willing to bring a team to rake it up for approximately Rs. 200/bigha as opposed to last year’s rate of Rs. 500. In some fields a little was burnt which had not been raked up. While this was happening COP26 was going on, trying to persuade India to sign up to stopping subsidies on cooking gas for the poor. Getting LPG connections to millions of villagers has been one of PM Modi’s greatest achievements. Cooking on wood, in confined spaces particularly, has been one of the leading causes of death from respiratory diseases as well as a major cause of deforestation. By removing subsidies on gas people would go back to cooking on wood. India has it’s own priorities and refused to be bullied.
The mustard, which had germinated poorly was badly affected by the heavy rain coming soon after watering leading to water logging as a result many plants died. On top of that deer/nilgai were biting off the shoots here and there. By the end of November, the mustard was beginning to flower. The bersin for the cows had been sown and the next jobs are to sell the rice and plant wheat.
Work on the room above the workers’ toilets went on slowly and the interior was painted a pale yellow. By 26th November the doors were ready to be fitted. The joiner lives in the nearby village. On the 28th Narayan and family moved into their new one room home with all their belongings.
Covid cases were non-existent but fear of a ‘third wave’ has kept private schools closed for younger children. The vaccine rollout has gone on steadily but with our rice cutting women all complaining of having been ill for three months since their first dose with fever and aching joints there is not much enthusiasm for a second dose. At the time of writing India has declared the pandemic over. Covid is now endemic. This has been achieved by early treatment of covid using a combination of ivermectine or hydraoxychloroquine, along with zinc, magnesium, Vit D and Vit C among others and vaccination has played a minor role. A success story not mentioned in the west.
And to end on a happy note, our fourth grand child was born on 15th November, her elder sister’s 8th birthday, and these were the mithais we distributed to celebrate the occasion.
October is a transitional month between the high humidity and rain of September and a dry cool winter. It only rained once but 1.89 cms. fell and germination of the mustard was affected.
The beginning of the month had been busy with ploughing the fields ready for planting mustard. It was decided to go for the cheaper Pioneer 42 variety costing Rs.600/kg. against the latest version Pioneer 46 which cost Rs.800/kg. Pioneer seed is imported from America and is patented there. The supply can be turned off at any time. Sowing was done on the 12th; seed, DAP and sulphur were mixed together. A shortage of fertiliser is forecast. Petrol, diesel and gas prices have increased Rs.30/litre over the last few months.
The rice was kept watered but by the end of October was looking ripe. The land to be used for our local wheat was prepared and ploughed.
I went to England on 1st October for my brother’s funeral and had to quarantine for 10 days in one place and pre-pay for postal covid tests on days 2 and 8 of my arrival. A test in Jaipur before flying out, one in Reading before coming back and a final one at Delhi airport which cost Rs.500 for exactly the same thing as I’d paid 89 GBP in England.
On almost the same day as my brother died after a three-year decline due to progressive supra nuclear palsy, Sugna’s brother’s young son-in-law threw himself in front of a train with no warning leaving a young widow and a five-year old son, who have come back to live with her parents. That is the second suicide in the last few months to family members of our four employees.
Rajasthan has not had a covid death for three months but schools still only open for older classes with attendance on alternate days. Younger children started at the local government school for a couple of hours a day and were taught as per their age having been given automatic promotion even though they had never had formal schooling. The school was making no effort to bridge the gap despite official policies and the children are only learning to sit still and copy. Millions of young children in India must be in this position. Their education has been sacrificed to keep the rest of the economy going and to slow the spread of the virus. In that sense it has been a successful policy, but at what cost?
During October the building project progressed. Metal railing were made and attached to the steps. Men came to lay the floor tiles and by 25th they were ready to be polished. Notice the figure under the sink polishing tiles.
Once the floor had been polished, the plumber and electrician arrived on the same day to fix the wiring and plumb the sink.
And to finish this month›s blog I would like to show the marble white elephants that are being assembled in Kota. This is a roundabout outside the law courts and apparently it will commemorate the 1857 rebels or 'freedom fighters' who were strung up to neem trees outside the British Residency while sitting on elephants. The elephants were then led away....
In September we had light rain distributed throughout the month and a total of 11.17 cms. as compared to 56 cms. in August. The humidity was high as we were surrounded by flooded rice fields. The main activity was watering the rice and weeding it.
We employed this team of women to wade through the rice removing weeds. The cows can be seen enjoying grazing in the background on monsoon grass.
One more calf succumbed in September. With a white blaze on her forehead, she was proof that Diamond had fathered at least one calf before he died last month. Heera is Hindi for diamond and she had never been strong. She sat down in the sun one day and overheated and became bloated and couldn’t get up. Deepak sprayed her with water to cool her down and we called the vet who didn’t hold out much hope. Before I could buy the prescribed tonics after a night of regular sugar syrup doses which she had survived, she died.
Work on the RAT (Room Above Toilets) went on slowly. Hemraj, a plumber, came on 3rd September and moved the water tanks up a floor onto the roof and did the necessary plumbing. You can see the young rice behind him.
Plastering was done after the plumbing was complete and this rickety bamboo scaffolding was put up. It’s no wonder that masons tend to be small, wiry and nimble as they have to risk their lives on such scaffolding with no safety equipment and no compensation for injury.
One interesting statistic for September was that 1.6 million students took a government teachers entrance examination in Rajasthan alone. The internet was turned off on Sunday, 26th September throughout the state to deter cheating. Students were allocated test centres around the state and in one tragic incident a van load of 12 hopefuls were all killed as they made their way in the early morning from Baran to Shekawati in northern Rajasthan when their van ran into a truck.
Hundreds of thousands of candidates piled into buses and trains to reach their examination centres but there was no subsequent surge in covid19 which had disappeared from Rajasthan. Seasonal diseases such as malaria and dengue are the current health worries. The schools, however, are not all back and junior classes are still being taught online, or not at all as the case may be.
The August story is about rain. We had 56.25 cms, 47.74 cms of which fell in the first week. The whole farm appeared to be one big rice field. In this picture the field in the foreground is not a rice field, although the others are. You can see beyond the wall, beneath the trees on the left, that the stream came right upto the wall so the excess water could not drain away.
On 4th August there was 12.39 cms of rain in the night and the garden was under water. Rain leaked in multiple places in the old part of the house and the wiring was wet so the fridge and TV had to be moved out of the old part of the house. The men couln’t get out of their village until 2.00pm when the water had gone down considerably. Their local transformer was standing just above the water line and so the linesman turned off the power for two days and with it the internet.
The main casualty of such continuous rain was our black bull Diamond. Completely unexpectedly he sat down on 1st August and refused to get up desite the efforts of 7 men using wooden poles to support him underneath and lift him. We gave him boiled wheat with gur am and pm to build up his strength. We put bhoussa (chaff) around and under him and moved him out of the mud. He was sitting up at 10.00pm on 5th August but passed away in the night. The general feeling was that he was Angrezi or foreign i.e. the product of AI, he had weak teeth and so hadn’t been eating properly. He was 13, having adopted us as a 2-year old in 2012.
Diamond is seen here sharing some chickpea straw with his favourite companion. The problem then was how to get him to the road from where the authorities would collect him, for a fee. We had to remove some flag stones and drag him with a tractor. Hardly dignified, but there was no access for other vehicles because of flooding all around.
Later in the month the latest calf, Bahadur, also succumbed. We’d called the vet, but he died soon after receiving injections. He was very weak.
The main effort was to drain the excess water from the young not very tall rice and vegetables. Those who had other crops like soyabean or urad lost the lot. We were able to save most of the vegetables and the rice thrived.
Interestingly, after so much rain there was barely any for the next two weeks and the flooded fields dried out enough to be ploughed.
Construction had stopped on the workers' accommodation but started again at the end of the month. We had to move the water tanks from their first floor position up onto the second floor roof. Parts and pipes were ordered and were delivered in this little orange van with the signage on its side which read 'Ramlakhan Radhika Motors'. Ramlakhan was stopped by the police on his way here and found to have no valid insurance. He got away with Rs. 100 fine which was his profit on the Rs. 400 charged for delivering to us. Business has been so poor that he hadn’t been able to renew his insurance. The police know the situation and stop such people frequently to extract fines.
The economy is down but there is no covid-19 locally and very little in Rajasthan where ivermectin is used as a therapeutic. There has been continuous pressure on our staff to get vaccinated though; being so thin and light anyway, they have lost days of work and thus income, through being ill after receiving their vaccinations.
July was an anxious month waiting for rain. In the end we had approximately 20 cms. mostly in the last week. The building contractor Mishri Lal, managed to coordinate materials, shuttering, roofer and labourers and the support for the roof of the room above the toilet block was prepared by 6th July by five men fixing shuttering and rebars. We covered the walls with thin plastic so the brick work wouldn’t be splattered on concreting day. The plastic will also serve as a separation joint between the brick walls and the concrete roof to allow for movement resulting from contraction and expansion with temperature variations.
On 7th July a team of 12 labourers arrived early, the cement mixer came at 9.00am, concreting started at 11.00am and was finished by 3.30pm. The labourers were thin wiry youths who formed a human chain and passed full metal tigaris of concrete up to the roof of the room above the toilet block. The women in the team supplied the hungry cement mixer with dry ingredients.
We managed to get the roof done the day before we left for Russia for a week and the first heavy rain in July came in our absence and some 33 bighas of rice was transplanted while we were away.
