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.
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.
Ranjit promptly moved into Amer Lal’s house during the day and vacated his house which needs serious repairs. Ranjit 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