Kadamba—the May tree

May is the month when the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) yields fruit—those yellow-orange ball-shaped fruit, the size of golf balls. It’s that month when the sun is really, really harsh. It also happens to be the month when most deaths due to the heat wave occur. It’s not the month when you would like to venture out in the open (contrary to the claims by sun-screen TV commercials).


If you do, do venture out early in the morning or late in the evening and tilt your neck towards the sky while standing below a tall kadamba tree. I’m sure you’ll see a marvel. The crown is a canopy of branches, like an outstretched palm with leaves sprouting all around, as if an umbrella held over you. If you lie and stretch yourself (not possible because kadamba trees are used as avenue trees in cities) you’re likely to be awe-struck by what I call the nature’s wonder. The marble-white of the sky peeping through the speckles of green, reminding you of an embroidered sari you inherited from your grandmother.

A favourite of Lord Krishna, kadamba tree and its flowers is consider a universal favourite among the Gods. In fact, the Mother Goddess Durga is said to reside in a kadamba forest—for she is lovingly called Kadamba Vana Vāsinī.

The fresh leaves are edible and a favourite fodder among cattle. The ornamental tree, used for soil reclamation sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy.

The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, this tree can grow best in alluvial sites like river-banks and in the transitional zone between swampy, permanently flooded and periodically flooded areas.

Come rains, the branches lashed by wind the kadamba fruit–by now ripe and coloured bronzed brown– drop on the earth, one by one. In the mornings you’ll see scores of them lying around. Of them, some will grow to be a tree continue the life cycle.

Adivasis of Chattisgarh believe that planting kadamba trees closer to lakes, rivers and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity.

Rabindranath Tagore mentioned the kadamba in one of his poem: Badal diner prothom kodom phul.

You offered me your first yield,
The fragrant Kadamba of monsoon
For my part, I bring you
My rainy tunes.

I have shielded them
With cool shadows, dim skies,
My first lyrical fruition

I know today offers you abounding harvest
But tomorrow will leave you bare

And so each monsoon,
My songs will come to life,
My boat will be heaped with your honour
My melodies, echo your glory
Riding on tides
Of your lost remembrance.

English Translation courtesy Anjan Ganguli (GEETABITAN)

Listen to the poem. https://youtu.be/JAnevYvrs68/ https://youtu.be/cNNgPwLDyds

Learning from folk wisdom

KS, my friend of two decades, an original inhabitant of Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, was the one who introduced me to Ghagh. ‘His proverbs are still popular among old timers,’ he told me. and went on to give me some examples.

Weather forecasts, predictions of rain, use of  organic fertlisers in farming, behaviour of birds/cattle/insects prior to rain, interpreting the signs of the seasons, folk perceptions of astronomy and other facets of environmental knowledge systems are interwoven inseparably with everyday peasant life in the world of Gagh-Bhaddar proverbs or Dak vachan. These vachans have been in circulation in the region of north eastern part of Bihar, popularly known as ‘Mithila’, since 14th-15th century A.D.

These proverbs and folk sayings have been preserved and passed down from generation to generation in oral tradition and show that the same kernel of wisdom may be gleaned under different cultural conditions and languages.

With time these proverbs, constituting a domain of ‘rustic wisdom’, have been found in languages like Bangla, Awadhi, Kannaujia etc.

Who was Dak? Interestingly, no one has been able to identify him but the consensus is that he was a Maithil Brahmin. Dak studied the heavenly bodies, the change of seasons beside being gifted observer of nature and human beings too.

The first Maithili compilation of these sayings is Kapileshwar Jha’s Dakvachanamrit published from Darbhanga, Bihar in 1905.

In 1931, Ram Naresh Tripathi brought out the most comprehensive collection of these sayings. Writes Sadan Jha in Many Worlds of Dak Vachan: Proverbial Knowledge and the History of Rain and Weather , published by Surat-based Centre for Social Studies that Tripathi “… with an objective to revive the agrarian condition, he travelled across the country, collected sayings personally or received entries by post, searched for them in the library and also wished that the Government had paid some attention to the peasant’s knowledge of rain by establishing a separate department to maintain an account of the environment of Paus and Magh.”

