Saw this on WhatsApp and was reminded of my father. The first one from his village to go out for higher education, to attend college and university, to work for the government, to travel abroad, etc etc. He specialised in Agricultural Economics and Farm Management because he felt that such knowledge would of immense value for someone like him who belonged to a family of farmers. But the family elders decided against it because they felt the returns on education would be low. He would be better off in a salaried government employment, and possibly they knew how to till and manage their land. He was even told not to return home without a job as it embarrassed them in their social network.
Anyways, my father found a job and assumed his responsibility towards his extended and immediate family. He did well in his technocratic career first with the Government of Uttar Pradesh and then with the Government of India. Post emergency he left Government and worked for and with NGOs. Going back to his roots in the village was always at the back of his mind when he refused to avail of offers of a plot of land for Rs 2000 in Hauz Khas in mid 1950s, and a house on Rajpur Road for Rs 20000 in early 1960s. He refused to accept a transfer to Hyderabad because it would take him too far from his beloved home.
This background is important for what was to. He had moved to Agricultural Extension and Community Development by the time Green Revolution was taking shape in India. He remained clued to the choices farmers make and ought to make. We used to host many of his friends and acquaintances who were farmers and had used their educated minds to do wonders with their practices and crops. This is just an illustration of his abiding interest in agriculture and rural development.
He was a story teller and I plead guilty to not recognising and drawing upon his talent while he was alive. But I do recall some conversations in which he saw a future in mechanisation of agriculture and creative use of agricultural land holdings. His point was that the land holding will shrink over generations as they have for us and may not remain economically viable. Then he believed that the land owners would have no choice but to till the land themselves. No longer would they be able to employ lower caste labour, who had to be re-skilled for other economic opportunities.
Late in life, he gained access to his share in the family agricultural land. He gave away the more fertile plots to his brothers who he felt needed them more. In accordance with his beliefs, feeling too old to grow crops, he began growing trees to make the best use of his not so fertile plot.
He had in his mind a concept of Vrikshamandir, which would have trees with short, medium and long gestation periods. When I phoned home from the UK (where I was studying) in those days, he would go on excitedly about his passion project. I had to ask him for my mother or do the “the line is not too clear” act to save my precious telephone prepaid card.
He went about clearing the land and planting saplings on his frequent trips to the village. When people saw him working they came over and joined him – the benefits of what he had once termed “benevolent feudalism”. He had thought of planting a thousand trees. About 350 had survived after he passed away after a long illness in 2008.
He was totally opposed to the sale of family assets unless replaced. For him it was a matter of identity, his roots and a reminder of where we all have come from. He was devastated when one of my uncles decided to sell off his land to an outsider without checking with the other extended family members if they would like to buy off the land instead. This uncle had received the most fertile land due to my father who had also prevailed upon his youngest brother too to let him have that plot.
My father suffered a stroke in March 2005 in a get together of the extended family members organised in the village to discuss the matter. He was brought to Gurgaon by train. He never recovered and passed away in September 2008.
Vrikshamandir has survived although shrunk in its physical form. A small house surrounded by an orchard of sorts is what remains. A caretaker paid for by my brother looks after it. My brother has invested a lot in trying to maintain the place. For how long can he do it is a question that has no answers.
My brother and his family live abroad with negligible prospects of return. I do not have it what it takes to maintain and develop Vrikshamandir. However, I will live to regret that I did not do what I could have. I could have documented the philosophical underpinnings of my father’s passion project, which he tried to share with me quite often…
Post script: After I wrote the above, my brother called to share his understanding of the Vrikshamandir my father had conceptualised. Essentially organised in concentric circle with the big trees like teak, pakur (white fig?) and other local species planted at a certain distance at the core, surrounded by fruit trees and shrubs, further encircled by vegetables and other plants. I hope I have got this right. Apparently my father had sketched the design he had in mind. We have to dig into his papers in the store room. I just hope his notes and diagrams are still around.
Archana Singh; Beautifully penned Neelam Singh 👌
Simon Stephen; Neelam Singh Spoken, like a true daughter of the soil🦾!
Kavita Samant; What a beautiful tribute !
Sameena Gul; Neelam this is inspiring and so impressive. So Nice that you documented it albeit briefly. I see reflections of my family and what sort of person my father was. Passionate about his roots and hanging on to it. You can right a book on this.
RK Nagar; Neelam, you have poured your heart out. The generation of our parents did remarkable work, very often silently and unfortunately we aren’t able to carry forward the legacy for reasons beyond our control. It however doesn’t undermine the value of their selfless contribution towards betterment of the society.
Neelam Singh: Rashmi Kant Nagar The value of ideas can be discerned only after they are translated into reality. Unfortunately he could not live long enough to see his idea take shape. He wanted to move to the village permanently but the ultra protective father In him held him back. What if he had? Who knows?..
RK Nagar; Neelam Singh true. But Shailendra is doing his best to keep the legacy alive. May be one of Babuji’s grandchildren come forward after reading your thoughts! Who knows?
Darlens David; This is fantastic!!
Neelam Singh; Rashmi Kant Nagar We have to accept that times have changed. I doubt if it would be possible for any of the grandchildren. But then who knows what the future holds. Regarding my brother, kudos to him for keeping the place alive. He has had to do the tough balancing act of meeting his obligations and giving life to an idea.
Madhulika Sharma; Perfectly said!
Meera Bharadwaj; Work on his legacy
Chandra Kannapiran; Enjoyed reading it Neelam. I remembered your Father too. 🙏
Enakshi Ganguly; So poignant and thoughtful…a true true tribute to JB as I knew him
Preeti Gurnani; Neelam ….Uncle was rooted and at the same time way ahead of his time. An exceptional gentleman.
Bidhu Bahl Purkayastha; You must be so proud of your father and rightly so Neelam Singh.He was the kind of hero we admire in movies.
Behla Virindra; JB singh(our Babuji) was a lovely soul. He told us a story based in Nilokheri where he had two friends(one was Diwanji). One gave his land to the other on rent to till. That year the crop failed but the tenent wanted to pay the rent but the owner refused to take the money as he said if he was willing it he too would have no income
There was a heated discussion and Babuji was made the arbitrator. The decision after lot of discussions was the tenent will not pay . This was indian society in its early days of independence. Cheers to that generation
Behla Virindra; My father was lucky to have been a source in planting millions of trees and creating forests. Of course he was a forester!
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