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Illustration: Sumit Kumar/BBC

Chai with Narasimha

This is a snapshot of a fleeting encounter between a Karnataka farmer and a water activist at the premises of a leading agricultural university. In a few painful sentences, it captures the everyday desperation that is the lot of the average Indian farmer, caught between an unraveling climate, a ruthless market and a malignant state.

Vishwanath Srikantaiah

His name is Narasimha. He is a farmer with 6 acres of land in Raichur District. This year the rains have failed. His crop of maize has withered. He has no monies to dig a borewell.

I meet him at the GKVK canteen. This University of Agricultural Sciences is a National Centre of Excellence for dry land farming.

Narasimha approaches me with a smile. Others have ignored him. A beggar perhaps? A fraud maybe. The urban mind is cynical .

I have a masala dosa and a glass of coffee in my hand. I ask him whether he would like to eat something. He says just a tea will do. The tea costs Rs 9. He cannot afford that. I get him the tea.

Again he refuses an offer of a meal. We sit and chat. His Kannada is a bit difficult for me to understand. The rains fail often these days , he says. The soil too has lost its strength. He will find work in a chicken farm he thinks.

I hand him some monies rather embarrassed. Take it, you will need it to get to the chicken farm, I say. He takes it. There are tears in his eyes and so in mine.

The privileges we have, the promises of an income doubled, of a loan waiver, all mean nothing when you see the situation that Narasimha is in.

Oota aaita? In Kannada. Have you eaten? Chuloma? In Mandarin. An old greeting, more an enquiry, which continues in our times. If the answer was a demurred positive, the first thing you were to make sure was a glass of water and some food.

In civilizations and societies which have seen drought, famine and hunger the biggest, punya, the good deed, was to feed a guest.

We have failed our farmers big time. Climate change and global warming will hurt them even more, especially the rainfed farmers.

In a Centre of Excellence for dry land farming, a dry land farmer wanders lost and has no help, not even a cup of tea.

The irony of it. Of what use accumulated theoretical knowledge ?

It was a fragile relationship. As with most , it needed a lot of tending , care , nurturing and forgiving. Above all forgiving .

The soil was red and could grow most anything . It was also hard. It needed long labour to be dug. The sun was harsh and unforgiving and the best time to dig was when the clouds swept in for a few rare days .

The rocks were harder , granite and gneiss. The earth had taken a long time to make them with fire and brimstone. The rocks needed persuasion, to be moved, to be split, to be carved, to be cut.

For which fire was an ally… and so wells were dug, the soil tilled, the stones carved to line the wells and occasionally a hibiscus flower fell into the still waters .

Sometimes the trees preened themselves in the mirror so provided by the hole in the ground and the sky reflected on what it was doing to the land.

The bullocks helped plough the land, lift the water, irrigate the fields, grow a crop, manure the land, move the produce to the market ….and then the market decided to be king and everybody thought that money was God .

The waters ran out first, they got converted to cash and then a cashless economy was sought. The soil lost its strength. The rocks became roads. The rains visited irregularly, an inhospitable land to begin with and made it further inhospitable. A people are uprooted from a land which they nurtured over generations.

They have nowhere to go. The city will see migrants , in waves, in millions. Ephemerality and nostalgia of an imagined glorious past.

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Climate change may have contributed to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers over the past three decades, according to new research that examines the toll rising temperatures are already taking on vulnerable societies. Illustrating the extreme sensitivity of the Indian agricultural industry to spikes in temperature, the study from the University of California, Berkeley, found an increase of just 1C on an average day during the growing season was associated with 67 more suicides. An increase of 5C on any one day was associated with an additional 335 deaths, the study published in the journal PNAS on Monday found. In total, it estimates that 59,300 agricultural sector suicides over the past 30 years could be attributed to warming.


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