If the rice transplanting is done while the soil is still dry, the water that is pumped in the fields quickly sinks into the soil and so everyone was looking to the skies for rain as it was late. The first stage is to flood the field and Ranjeet started on the 18th. The flooded field is graded and levelled and the earth churned up by the tractor before the planters arrive, who then are able to transplant into churned up soil with some ease.
This year the team of 11 women negotiated a pay rise to Rs. 1500 per bigha. They have to stand ankle deep in mud bent over in rain or shine for this. A team of 11 started on our 20 bighas on the 24th and the heavy rain started on the 26th and continued until the end of the month.
By 31st July, 53 bighas of rice had been planted and the women must have planted at least another 50 elsewhere. The change is rapid and dramatic from bare earth to flooded rice fields.
The threat of covid has receded and there were few new cases in Rajasthan and the covid wards were empty. Vaccination was going on on a voluntary basis and vaccines were being offered to everyone over 18, but with a shortage of doses there were enormous queues. They seem to be trying to give one dose to as many people as possible to hide the fact that a large percentage of people are refusing a second dose in view of the severe reactions they and their colleagues experienced after the first dose. Serum surveys show a very high level of natural immunity to the virus. To keep the fear alive the authorities are predicting a terrible third wave that will affect children and so the schools are still not opening for primary classes in the foreseeable future. This is a betrayal of children’s right to education. Some states are sending the teachers to the children but not Rajasthan.
By the beginning of June, after unusual rain in May i.e. 3.3 cms., the farm was tilled and waiting for rain but it didn’t come. On eight days we had short showers only amounting to 2.17 cms. The temperature also climbed and for the last few days of June was about 42oC with a hot wind.
We sold some surplus pral or rice straw for Rs. 2000 and paid Rs. 4500 to buy some buffalo khad (fertiliser) from the same people. Here they are unloading it and leaving it in neat piles across the field which had to be spread by hand. In the early morning the peacocks were attracted to the gobar (manure) and one morning there were 3 peacocks each on his own castle of a manure pile. I couldn’t capture that but the picture below gives an idea of our peacock population on the farm.
The dogs and calves were very troubled by ticks and we tried not to use a pesticide on them. By soaking fresh neem leaves in water and grinding them into a paste which is sieved through muslin, a fairly effective anti-tick medicine is made. It was used several times by being sprayed on the cows and calves and was effective enough.
Here Lucy is being bathed and treated with our home made neem insecticide. It wasn’t really effective enough and we resorted to the very toxic Nayflee or Spot-on which you spot down the dog’s back. This contains the very toxic FIBRONIL and METHOPRENE which is ending up in rivers and water bodies in Britain in significant amounts as pet owners use flea treatment and bathe their pets regularly and unnecessarily with chemicals which are banned in agriculture. Some rivers down stream of water treatment plants contain 38 times the permitted level! There are 10 million pet dogs in the U.K. and 11 million cats with an estimated 80% being treated for fleas with fibronil.
And from fleas to bats which have been very much in the news as a source of corona and other viruses. This fruit bat was spotted comouflaged in the leaves and we were surprised to see how fluffy its belly was. You can spot its legs and wings more clearly in the second photo.
June continued to be a bad month in Rajasthan for covid-19 but there were no deaths in our village. As conditions gradually eased all shops were allowed to open from 6:00am - 11:00am with a 3-day lockdown at the weekends.By the end of June this was reduced to only Sunday.
Sugna, our maid, had been living on the farm but this was only partly for fear of bringing covid from the village to the farm. She was weary of being abused by her daughter-in-law and decided a tension free life was preferable. On 8th June, after two weeks, Sugna received a delegation including her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren all begging her to come home so she agreed on condition that the verbal abuse would stop and she went home that night. We hear very little about the relatively new trend of 'mother-in-law abuse'!
A village leader and former Sarpanch died of cancer this month but we couldn’t participate in any funeral rites. A young man was crushed to death by his tractor which overturned on him. It is thought he dozed off while driving at night. There is no reliable data for covid deaths versus others.
Our building works made no progress because of lockdown and then from shortage of trained masons so everyone wanted them at once. We are hopeful that roofing work will start in early July. The main farming activities have involved clearing scrub and preparing vegetable beds. We don’t usually have vegetables planted by this time as they get waterlogged or choked with grass as the patch reverts to a grass field during the monsoon.
Time will tell.
A semi-lockdown had been expected from 18th April involving the closure of non-essential shops and night curfews. Fruit, vegetables, dairy and grocery shops were open until 11.00am. Our masons were able to come but, as expected, a full lockdown came into force from 10th-24th and was extended.
There were worrying stories from the villages of 2-4 (do-char) people a day dying from covid-19 after a mere four days of illness. On 12th May the first death occurred in our village. The deceased was brought back from hospital in zipped plastic and taken straight to the cremation ground by men in plastic. Our milkman (he buys our cows milk) was isolating at home with covid but buffaloes needed milking and the milk round needed doing so after 11 days of no one coming to buy our excess milk his son started his round.
The second unusual feature in May this year was the weather. We had some rain on nine different days including 2.11 cms. on 21st May and the farm flushed with green grass. This was partly due to a cyclone off the west coast of India. We were grateful as the temperature didn’t go above 42oC all month - we normally have 45oC for at least a week with dust storms. Once it was mere 25oC.
On 1st May Tikku produced a little red calf with a white blaze on her forehead. This was proof that our black Holstein-crossed bull Diamond named after the white blaze on his forehead, had taken on the head of the herd role after the death of the former patriarch Lasho. We called the calf Heera, which is Hindi for diamond.
The masons were able to come at the beginning of the month and were just able to finish the lintels and the last course of bricks before lockdown. (The formerly healthy uncle of one of the masons had died eight days after being vaccinated but the link was denied by doctors so no one accepting liability.) In some villages people run and hide when the vaccination team arrives as they are more scared of the vaccine than the virus.
We employed a family team to collect the wheat straw from the fields on 1st May and unload it at the cow shed. Three men and three women came and a young boy also came to look after a baby. The labourers worked in the cool of the night and slept on the straw in the open.
On the 2nd the men filled the bhousa ghar through the roof.
On 4th May, one of our men who has been with us for years announced that he was leaving the next morining! He’d got a lift to Madhya Pradesh with a truck that had brought the dowry for a young bride, probably a bed, a metal cupboard and maybe a cooler plus other home making articles. He and his son packed up at midnight and left at 3.00am. Although the border between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was officially closed the driver must have had a permit and they were allowed through. Amar Lal’s wife and two daughters were already in his village.
Ranjeet promptly moved into Amer Lal’s house during the day and vacated his house which needs serious repairs. Ranjeet is a capable worker but has a weakness for drink. He spent 12th May in police custody as a drinking companion had accused him of stealing his mobile phone after a drinking session. He managed to engage a lawyer, was produced in court, and given bail, but no one would pay it for him. At last he borrowed it from somewhere and was able to come home.
Last month we showed the laden jackfruit tree. This month we harvested some bananas from just outside the kitchen door. I made kebabs from the green bananas and curry from the flower and stems. I made a Sri Lankan coconut sauce and although the florets of the flower tasted a bit bitter, the sauce was good! When the bananas ripened they were delicious whizzed up with our own deshi mangoes.
A male nilgai (blue bull) watches as the year moves onto April. One year on from total lockdown, and the direction of travel was going towards a total lockdown again. The vaccine roll out started in India in mid-January and a surge in cases started at roughly the same time. Farmers had been sitting shoulder to shoulder all winter with no spread but something has changed.
Cambridge University researchers after sequencing the genomes found that the UK variant had come into India in December in one part of the Punjab and Mumbai and had spread from there. Being more transmissible (so we are told) but no more lethal it has led to hundreds of thousands of new infections every day and a tiny percentage of those cases end in death but the world’s media was flooded daily with harrowing footage of desparate family members searching for oxygen for their loved ones. In Delhi damaged lungs from long term air pollution has added to the lethal mix. To put the deaths into some context: It is estimated that 1.5 million Indians die a year from air pollution, which is 4383 a day; Corona death figures are around 4000 at the moment but these may be only those who die in hospitals and not those who die quietly and unsung in villages; 27000 all cause mortality is a daily figure.
Who will notify the authorities of the death of a poor person with no property to pass on? How many old people are dying unmourned abandoned by their children? During a lockdown with no visiting of family allowed and no income as no work how can children care for their parents? This is the grim reality. The missing adults may only be noticed in a house to house survey checking the electoral lists and children may never be missed officially.
We also do not know of post vaccination deaths as these are officially denied. We hear of them but this is anecdotal evidence as there is no official reporting system for adverse effects in India. We do know that the chosen vaccine brand ambassador for Tamil Nadu, a very well known 59 year old comedian called Vivek, died the day after being vaccinated on television of cardiac arrest.
And so against a backdrop of vaccinations, seasonal fevers and malaria, April unfolded.
Our organic heritage wheat for home consumption is being cut here by Laxman. It took less than one hour to thresh. The yield was less than half that of a commercial variety.
A combine harvester arrived at 9.45am on 10th April and had harvested 33 bighas by lunch. 20 bighas were hand cut by sickles and threshed at night on the 18th and 19th. The levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are often very high, particularly at night and we don’t know why. This is no different from most cities in the world but we wonder why it's highest at night and how dangerous it is. When it's cloudy our air sometimes smells gassy and we wonder if local industry is releasing gas at night.
For two weeks from 18th April we had semi-lockdown with night curfews and only essential shops open until 11.00am. Construction work stopped apart from government projects. We were able to keep going as our masons could come round on the bypass and avoid police checks. At the beginning of April the walls for an upper room above the new toilet block were marked out with blue lines. The two masons with an assortment of a single labourer each would arrive sporadically on two motorbikes. By the end of the month the walls were nearly complete.