Reading Dak Vachan in the 21st century can be really instructive for those who practice organic farming or those intending to do non-chemical farming. The principles and methods of farming continue to remain the same: don’t harm the Earth for profit or greed.

Here is a selection of some vachan’s:

On rain

Phagu karaai, chait chuk, kirttik nattahi taar,

Swati nattahi makh til, kahi gae Daak Goar.

“If it rains in the month of Phagun (February-March) urid is spoilt; if in the month of Chait (March-April) lemons; if in the asterism of Krittika (about middle of May) the toddy palms; and if in that of Swati (latter part of October) beans and sesame; says Dak, the Gowaala.

Shukrabar ki badri, rahi shanichar Chay,

To youn bhakhaey bhaddari, bin barse na jay.

If the clouds which had appeared on Friday continue to be present on Saturday, says Bhaddari that there is likelihood of a heavy downpour.

Aage ravi peeche chale, mangal jo ashad,

Toh barseanmol hi prthvi anandayee bar.

If in the month of ashadh Mars follows the Sun it will result in good rains resulting in joyous celebrations.

Jo badri badar ma khamse,

Kahin bhaddari pani barseey.

Says Bhaddari if one bunch of cloud breaches the other it’s likely to rain.

On distancing the crop

Kark Buwaee Kakri, Singh abolo jai,

Aesa bole bhaddari, keeda phir khaye

Sowing cucumber during the period of zodiac sign of cancer rather than during Leo, says Bhaddari, the crop will repeatedly by attacked by pests.

Gajar, ganji muri, Teeneu boway doori

Radish, sweet potato and carrot should be sown at a distance.

On oxen behaviour

Pariba bahe dhurandhar, chhati aathain har jay,

Chaudah chauthi amabaas, ayalo har bithaaya,

Barda mute khet dahay, khasai khet jaun barad paray,

Gora jhar ki mura jhar, taun nahi nik jaun khasai faar,

Issa tutai sun ho kor, laagan tutai barad le chor,

Jua tutai ta subh hoya, ‘dak’ kahaichhathi nischint soya,

Khur singh samati liya, bahu sukh kari manahi diya.

Related to a ritual known as har thaadh karab (meaning placing the plough in standing position; thaad in Maithili also means putting to rest or break in motion) symbolically marking the commencement of the agricultural season and the day falls on magh sudhi shir panchami (which is normally in mid January). On this day, plough and oxen are taken inside the inner-courtyard (angan) and un-husked rice discharged over it. Following this ritual plough along with oxen are blessed (chumaun) and considered ready for the agrarian task. During this ritual if the ox urinates then the field is likely to be devastated by floods. If it drops poos (cowdung) then there is likelihood of a low yield. If its feet or ears itch or it drops on the ground—these are ominous signs of bad times ahead. Dak says if it scatters the soil here around with its horns or toes then the house keeper will have a pleasant time tending to the fields.

On easterly wind

Purwa par jaun pachhwa bahai, bihansi ranr bat karai,

Eh donon ke ihai bichar u barsai i karai bhatar.

If the west wind blows during purwai (easterly) and if a widow chats

and smiles, one may surmise that in the former case it will lead to a downpour and in the latter the widow may get married soon.

On organic farming

Jekar khet parrey na gobar,

Unhi kisan ko jano dubar.

The farmer who can’t afford to use cow dung in his fields is considered a poor farmer.

Wohi kisanon mein hai pura. Jo chodey haddi ka chura

The one who uses bone and flesh meal in his fields can be regarded as a genuine farmer.

Gobar mael neem ki khali. Inse kheti dooni phalli.

Using cow dung, farmyard manure and neem kernel waste is likely to result in more yields.

On mulching

Gobar maela pati sadey. Tab kheti mein dana parrey.

When cow dung, farm yard manure and leaf litter decompose it gives a good yield.


Proverbs courtesy Gagh Aur Bhaddari ki Kahavaten (Dak Vachan), Edited by Devnarayan Diwedi, Diamond Books; and Many Worlds of Dak Vachan: Proverbial Knowledge and the History of Rain and Weather by Sadan Jha, Centre for Social Studies.