Six women cut, bundled, stacked and threshed the wheat and were paid in wheat. They negotiated an increase from 90kgs. per bigha to 95kgs. and came to bag their share on the 18th. We always weigh the women too and one woman weighed just 40kgs. You are not allowed to donate blood unless you weigh over 50kgs. and yet the same vaccine dose is given to a 40kgs. adult as to her 69kgs. team mate.
After the combine had finished, a straw cutting machine came round to chop the remaining wheat stalks and turn it into cattle feed. The machine charged Rs. 1500 per trolley and it could be sold for Rs. 2000.
The first trolley load of our wheat was sold on 22nd April for Rs.1931/100kgs in the grain market. We decided not to sell locally from the farm and not to encourage strangers entering and mixing with our men.
On 21st April a cow called Ramini gave birth to a little female calf (in circle). She wouldn’t let anyone near her and I had to fetch Mewa Lal who has known her all her life. He wasn’t allowed near either, but by feeding and distracting her, Deepak was able to lassoo her horns and tie her up. Her calf was picked up and moved and she followed later. We thought little Surya (Sunshine) had a spinal injury but by evening she could stand up and was just weak.
While March was a mustard month, April was definitely a wheat month. It also saw our lone jackfruit tree resplendent with a promisie of a rich harvest.
March was "mustard" month. This is the team of hard working women who cut and threshed it. After their work they were given laddus and Kailash, the team leader, is holding the box of laddus. They have been searching for ber (berries) from a tree behind them.
After cutting and drying the mustard was threshed and the first trolley left for the mandi on 3rd March with the second going on the 5th. The price of Rs. 4871/100kgs. was good and reflects the increased demand for pure mustard oil after the ban on blending mustard with rice bran oil, soyabean or palm oil came into effect on 1st October, 2020. In 2018 the price had been Rs.3632, in 2019 Rs. 3501 and last year Rs. 3948.
After the threshing the piles of chaff called bhoosa are left behind and they were sold at Rs. 500 per bigha of land area. It is usually a time consuming business to load the bhoosa trollies which are a feature of Indian roads at this time but this year the buyer came with a tractor mounted shovel and a lorry and the job was soon done. It was like watching a ballet as the tractor twirled and pirouetted raising and lowering its shovel.
The building work progressed slowly and concreting of the steps was done at the beginning of month. It was too small a job to warrant the hiring of a concrete mixer. Once the steps set, work on the room above the toilets commenced.
We had little rain in March, but it was an unusually hot month. It started on 13oC minimum and 34oC maximum and finished at 27oC minimum and 34oC maximum. We had a very hot wind on 7th March with the temperature rising to 37oC so we needed the cooler for the first time this month.
This alsi or flax was hand cut and dried and after threshing the stalks were tied into bundles and attached to a metal frame which protects the cooler from the direct rays of the evening sun. By spraying the flax with water we hoped to increase the cooling effect of the cooler but the smell was unpleasant.
Another crop that was harvested in March was the garlic. After drying it was plaited into 7 large bundles and shared. We keep one bundle for the house, one for sowing and distribute the others to our farm team. Tigger likes to keep an eye on things!
February started with temperatures of 7oC and 28oC. By the end of the month it was 17oC and 35oC.
The women came to cut the mustard from the 12th. The team was about 12 strong but the mother of one of the women died on 21st February and at least four women stopped work for 12 days for the mourning period. It took five days to cut the ripe mustard and it was left to dry. While cutting the first field a family of seven pigs trotted out!
Panditji’s wife died on 24th February having been bed ridden for some years and the full team was involved in the funeral so they restarted on 25th February, cut some mustard sown later and piled up the crop into gallas ready for threshing. Neither of the old women’s deaths were covid releated. There have been no covid deaths around here, but still the primary schools are closed.
My three pupils were very excited as their parents were asked to the school to enrol them but it turned out that they can’t start until 1st April. There is no justification for depriving young children of formal education, particularly if they can walk to their school.
Construction of a room over the toilet block started with a support for an outside staircase. Home designed and made metal ties were used to tie in the reinforced grouted masonry. (A wall in a newly constructed workshop nearby blew out in the wind recently as the bricks had not been properly secured to the concrete pillars!) On the 28th form work for the stairs was put in place.
One of our cows, Charlotte, named after the designer of our upholstery print in 2012, had her fourth calf, Reena, on the 23rd. I have not noticed any of our cows sitting with a protective hoof round their new born before.
Our wheat was watered for the first time in February after urea had been broadcast. Our taller traditional non-hybrid variety of wheat was not given chemical fertiliser. Our vegetables are not given chemicals either. Laxman made a pesticide by soaking pounded neem leaves in water and spraying the sieved result. This back sprayer is battery operated and rechargeable. Hand pumping is not required. We have some cherry tomatoes for the first time this year and I am looking forward to them. Our pea harvest was delicious. New potatoes were dug up this month and we shared them out.
While the young wheat was vulnerable up to 16 nilgai would come in at night to browse and that was a nightly job scaring them away with a powerful torch. And to end this month’s blog with a bird species we were very pleased to welcome this pair of Mahratta woodpeckers which drilled several holes in our dead tree trunks before choosing one. This year is our 25th on the farm. A cycle of tree planting and dying has taken place and woodpeckers and other species are taking up residence.
January is our coldest month and temperatures at night dropped to 5oC but day time temperatures were mostly in the mid-20's. We only had one day when the sun didn't come through and the temperature struggled up to 18oC. Often we have foggy spells but that didn't happen this year. We did however have unusually heavy rain at the beginning of January and again on 8th and 9th January amounting to 5 cms.
The young wheat benefitted as did the mustard which began the month in flower but by the end was beginning to ripen. Here is a misty mustard photograph taken on 30th January.
The main farming activities were cutting undergrowth from last monsoon, repairing the nilgai (deer) fence to try and deter the 14 or so nilgai spotted one night, and watering wheat.
We are about to build a first floor room over the new toilet block and so the space was pegged out for the base of the external staircase.
Another project is to have at least two sun dials made using some French software (Shadowspro) and so measurements were taken to determine the declination of the walls where they will be fastened.
The vegetable garden this year looked immaculate as we are employing three men full time on the farm to help the local economy. Here you can see the flowering flax or linseed in the foreground.
Schools, colleges and educational institutes went back on 18th January but junior classes are still closed despite Covid-19 having almost disappeared from Rajasthan and certainly from the villages. I taught three farm children each day to help as I forsee a national crisis of poorer children dropping out of mainstream education when schools reopen.
The world was made aware of the low transmission of Covid-19 in India as thousands of maskless farmers demonstrated in huge crowds and camped out in near freezing temperatures to try to force the government to backtrack on its neo-liberal agenda of opening up Indian agriculture to big agricultural companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. We personally are unlikely to be affected by the so-called reforms as we will still sell our crops in the mandis and are unlikely to enter into contract farming. We do support the independence of small farmers however and bio-diversity and feel that control of seed production is at stake, a matter of national security. With so much unemployment and under employment millions are dependent on growing their own food and access to land. The old model of forcing people off the land and into the cities will not work with no jobs to go to, or at best menial ones with no security or guarantees. With no furlough system and government support people have to support themselves.
We had some spectacular sunrises in January as well. These purple clouds were photographed on Makkar Sankranti which each year falls on 14th January.
In December, on the whole, we had glorious weather. Just look at the blue sky in this photograph of moving the rice straw (known as pral) from the fields to prepare for wheat sowing.
On 11th December there was drizzle all day and unfortunately that was a very auspicious day for weddings. Sugna, our maid, was involved with a nephew’s wedding. They were allowed 100 guests under covid regulations but finally fed 500 (in shifts?) with the knowledge of the police and no covid outbreak resulted as far as we know. There has been no covid in rural areas and mask wearing has only been enforced in the towns. However, schools and colleges and coaching institutes are still closed.
The mustard was in full bloom and glowed in the sunlight. The night skies were so clear that we saw the Grand Conjunction on 21st December and could see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons through a bird spotting scope.
Before selling the rice we winnowed it through this machine and then filled the trollies directly. Our best price was Rs. 26.76 per kilogram. The highest ever was in 2018-2019, when we earned Rs. 28.51. The lowest was last year when the quality and yield were poor because of a long heavy monsoon and resulting fungus. This year the yield was good although our irrigation bill was higher as it hardly rained in September.
Farmers have been agitating in Delhi against the three agriculture laws brought in by the central government, but local Rajasthan farmers are largely indifferent. We rarely get the crops sold for the government’s minimum support price (MSP) and are aware that the big farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have done very well from being well connected to the source of the funds. We personally don’t like contract farming but the farmer earns more money - so far so good. We fear these new laws may lead to commodity production with all its negative ramifications for small farmers and land holders. They will then be at the mercy of the big corporations. Not nice and we sympathise. Further down the road, plugging into a globalised commodity market controlled from abroad could be disastrous for a country like India.
We sawed wood for our log fire and decorated the house for Christmas knowing we would have few if any visitors.
Once the rice fields were clear we ploughed, watered and sowed wheat. This takes a long time and sowing gets delayed. In one field we experimented with using a rotary tiller to break up the soil, sowing and then watering, which saves time. The germination was good and so far it has been a success. The last wheat was sown on 26th December which is a little later than we like.
A tragedy this month was that our young cow man’s younger brother aged about 16, hanged himself with one of his mother’s saris when everyone in the family was out. Since his school was closed, he’d got a job at a local garage. He died without anyone in the family knowing he felt suicidal. By 9.00pm he had been cremated and no official body was told of his death as they didn’t want to endure the ensuing enquiries by the authorities. Will he appear in any figures for suicides in the state or country over time is anybody’s guess.
And to end on a less sombre note, we did have some stunning sunrises in December. These colours have not been enhanced.
November started with the announcement of the result of our local municipal elections for a ward member. Our ward was reserved for a woman from a scheduled caste or tribe this time around and we had the choice of three women with the surname Meena. One was the wife of the sitting BJP ward member and she didn’t get many votes. Another was the college going daughter-in-law of a congress elder. The third, Ina Meena, was also a college student and campaigned as an independent under the symbol of a cricket bat and ball.
Ina Meena distributed cricket bats and balls to the children in the ward and won by 126 votes. She is chaperoned by her brother and his mobile number is used to contact her. We have high hopes that Ina Meena will help Mewalal’s daughter who has Down Syndrome.
Mewalal continued to walk over to the farm at 8.30am to touch our feet. He is gradually regaining strength and the use of his fingers. At Diwali he was able to help with the Govardhan puja. He was also able to say his farewell to Lasho, our patriarchal bull, on the day that he died.
Lasho had needed help getting up on 7th November and had been given brown sugar or gur and bran to energise him. Two days later he had been helped up, had walked around a bit and had chosen a final resting place under a tree. He had died the following morning. The Nagar Nigam (municipality) cow removal team had come a few hours later and Lasho left the farm for the first time and the last. He lived a good life on the farm for 17 years.
The main agricultural focus of the farm was on rice cutting. Two teams of women worked on different fields. One team of fourteen and the other of ten. Here is the group of fourteen brewing up on an open fire surrounded by tinder dry rice! No health and safety worries here....
Diwali was on 14th November this year although gatherings were banned. Asha prepared her house for it by painting peacocks on the walls known as mandana. Her two sons are part of my daily literacy class but she took them to the safety of her brother’s house soon after Diwali after an incidence of alcohol induced domestic violence and I haven’t seen them since.
As part of Govardhan puja the cows and calves are given sweetened puris. Here is Pintoo giving one to a calf. As the bersim has grown the nightly visits by nilgai and wild pigs have become a problem. Deepak made a scarecrow with a clay matka (pitcher) for a head. He punched two roundish holes in it for eyes and said that a light inside would glow through the sockets and frighten the animals, but we could’t get the light to stay alight, and anyway the animals ignored the strange creature standing amongst their favourite midnight snack.
On 21st November the State government imposed Section 144 banning meetings of more than six persons except for marriages (100 allowed) and political rallies for which there are no limits and all participants are assumed to be immune to the covid virus. A nightly curfew closes the shops by 8.00pm. This order is in place for two months. The schools, colleges and coaching institues have yet to go back.
We had light drizzle on 26th November which stopped the threshing of the rice and the women were sent home. It was dry enough to continue the next day. It was very gloomy with the temperature only getting up to 22oC.
A total of five trolley loads of rice were threshed and stored under big black plastic sheets waiting for the rice price to go up. The yield is much better than last year. From the same land it took eleven hours to thresh the rice last year. This year it took sixteen-and-a-half hours.
In this photo, threshing is going on in the background. The galas or piles of pral or rice straw are waiting in the field to be taken away for fodder. The straw from our basmati type rice is enjoyed by cows and so there is no question of stubble burning. The disc plough in the foreground has already been used to prepare the field for the next crop - wheat.
And in this favourite photograph of mine two trollies of pral are leaving the farm while the old bullock cart gently collapses from termite infestation. Symbol of a bygone era.
October has been an eventful month with the temperature decreasing gradually to a pleasant 31oC or so with cool nights. The mustard thrived and we gave it an early watering to encourage ungerminated seeds to sprout and fill in the gaps. There was no rain all month.
Vijay celebrated his 70th birthday by planting 30 orange citrus trees and 20 native trees. As a sign of the times we held a Zoom tea party with our children and grandchildren.
I didn’t mention lockdown restrictions in September and they were not onerous. Similarly in October, life is superficially back to normal but schools and colleges are still not back. This deprives the majority of rural children of access to formal education as they have no internet.
The parents of such children are often struggling to earn money to feed the family. Cheap subsidised wheat is available for such families but nothing else. We flagged down two kabari wallahs going past on motorbikes and invited them in to take our recyclable stuff. They were from a nomadic community called the banjara and had had no income for several months. They bought a year’s worth of our scrap metal, tin, bottles and newspapers for Rs. 550.
My Verandah School for four children had only one pupil for most of October as the three boys were staying with their grandparents. Here Ritu is learning to match seeds to numbers.
The main drama this month has not been covid related. Our cow man of many years, Mewa Lal, is a pensioner and receives Rs. 750 from the government each month so he has to keep working to support his wife and adult daughter with Down’s syndrome. This is a cause of great worry for him. On 9th October he went back to his village north of Bundi as his brother had died from cancer. He didn’t return and we heard two days later that he’d suffered a major stroke and was paralysed on his left side. Vijay went to find him and he had recovered enough to be able to sit up and speak a little. He had avoided doctors and hospitals and had been taken twice to a Mataji Temple 25 kms. away. Vijay promised him Rs. 4000 and to pay his electricity bill each month for the forseeable future.
Through simple faith and the grace of God Mewa Lal recovered and was able to come home to his wife and daughter. On 27th he walked to the farm to touch his head to the ground before each of us and to meet the cows. He walks 4 kms. each day as he visits morning and evening. He obviously feels this is the only way to ensure we keep paying his pension.
We needed to employ another cow man and after enquiries employed 20-year old relation of Amarlal’s who usually makes furniture but has taken six months leave to look after our cows until his father can leave his current employment and they all move here.
We are in need of more accommodation as Amerlal, who had said he was leaving at the end of October, changed his mind and so will not be vacating his house. We are planning to build a room over the toilet block.
And finally for October we all voted in the municipal elections for a ward member. The seat was reserved for a scheduled caste or tribe woman and so we had a choice of three women called Meena. Manju Meena was the wife of the current BJP ward member and got very few votes. Sanju Meena was the daughter-in-law of a Congress party leader and did well but she was beaten by Ina Meena, a young Independent who adopted the cricket bat as her symbol and went round villages distributing cricket bats to the children. She won by 128 votes. When she has settled in her office I shall go and try and get some disability allowance and support for Mewa Lal’s daughter. 66% of the constituency used electronic voting machines successfully and the results were available within hours and were accepted as free and fair.
America could learn a lesson.
September, although the last monsoon month, has been relatively dry, hot and humid. We had approximately 15cms rain bringing the monsoon total to 87.5cms. Last year it was 148cms. There was rain on only 6 days out of 30. Here is a male eggfly butterfly basking in the sun after a wet night.
The lush monsoon grass was enjoyed by the cows and then the fields were ploughed to prepare the soil for mustard sowing.
Here they enjoy the last field before it was ploughed.
A view from above of the disc harrow used for breaking the clods.
By the end of September the rice was ‘flowering’. In the background you can see flowering teak trees. Less fungus on the rice than last year but some stem borer infestation. We didn’t spray.
This is di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) into which sulphur and mustard seed was mixed before sowing on 30th September. You would expect it to be light in colour but they add a colouring agent. India is the world’s largest importer of DAP and most of it came from Hubei province in China which was locked down for weeks. India had to source it from elsewhere for some time but there has been no effect on supply or price that we have noticed. Indian businesses are encouraged to boycott Chinese goods because of their aggressive border policies but it is not clear if there will be a substantial change. Since imported DAP is coloured black, Indian produced DAP appears to be coloured black too to compete. This raises questions about dye run-off into the ground water.
After July in which only 11.55 cms. rain fell, we had rain on 19 days in August and a total of 45.74 cms., mainly in heavy showers, the most being 5.92 cms. in just over an hour. The more rain the better as far as we are concerned.
Our rice planting was completed on 5th August which is later than usual and weeding started on 13th August. Upto 14 women worked bent over standing in water from 9.30am to 5.30pm with an hour’s break for lunch for Rs. 200. They worked for us for six days. Asha who came back to live on the farm in mid-May weighing just 39 kgs. was strong enough to work all day in the team.
The five young children on the farm were looked after by 12 year old Dashrath while both mothers worked. School should have started on 1st July but the opening was put back and put back.
On 29th August I started a basic Hindi and literacy class based on playing with nimboos or lemons and card games for the 4-6 year olds. No one seems to be concerned that millions of children are not able to access online lessons and are receiving no formal education.
More lockdowns were introduced in August as "lockdown weekends" and then finally 28th August - 6th September was announced as a lockdown week over a crucial festival period of Ganesh Immersion Day (Anant Chaturthi) and Muharram which usually involve huge processions and crowds.
Farm life was largely unaffected as we contended with the usual problems of keeping rodents and snakes out. A false ceiling was put in the motorbike shed and every last tiny hole blocked. This is Ranjeet filling the holes with a cement-sand mixture, putting a stop to those pesky long tailed tree mice making the shed their home. The beam in his own living quarters had been eaten by rats, so a sturdy babool tree post with a fork at one end was put under it to support the beam and roof to last the monsoon till further repairs are possible. When his television stopped working he found a mouse inside it!
While out on a walk one evening we came across a peahen sitting on these three eggs. She was so well camouflaged and only took flight when I nearly stepped on her. A few days later (5th September) only one egg remained in the nest. You can see the nest is right up against a rice field. The darker green plants at the back are rice plants.
We look forward to our monsoon clouds. This was a beautiful sunny evening at the end of the month. All the fields are waterlogged, as we have heavy clay soil, but they are thick with grass which the cows appreciate. The fields to the right which are darker green are rice.
The international media is telling the world that corona virus is out of control without mentioning the 1200 people who die from TB every day. There have been 4 million recorded corona cases and 70,626 deaths which comes to 470 a day over the last five months, approximately 1.7%. The main reason for the low hospitalisation and death rate is that treatment with hydroxychloroquine, zinc, vitamins D and C, plus an antibiotic is recommended from day 1, but HCQ is still not WHO approved.
After reasonable rain in June we were looking forward to the arrival of the monsoon in July, but in fact we had less rain than June. June-15.3 cms. and July-11.5 cms., whereas last year we had 54.3 cms. in July. And so it was very hot all month, but we flooded the fields and planted the rice anyway.
Once the section of the a field has been flooded it is churned up by tractor which we call guddling (actually grading) and then the team of 11 women moved in to transplat rice seedlings. We started late this year to allow the weeds to germinate before being ploughed in and because of lack of rain; so the women started working on 17th and kept going until the end of July.
Our summer vegetables came to an end so the cows were let in to graze and then the vegetable garden was cleared, ploughed and planted with sweetcorn, okra and guar. This year we tried peanuts at Ranjeet’s insistence but the gilleries (squirrels) ate them all.
We did experiment with jackfruit (katail) and tried various recipes from YouTube. From ice-cream to curries. The hardest thing is to cut up the jackfruit as it exudes a very sticky white latex. You have to coat your hands and knife in oil. Once it is really ripe it can be eaten raw and is sweet but develops a strong smell. The seeds can be eaten in many ways e.g. boiled and dry roasted with salt.
And here are a a pair of sarus cranes enjoying the freshly planted rice fields. They are rare but very welcome visitors these days.
Our Gypsy 4WD was reconditioned and the body welded and resprayed. It is now 29 years old. We went for a trip out into the countryside and there life is back to normal with no covid-19, few masks and little attempt at social distancing. In town it was different and masks were obligatory and hand sanitiser and temperature guns ubiquitous.
The Rajasthan state borders were closed for some time although trains were running to Delhi and Mumbai. Very few buses running, so packed auto-rickshaws and an upsurge in motorbike purchase and use. No schools reopened at the beginning of the session in early July and no provision was made for children from homes with no internet for online classes. I bought books and slates and encouraged Asha, who is literate, to teach the children each morning.
The main focus in June was finishing the toilet block during a period of easing of lockdown. The men came to apply the terrazzo on the floor and walls on the 6th and it was dry and ready to be polished on the 11th. The power was off for hours at a time but they patiently sat it out. By the 15th the painter came and painted the inside of the toilet block. He also repainted the house roof with waterproof paint to keep the rain out.
We had our first ‘social’ event for months when Vijay’s aunt died on 4th June aged 97 and he attended her cremation. All the 20+ men present wore masks, and her mask wearing daughters and grand-daughter lit the pyre, which is still unusual.
On the 12th day there was the traditional ceremony to feed Brahmins, followed by a lunch for family members. The thirteen family members who gathered sat well spaced out and wore cloth masks except for when eating. There is near total compliance to the masks rule among most people, although bandanas are more prevalent in rural areas. It is seen more as a matter of courtesy than effectiveness.
Some of the workmen came with masks but we didn’t wear them on the farm. As soon as non-essential travel was allowed Vijay shot off to Jaipur and back in a day to collect a new motorcycle battery. Overnight guests were still not allowed in the apartment blocks in Jaipur.
In June we usually have one or two pre-monsoon showers but this year we had rain on 15 different days totalling 15 cms (last year we had 3.5 cms on the last 3 days of June.)
The farm-hands repaired the roofs with new tiles as necessary and cut thorns along the rice field boundaries in preparation for bare footed women planting rice. Dhaincha was broadcast as green manure and ploughed over to cover the seeds. The farm began to flush green and this photograph, taken on 23rd June captures the beginning of monsoon.
Lasho, our geriatric bull, has been living tied to a jamun tree so a tin shed was put up on 28th for him. It also doubles as a ‘milking parlour’ in the rain. He was moved just in time as a sizable branch of this jamun tree came down in strong winds.
Electric fittings were put in the toilet block and it was connected to the mains on 18th June. The joiner came on the 19th and fitted the windows he had made, and prepared doors from New Zealand plywood covered in formica. On the 22nd Amar Lal and family moved their possessions into the toilet block and slept outside while the floor of their living quarter was raised to help prevent flooding in the monsoon. Once Amar Lal had moved out, the finishing touches of plumbing, window frame oiling etc. were done in time for the official opening in the evening of 28th. The building had been 13 months in the making from one delay or the other, but particularly a very wet monsoon last year and covid-19 lockdowns this year.
There had been no cases of corona virus associated with the farm or village and Kota deaths stood at approximately 20, but the number of cases in India’s metros had started to increase rapidly as lockdown eased. We escaped locust destruction this month (some did appear on the farm and quickly moved on) and hope they won't visit once the rice is planted. A very real danger.
We started May looking forward to the end of lockdown-2 on the 3rd. A trolley load of wheat sold at the mandi for Rs. 1800 per quintal on the 1st. The Government support price was Rs. 1925 but they were buying very little and very slowly.
With some easing of restrictions certain rural industries were allowed to start and we could smell the brick works.
On the 4th the male labourers at the mandi went on strike as they wanted women labourers to come and sweep up for them, but the ususal women were in a containment zone nearby. As soon as a compromise was reached the artiyas went on strike over the sudden imposition of a 3.6% increase in the tax that they had to pay - applicable only in Rajasthan.
We took the unusual decision to empty a ready filled wheat trolley as the trolley was needed for moving wheat bhousa from the fields. We weighed the trolley at a weighbridge before emptying it.
Despite a night curfew from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am agricultural work went on at night as the daytime temperature was in the mid-40oC. A team of unemployed construction workers came at night to manually load wheat chaff from the piles in the fields and deposit it in the bhousa ghar, after removing some tiles from the roof to make a hole, and also in piles outside in three places. Job creation for desperate people, but important for our cattle. These young men were from farming families and were known personally to us. They came to ask for the bhousa contract. Rs. 500 per trolley load shared between eight of them, and the same sum for emptying a trolley load in the bhousa ghar. They filled and emptied 17 trollies over 2 nights.
But on the other side of town the labourers have left and the man who bought the mustard bhousa from us couldn’t get workers and came with a tractor mounted shovel to load his tractor trailer. This is the first time we have seen this on our farm.
During the lockdown we could hear people cutting wood in the municipality owned land across the road with no one checking on them. (Similarly, some poaching was reported of deer, and some tigers in Sariska and Ranthambore santuraries have not been seen recently.) The politicians were delivering dry ration kits to some, but many people were living on credit from their local shop and eating very little.
One of our hallis, Dinesh, moved to another local farm and a former halli, Ranjeet, asked to come back. Ranjeet had worked for us in 2010 when aged 20 and newly married. His first son, Ashish, was 20 months old when his father left to earn more doing reinfored cement concrete (RCC) work. He now has three sons and had outstanding rent and food bills with no income in sight because of the corona virus lockdown. One son was living with one set of grandparents, and a another had gone to the other set in early March and they hadn’t been able to see him since - he is aged 4 years. We paid off his debts and he moved back to the farm on the 24th. He weighed 53 kgs. and his wife, Asha, 38.5 kgs. This is one family known to us that we have been able to help. What about millions of others trying to reach their home villages in desperation? (Incidentally, Dinesh’s new employer paid off his debts to us.)
From 13th May our men could go shopping in Kaithoon 5 kms. away on bicycles as long as no vehicles were used. No buses or public transport were running. There has never been one positive corona virus case around here to date. They had all been in the densely packed areas in town.
On 15th May, a local man employed as a chowkidar by a relation of ours was found murdered. He had been slashed in the face with an axe according to reports. He had recently been here with his metal bars to ‘cure’ a calf with a dislocated shoulder. He heated them in a cow dung fire and singed muscle with the rods so the joint slips back in place. Each village used to have someone who knew this technique of daah, as it is called in Hadoti. Our local knowledge has now gone. The identity of the murderer and motive is still unknown.
17th May was the official end of lockdown-3 and we’re into lockdown-4. The mandi opened again post-strike, the trolley was again filled with wheat, the last bags piled on top and off it went to be sold. Only Rs. 1755 per quintal against the Government price of Rs. 1925. We’d tried to sell it direct to the mills as is now allowed under a change of law, but they weren’t offering the minimum support price or close to it - dropped that idea.
On 20th May the toilet block work re-started as construction work was allowed again. The septic tank was concreted over, the sewage pipes also enclosed in concrete, and the inspection chambers finished. Inside the toilets, the floor was prepared for thin terrazzo with glass strips. White cement was mixed with a golden yellow colour and a terrazzo mixture made with white and black marble chips in a 1:7 proportion. The prepared mixture was applied. After drying it will be polished by machine.
During the hottest week of the year - up to 47oC - we employed a family of two men and four women to spread gobar manure in one of our fields. We then tasked them to clear a drainage channel as more job creation and the four women came but only one man. It is said that 300 local labourers have been taken on at the sewage treatment plant construction site across the road in an effort to give employment to as many people as possible. With all hotels, restaurants, schools, colleges, shopping malls and religious places still closed, employement chances are slim for now.
We entered April naively thinking that the lockdown would end on 14th April but by the end of the month we were two-thirds through lockdown phase 2. Here the March mustard crop sits ready but locked down. The wheat has ripened in the field behind it.
Luckily agriculture and the wheat harvest were to go on although the markets were closed. We harvested our garlic from the vegetable garden, plaited it and shared it out amongst five employees. Here is Sugna taking her share home. She managed to walk here every day apart from the curfew day on 4th April, when teams of medical personnel went from house to house looking for possible corona virus cases, and contact tracing. Even the dudh wallah was not allowed to leave his house to sell his milk that day. Police chased the children back into their homes with lathis.
Movement on the main roads was tightly controlled and I had difficulty persuading the police to let me through the barricade for a weekly fruit and vegetable shop. Masks had to be worn. It is difficult to imagine how hard it was for people with no income for six weeks. The poorest received free wheat from the ration shops (5 kgs. per adult per month) and dry rations from the local MLA funded by private donations. Small amounts i.e. Rs. 500 were paid into the bank accounts of the poorest women each month, but the rest?
On 7th April six women came to cut the wheat. They were paid in kind (wheat) and we held to last year’s rate of 90 kg. per bigha as the government support price for wheat had gone up to Rs. 1925. No combine harvester was used this year and some fields were given to two other groups of harvesters to speed up the work and share the benefits in the absence of other work. This year the unemployed sons of the women were free to help and would come to stack the wheat into gallas and to do the threshing.
The green fodder or bersin for the cows had finished so we broadcast some sood/jo/bajra which will be ready in a few weeks. In the meantime, as we were low on other fodder, we threshed some wheat as quickly as possible so the cows could eat the bhousa or chaff.
By 20th April mining and some rural factories were allowed to restart and the agricultural market opened but just for wheat using a token system to prevent the usual crowds.
On 28th we heard that the mandi was going to accept mustard and chana for sale for two days so we loaded the trolley and sent it on the 29th. It got the best price of the day at Rs. 39.48 per kg. which made it worth the wait. Very few people grow mustard nowadays if they have water for wheat and rice. In this photograph, our mustard is being weighed and bagged in the foreground by masked labourers. In the background 50 kg. sacks of mustard are being loaded manually into a truck. The scene is quiet and orderly with social distancing being followed in name.
On the final day of April the women cutters and their out-of-work sons and husbands came to bag their earned wheat and carry it home on their motorcycles or the tractor-trolley provided by our only share cropper. Not a mask in sight. In the background you can see a gul mohar tree in full flower. The air is clear and we enjoyed unpolluted air for the whole month with little traffic noise and more assertive wildlife.
Little did we imagine at the start of the month that by the end India and its 1.3 billion people would be under curfew and that a large percentage of them would have lost their source of income in four hours flat. The lockdown was announced at 8pm on 24th March to come into effect at midnight. We had been in a state of semi-lockdown since the mandatory "People's Curfew" for 24 hrs. on Sunday, 22nd March which we had been told then would last until the 31st. Suddenly total lockdown hit. In the whole of March not one positive case of corona virus was found in Kota.
The toilet block progressed at first and the plumber came and installed two white tanks on the roof which we covered with green netting to make them less visibile and aesthetically acceptable. All toilet pans, basins and piping were installed by 8th March in time for the Holi festival.
Holi was on the 10th but very few people came to visit us. There was a feeling that mixing with people was not a good idea but social distancing as a concept had not been enforced in India, just hand washing.
Eight women started cutting mustard on 3rd March and threshing took 2.5 days from 16th March. They had to cut the mustard, leave it to dry and later pile it up into gallas and finally feed the thresher. That was over by the 18th and since then women have barely been out of their houses. They are keen to hand cut our wheat but want an increase in the amount of wheat in kind they will be paid per bigha.
The mustard seed is piled in a heap near the house and also stored in a trolley wrapped in black plastic. At first the mustard price was very depressed and then the mandi closed entirely. Who knows what price farmers will get once the agricultural world limps back to normal.
The wheat had to be watered this month and we had some very blustery windy weather around 6th March with beautiful clouds and colouring as the wheat was blown in the wind and swayed rhythmically - reminded me of the colours in Britain. By the end of the month the green had ripened to golden and the weeds had grown taller than the crop and become very visible. We don’t spray weedicide. Luckily it was still green enough to be undamaged by the band of rain and thunder that swept across the country on 27th March, but many farmers had damage from hailstones.
The weather was very pleasant all month with snow on the Himalayas later than usual and by the end of March India had its cleanest air quality for decades with the closing of most industry and the total ban on transport.
As humans have retreated nature has begun to take back space and nilgai have been spotted sauntering through shopping areas of Delhi. We had a visit from India’s largest bird, a sarus crane. They used to visit regularly but are now seldom seen on the farm.
One little rodent that seems to be doing well is the longtailed tree mouse. When Vijay’s motorcycle wouldn’t restart at a petrol station on 4th March one jumped out when he removed the seat to inspect the battery. The battery had died and a suitable replacement was ordered. It reached Jaipur but became "locked down." Since the bike was not being used it was stored inside the "mouse proof" shed, but another longtailed tree mouse chose the cavities of the bike to build her nest. Rags bunged in to cover the removed seat and battery were welcomed and shredded for its litter.
By 31st March we were one week into total lockdown with another two weeks to go. Luckily two farm workers live on the farm and the other two were able to walk here to look after the cows - and us!
At the beginning of February the mustard was still flowering, but by the end the seeds were swelling and ripening.
The main farming work was watering the wheat and guarding it against nightly invasions of nilgai. A group of young ones chaperoned by one or two wise elders, nine in all, used to appear in the wee small hours when they expected it to be safe for the nursery group. But Vijay was out there flashing a powerful torch forcing them to move on.
Doosra, our outdoors dog, mostly alerted us to the arrival of the nilgai but on the 11th he chased a nilgai onto the next farm at 0900 hrs. and got into a fight with their dogs. He was badly mauled and howled in pain each time he got up or sat down. Since he is not used to being handled we gave liquid pain killer twice a day in his milk to help nature’s healing. He licked his wounds to heal gradually.
One more calf was born, a third male on the trot, on 8th February and we named him Moti which means pearl. The three recently born calves - Abhinandan, Bojo and Moti - love chasing each other. We can reveal the solution to the problem outlined last month of Poonam turning around and drinking her own milk. She now wears a cotton rope harness to prevent her doing that.
Work continued slowly in the toilet block with a young couple finishing the internal plastering work. Other young people moved the soil heaps tagari by tagari (headloads in metal bowls) to landscape around the block. A trench was dug for the external pipes and by the end of February the pipes were laid and we were waiting for the plumber.
And here is Doosra recuperating in his favourite place, my wild flower bed. I collected the seeds from cultivated sweet peas last year and planted them but they all returned to type and have produced clumps of tiny pale mauve sweet peas which sadly have no fragrance that we can detect but maybe Doosra was benefitting from aromatherapy.
We could wait no longer for the price to go up and on 1st January the first trolley of rice left for the mandi. We sold 5 trolley loads over the next few days and Rs. 20.75 per kg. was the highest we received. Last year we got Rs. 28.51 so a huge drop in yield, price and income.
There were several very misty days in January and the sun usually came through after 11:00am. Here the parakeets are enjoying scattered rice grains. Wild boar, nilgai and monkeys also enjoyed gorging on our crops. And let’s not forget the long-tailed tree mouse found to be living inside the diamond frame tubes of the Yamaha R3 motorcycle and which had to be partly dismantled to evict the mouse and tape the wires it had gnawed into.
Within a few days of sowing, the wheat germinated and towards the end of January was having its first watering of three. There was a very short shower but no significant winter rains this year. The mustard was flowering at the beginning of the month and was finishing by the end.
Continual watering from the borewell may have caused the motor to burn out. We have an efficient repairer in the village and using a tripod the submersible pump and motor were hauled out, the motor was removed, rewound and re-installed the following day.
After a long period of over four months with no milk from our cows, we had two calves born this month. The first on 8th January and the second on 30th being just one day before Brexit and so he was named BoJo (Boris Johnson). Usually we start taking milk from each cow after five days when it stops curdling when boiled. The new mother is given a fortifying mixture of melted gur or brown sugar with aj-wa-in (carom seeds rich in calcium and iron), and broken wheat morning and evening for a week. Since the nights were cold, down to 6oC on some nights, we left the milk for the calf for two weeks before taking 1 litre each day just in the evening. We then discovered that Poonam, the cow, had been drinking her own milk and this problem just has to be solved....
And after almost two cold months the plastering has started in the toilet block. The delays have been due to the contractor’s wife being in and out of hospital several times for a routine gall stone removal and he has also been ill. Hopefully, we can now get on and get the project finished. On 31st January a young husband and wife team came and started plastering the inside of the block.
December night temperatures started at 15oC and dropped to 4oC with minus temperatures in western and northern Rajasthan.
We had a good day for concreting the toilet block roof on 2nd December. Three young couples from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh came as labourers and worked as an efficent team feeding the cement mixer monster and passing the mixed concrete up to the one on the roof who laid it. One woman was breast feeding and would take a break to feed her 12 month old baby slung in a sari between two trees while the others adjusted accordingly. They started at 12:20 hrs. and worked non stop for four hours.
Once the roof had been laid it was watered twice daily until 21st December to cure it and then the shuttering was removed. No further work happened in December as the local workforce found it too cold to work and remained hunched near little fires we were told.
Meanwhile the work of removing the pral (rice straw) either by tractor trolley or in head loads continued. We were paid Rs. 500 a bigha for the rice straw as fodder, slightly up on last year’s price.
Once the gullas of rice straw had been removed the fields could be ploughed and watered and prepared for growing wheat.
The seed drill is being filled with an equal mixture of wheat seed variety 4037 and DAP fertiliser. The wild boar for miles around seem to know when wheat has been planted and are very likely to turn up on the first night snuffling along the rows eating the grain as they go. Pigs and nilgai were nightly visitors, as well as rhesus monkeys during the day. One night jackals were heard close by. Twenty years ago jackals were daily visitors and their strange human-like wailing sound sometimes terrified guests but we rarely hear them that close any more.
We built two "scarepigs" and in this end of December photograph you can see one looming in the mist. The mustard is in full flower and the rock bees have arrived and have taken up residence.
November was a month devoted to rice. By the 10th the cut bundles had dried out enough despite unseasonal rain at the beginning of the month to pile up into heaps called gallas. On the 11th threshing started and went on intermittently until the 30th.
Once the grain has been extracted the problem remains of huge piles of rice straw or pral which have to be removed. Some was moved in headloads to the side of the field. Here you can see Dashrath and Ritu gleaning for rice with head loading going on in the background. Some was sold and was removed in ungainly overloaded tractor trolley loads.
This variety of rice is like basmati and cattle can eat the relatively delicate stalks but larger grains of rice grow on sturdier stalks which animals don’t want to eat, and so, since it is in nobody’s interest to pick it up from the fields after a combine has scattered it around, the farmer burns it leading to inevitable air pollution problems. We use a halfway type of process which involves hand cutting so the stalks left in the ground are short and will bio-degrade and mechanical threshing which results in the straw being deposited in piles and usable as fodder. It is still labour intensive though and we are lucky having a team of 10 women willing to do such hard work. This peaceful rural scene shows the women working in the background and the cows enjoying the freedom to graze in the rice fields watched over by Mewa Lal.
The toilet block finally got going again after the monsoon as the ground was hard enough for the site to be accessed by vehicles with roofing materials. On 27th November the material was delivered and two men worked for three days putting up the shuttering and laying the reinforcement bars. Concreting day was scheduled for 2nd December.
More torrential rain. We thought we’d reached the end of the monsoon but on 1st and 2nd October another 5.3 cms. fell bringing the total for the monsoon to 148 cms. or 58.2 inches, as measured on the farm. The legacy was mould on interior walls and fungus on the rice. The walls were cleaned with hydrogen peroxide but the rice developed black blobs of fungus which we think is called false smut. The grains were smaller this year which may be due to lack of sun. The grass between the fields grew as tall as the rice and here are Tigger and Doosra finding a way through.
On the 25th rice cutting operations started and here is the team. They cut bundles and laid them to dry. Later the bundles will be fed into a thresher by hand.
Divali came at the end of the month and Dashrath, and others, lit oil filled diyas and put them around the parapet before a few fireworks and sparklers lit up the night. But air pollution is such an issue that crackers are officially banned and smokey fireworks discouraged.
We get the leepna done every year after the monsoon and usually that means the end of September. These women came on 16th October.
Other activities on the farm included planting 30 bighas of mustard. Usually, we pre-irrigate but this year it was judged that the ground was wet enough and it was sown on the 17th without pre-irrigation. In some fields the trampling of the cows hooves had compacted the soil so that it had to be ploughed three times rather than twice. We would like to get rid of most cows but there is no legal way to do it.
Another 20.08 cms. this month and it rained on sixteen days. The muddy track had started to dry out but on the 12th there was 3.3 cms. of rain in 1.5 hours and the monsoon became active again. Because the reservoirs were full the authorities released a lot of water and all nineteen gates of the Kota Barrage were opened leading to flooding in low lying areas of the town.
Befor the rain started again the masons came and fitted stone lintels for the doors of the toilet block and reinforced brick lintels over the windows. By 9th September it was ready for the roof.
Greenery sprouted dramatically and an area beside the irrigation minor which was last cleared four years back by slashing and burning has now been named the Butterfly Walk. Various trees have self-seeded including shisham, kadam, khair and deshi babool and lantana and other shrubs have filled the ditches. The grass was cut before this picture to make it walkable. The palas or flame of the forest had been there before.
This photo sums up this year’s monsoon and the struggle to maintain property. Mould grew on the interior walls and roofs leaked where they hadn’t leaked before. The rice thrived but the worry is that it will develop fungus in the high humidity and late rains, and the grains underdevelop for the lack of sunlight.
The most significant feature of August 2019 was the record rainfall. After July’s 50.74 cms. or 20" we had 68.19 cms. or nearly 27" in August, giving a total of 118 cms. or 47" in two months. Luckily we upgraded our old thermos rain gauge to a larger one as 10 cms. could fall in 2 hrs and would fill up the thermos. The volume of the water collected was divided by the area of the funnel to give the rainfall measurement. (Spot the thermos and funnel!)
The water level in the well was the highest ever noted and water was standing around the cow shed and workers houses so the three children living on the farm looked marooned inside for a few days. No work could be done on the toilet block and a new use was found for it as a dry home for the calves.
Local rivers burst their banks and Kaithoon, a local town, was flooded. All dams were full by the end of the month. With gates of the barrage open, the River Chambal was restored to full majesty.This in an area dry and desparate for water in June.
By 26th August most flood water had drained away, but our
drive was still so muddy and rutted that only our trusty 4-wheel drive Gypsy could traverse it.
During the rain upto 29 women were given employment weeding the rice from 6th - 22nd August. They were paid Rs. 180 a day. No one else we knew of was providing weeding employment for them as it is cheaper to spray herbicide/weedicide. The rain sodden cows sploshed about looking for green fodder in the water logged fields and the milk became very watery.
Amidst all this rain, the transformer feeding electricity to our main boring pump stopped working inexplicably. We took it down, hoping to transport it to the central power house in Nayapura, Kota and exchange it the next day, but the procedure has been changed where a working transformer is delivered to the consumer and the faulty one taken away - as it should be. The replacement transformer was fixed on Friday the 23rd.
And here is little Rima, nearly one and standing, enjoying being outside her home on dry land. Rima’s father Amarlal is one of our wokers.
The monsoon got off to a good start with 19.5 cms. of rain before 10th July. The men flooded the paddy fields, the tractor churned up the mud and this team of 11 women transplanted the rice seedlings in rain or shine. Here they are bent double in the rain wearing plastic capes with hoods and working for roughly Rs. 215 a day.
The women worked from 10th July - 21st until they had planted 53 bighas of rice. Other fields had been green manured with dhaincha and as fodder for the cows.
It became very hot as we had no rain from 10th July - 25th and temperatures touched 38oC with high humidity. But from 25th - 31st another 31.28 cms. fell making a total of 50.74 cms. or 20". Many of the reservoirs had been dry and Jaipur was rumoured to be a mere few days from running out of water. The grass had had its annual cut before the monsoon using serated curved sickles used for cutting rice and known as Bihari dentalis. The roots were quite brown as you might just be able to discern under the rain water.
The walls of the toilet block started to come up above the plinth. A young mason Daleep and his young labouring wife with two young children came on the 16th and worked for four days before leaving to go back to their village. After four days of work three courses of English bond brick work had been laid. Work was slow for various reasons, one of them being that Daleep had no prior experience of laying an English bond. No further work was done in July to the frustration of its future users.
A strange and unfortunate incident on 22nd July was the sudden and inexplicable death of this cow. For a forgotten reason she was called Modi in 2014 and her calf Abhimanyu was named after the Indian Pilot who shot down a Pakistani F-16 and was in turn shot down from ground fire in February. She was found on her side at 4.30 pm in the bara or cow enclosure and was dead within half-an-hour. She was bloated but no other animal was suffering, so bloat or a snake bite seemed the only causes. But there were no visible signs of external injury or bite. The men from Nagar Nigam (local council) whoc came to take her away declared that she had been bitten by a female monitor lizard. There is no accepted evidence of monitor lizards being venemous and in the absence of a post mortem this explanation will continue to be cited. They had to drag her out of the bara and then transport her on a tractor lift. It is not clear where she would have been taken but her skin would probably been sold. The men who took her away have a contract with the Nagar Nigam to collect all the dead animals but demanded Rs. 1200. They settled for Rs. 900 in the end.
The same day,our maid Sugna, was bitten on the heel by a dog belonging to the next door farm. We insisted she went and saw a doctor, who prescribed her a course of anti-rabies injections. She received them for free having BPL (Below Poverty Line) status, being a single woman dependent on her son. We hope she got well stored and current vaccinations.
And to end on a more cheerful note, these are our first ever katel or jackfruit grown on the farm on a tree that is at least ten years old. Jackfruit is messy to prepare and it is advisable to wear rubber gloves as they exude a thick white sticky latex, but the flesh is very nutritious and somewhat similar to pork in texture and flavour. The farmworkers got their share and were delighted with natures bounty.
May is usually the hottest month but this time the temperature went up to 47oC in June and was never below 42oC. The workers were unfazed and were glad to be working in the shade. On 1st June five men drilled four holes for the caisson/pillars for the toilets using a manual augur.
By 4th June the baffles and the cast iron pipes in the septic tank had been fitted. Most plumbing and sewage pipes in homes are now plastic. Meanwhile the trenches for the foundation for the toilet block were being dug and on 8th June the concrete was poured in the trenches and caissons over steel reinforcement bars to form beams/footings and pillars. A brick wall to take the ground slab was built over the continuous footing and filled with soil and aggregate and the plumber summoned to put in place the soil and drain pipes, but his sister had died and so a delay was inevitable.
By 26th June the retaining wall was complete, the cast iron plumbing had been done, the steel bar reinforcement for a 6" thick floor was in position over a layer of aggregate and it was ready for pouring of concrete. By the end of the month the concrete slab had been laid and it was left for a week or more to be cured by rain and hosing while under cover of a plastic sheet.
Measures were taken in June to shelter the cows from the searing sun and two tin shed extensions were built. Special Sudanese Sorghum Grass (SSG) was grown to be cut daily for green fodder.
All wildlife was in search of water and this desperate Shikra came right up to the outside kitchen tap to cool off by dipping its tail feathers in a bucket of water and to drink water. There were some pre-monsoon showers in June which dropped the temperatures below 40oC to everyone’s relief.
May began with bagging of wheat for the women who had cut it, ourselves, our workers and a few villagers and the rest was sold in the grain market or mandi. Since our wheat had been rained on, the grains were slightly swollen with moisture and the price was down. We received Rs. 1815 a quintal which was more than anticipated as we sold from the farm at Rs. 1780. The women who had cut the wheat were paid in kind - 90 kgs. for each bigha cut and average yield was 7.5 quintals per bigha.
A couple of families from Madhya Pradesh were employed to load and move the bhousa, or chaff, which lay in piles in each field and there was no temptation to stubble burn as the hand cut wheat stubble was short. Where a combine harvester had cut the wheat we used a secondary stubble cutting machine to chop the stalks for fodder. Again no temptation to burn the stubble, but only some residue after the second cutting operation was set alight.
Dust storms and hot winds are a feature of May and this year (like in May 2017, but less so) we lost a poplar tree on the drive which had been hollowed out by termites and beloved of woodpeckers and spotted owlets.
The main focus of the month was to get on with a toilet block and septic tank. This couple, Neeru and Sukhli, started digging on 18th May and finished on the 21st. They live beyond the town of Ratlam and have come to a labour camp at Nanta on the outskirts of Kota to find work and possibly water for the summer. They have four young daughters and different combinations of their children turned up on the farm each day.
Here Anju and Pushpa are looking after Baby Vansika. Another couple also came to labour with two very young children. They were given vegetables from the garden each day as well as their pay, probably Rs. 400 each (approx. GBP 4.70). The children were handed packets of biscuits almost every day.
Once the hole for the septic tank was dug, it was lined with stone. By the end of May the septic tank had been plastered and was ready for the pipes and baffles.
By 1st April the temperature was over 40oC. We loaded the mustard and sent that off to the mandi at the beginning of the month. Rs. 3501 for 100 kgs. is less than last years Rs. 3632 despite it being an election year and agricultural distress a major theme.
We had heavy rain and high winds on 16th and 17th April which refreshed and washed all the plants adding a fresh colour and sparkle to them. Luckily, the bulk of the wheat had been harvested by a combine harvester just in time and the crop was protected by heavy plastic sheeting known as tirpals (after tarpauline). The rest of the wheat (in the photographs above) was standing and suffered no serious damage although, ironically, the wheat grains lose colour in the rain and command a lower price because "...colour fade ho gaya." This wheat was cut by women using sickles.
The biggest bee hive in the pipal tree fell in the storm along with the old leaves. Contrast the two photographs above: the first was taken on 16th April and the second on 25th April. Within nine days the pipal tree was resplendent again in fresh green leaves.
The heritage wheat (C306 variety) which we grow for home consumption was hand cut, tied in bundles and fed into the thresher by hand by the end of the month. The yield is 1/7 of commercial wheat. Notice how much longer and more delicate the stalks are. We grow this in one acre only, so our commercial losses are negligible. Young Dashrath volunteered to help in his school holidays, for which he earned pocket money at the usual labour rates.
Lhaso, our long serving bull is now 16 and his teeth have worn down and he is having trouble chewing fodder. We bought a bag of channa-ki-churri for him - made from chickpea husk - and here he enjoys his daily ration watched enviously by his companions and progeny.
And to finish, a special and typical scene in rural India: the dudh wallah with his many brass charrie buying our milk at the farm gate. We receive Rs. 25 per litre for pure cow’s milk and the rate has not increased for several years. This is said to be because large dairies find it cheaper to buy subsidised milk powder from the EU lake than to buy from the local producers who do not have the advantages of scale and they push the price down.
This month was traumatic for little Rani who you could see last month being taken in the 4x4 Gypsy to the vet. The tube between her bladder and umblical cord had not closed naturally, as is usual, and urine leaked into her navel causing it to swell up with liquid.
Two stitches were put in by the Government vet which became infected so her navel filled up with urine and pus and became hard to the touch. We took her to Kota’s new private vet who took out the stitches and prescribed twice daily spraying of her infected navel, and a course of antibiotics for 6 days which Vijay administered every morning, in an attempt to avoid surgery which no one in Kota had the experience or confidence to perform. It seems to have solved the problem and we have to do a follow up course after three weeks. Surgery has been avoided for now.
March was also traumatic for me as I was attacked by some of our many rock bees in my head through my hair and on my forehead and jaw. To be fair to the bees, I had angered them by setting our incinerator alight which is close to their peepal tree home causing smoke and then dousing it with water after they were angered. (I had completely forgotten about the hives when I did that!) I think between 12-20 actually stung me, although a lot refrained. We sprayed anti-histamine on the sting punctures which prevented any swellings, but the venom caused an infection which created internal and external pain. So I went to a hospital and received treatment over the next week. None of the reactions were life threatening but I may have developed an allergy because of the attack. We have several rock bee hives on trees around the house and they have been very threatening in their behaviour several times.
Meanwhile, the mustard was cut and threshed and then stored in the open under a tarpaulin as the price was low.
The mustard chaff/bhoosa was sold at last year’s rate of Rs. 400 a bigha. A tractor-trolley came each day, loaded up and drove straight to the local factory where it will be used as fuel, we were told.
This year for the first time we grew a small patch of organic flax seed called alsin in Hindi. Each plant had to be harvested individually by plucking out of the surrounding weeds, tied in a bundle, and left to dry. After it was hand threshed we received just under 4.5 kgs. which we could have bought for Rs. 244/kg, that is, Rs. 1098 or 12GBP for the lot. In fact, it took two men a couple of days of work (spread over several days) to pluck, bundle, dry and thresh our harvest. A real super ‘super’ food. But guaranteed organic.
And this year’s Holi picture is of Sita and her two youngest from our farm (three on the left) with her friend and her daughter from the next farm who had obviously enjoyed throwing dry powder colour to celebrate Holi.
A very pleasant month weather wise with night temperatures between 6oC and 14oC and daytime between 21oC and 34oC but mainly in the mid- to late-twenties and so below the historical average. We had the first foggy day of the winter on 6th February. We had a few misty starts but the sun always broke through.
The green wheat was very vulnerable to marauding nilgai and Vijay was out at least twice every night to chase them off with airgun pellets or a powerful torch when alerted by Doosra’s barking. There were usually a couple but sometimes a group of ten. Fewer pigs this year and less pig damage.
The mustard finished flowering and as it ripened the fields were full of birds picking off the inevitable aphids. On 14th February we had heavy rain in the evening which washed off the aphids and the rain drops gleamed in the early sun.
On the 25th a team of twelve women came to start cutting the mustard. When they reached the last field on the 28th a herd of six to seven wild boar were seen to exit.
The leepner had to be redone after the rain. The young woman on the left grew up on this farm and is now married in Madhya Pradesh but comes back to stay with her mother in the village near here for agricultural labouring work.
Two month old Rani (see January’s blog) has developed a medical problem as her navel fills up with urine and may need surgery. She is small enough to fit in our 4x4 Maruti Suzuki Gypsy and can be taken for treatment. More next month.
This January was cold with night temperatures below 10oC for all but one night. Most mornings we had breakfast outdoors in our garden in sub 8oC temperatures before the sun warmed us up. But no fog. Every day was clear and bright after a little early mist which hangs over the wheat being watered. Maximum temperature ranged between 20oC - 25oC.
The wheat was barely showing at the beginning of the month but by the end of January we were surrounded by a carpet of fresh green.
The bright yellow mustard flowered all January and was abuzz with rock bees (apis dorsata) which have gathered along the branches of the large pipal tree. We also have apis florea, little bees, but apis cerana - the Indian honey bee - has lost its ecological niche to the European honey bee apis mellitus. Some hives of honey bees are to be seen around here but sections of the Jaipur-Agra road were lined with them for the mustard flowering season.
As the mustard grew taller, it gave excellent cover to a family of nilgai with their young that had taken up residence. Every night they were shooed off with a bright torch aimed at them resolutely which made their eyes shine prominently in the darkness. Soon they learnt to look away from the torch so that their eyes did not shine in the beam of light and they could blend into the murky background without revealing their position. But their inquisitiveness gets the better of them and they can not help glancing in the direction of the torch. Even so it requires a pair of binoculars to properly spot them at a distance.
Little Rani, born on 12th December continued to thrive and she often chose to keep Tikku company who had lost her male calf on 23rdDecember. Mottled mum, Meera, is in the foreground and Tikku in the centre ground. We gave her food to try to increase her milk production but the cost of the fodder was more than the value of the milk gained and we let her go dry. Rani was never spotted helping herself to Tikku’s milk which she might have done as she was free to roam around.
January and March in 2018 are unusual in the sense that each have two full moons. This photo is of the second or blue moon on 31st January. There was also a lunar eclipse but we couldn’t see it. Even in Bangalore, that international city of intelligent thinkers, it was noticed that the streets were very quiet during the eclipse as people hedged their bets and stayed indoors as they consider it inauspicious to be out during an eclipse, especially pregnant women.
Relax/read in sunshine
Walk the dogs
Watch cows being milked
Learn about local customs