Chandrabhaga Jackfruit

The first time I heard of ‘Chandrabhaga’ was while listening to Bhimsen Joshi soulful rendition of the abhang Majhe Maher Pandhari, Aahe Bhiware cha teere…
River Bhima which flows through Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Telangana is referred as Chandrabhaga while it flows through Pandharpur. On its banks is the famed Vitthal Temple. It’s so called as it is shaped like a half moon. Interestingly, it’s also known as Bhiware.
The second time I heard it was yesterday, when my dear friend Devidas Vaidya appeared in my office with a good-looking and a full of life jackfruit sapling and handing it over said: “This is the Chandrabhaga variety.”
Travelling with a sapling in a bus from Sirsi to Mumbai was a task in itself, as Vaidya recounted: “I boarded a sleeper coach bus and ensured that the sapling was standing and erect during the entire journey. I bought it from a nursery run by one NN Hegde of Krishi Bharati, who told me that it was a grafted one and if it snapped it would die. If it didn’t it would remain a seedling one.”
I googled the name but didn’t come across such a variety. “It’s a popular variety in the North Karnataka districts and I still remember my mother making kottae idli using it leaves,” said DV.
Kottae Idli is prepared by putting the dough in a receptacle made of green Chandrabhaga leaves and then steamed. It is then served with a dish made of sprouted moong.
As I recounted the story of the sapling wifey remarked: “A new task. Now I’ve to learn to make kottae idli.”

Terdal’s Banana Bounty

Terdal (16.5°N 75.05°E.) is a bustling municipal town of 30,000 residents in Jamkhandi taluka of Karnataka’s Bagalkot district. Lying on the Jamkhandi- Miraj road on National Highway 53, it’s one of the many so-called towns—a hybrid made up of a village and a wannabe town—one comes travelling on the highway. There no malls or multiplex here. Yes, it does boast of a polytechnic and an Ayurveda college.

If there is anything the town is famous for it’s the Terdal Shree Allamprabhu temple. Try googling “Terdal” and you’re likely to come across scores of entries related to banks IFSC code, Just Dial numbers and the name of the local MLA. The nearest big town is Jamkhandi, 18kms from Terdal while Sangli (Maharashtra) is 80kms away.

Siddappa with nephew Prabhu
Dhareppa with nephew Prabhu

Kitturs of Terdal, a family  of farmers, are writing the bright story of farming. A media which feeds on sensationalism has totally ignored the success stories scripted by the farmers nationwide. The Kitturs are believed to be originally from Kittur in Belgaum—famous for Rani Chennamma of the State of Kittur (1778–1829) who fought the British East India Company, during which a British Commissioner, St John Thackeray was killed. Prabhu Kittur, Dhareppa’s (23) nephew, is the recipient of Krishi Yuva Samman Farmer of the Year 2015 (Youth) Award, an initiative of the Mahindra Group, for his innovative farming technique of growing tissue culture bananas, using organic methods and drip irrigation. Like most youth of his age Prabhu likes to watch Hindi movies but is not able to string together enough Hindi words to form a sentence unlike his father. “My nephew dropped out of school after seventh standard and has been doing farming since then. He was just six month old when my brother, Siddapa, died” says Dhareppa (46).

The Kittur family owns 19 acres. In one such acre Prabhu planted some 1800 G9 Banana tissue culture saplings in August 2013 and had a bumper crop 67,600kg of bananas. The irrigation was through drip organic fertilizers included vermicompost, Jeevamrut, Panchgavya, goat dung and biogas plant slurry was fed to the crop. The eleven-month crop was harvested in the month of August. In the rest 18 acres, the Kitturs grow vegetables, turmeric, onion, methi, palak etc. “We acquired sapling for Rs 10 each and intercropped it with marigold and chilli which also fetched us a good price,” says Dhareppa who sells the harvest at Terdal market on his own. “Marigold and Chilli gave us an additional Rs 60,000 and that too without any any added expenses.”

A farmer who likes to experiment, Dhareppa who never completed his schooling sells what he calls “organic milk” at a price of Rs 40 a litre. He has installed a biogas plant which takes care of his cooking gas requirement. “I take lot of care of my 15 cows and 10 goats give them proper cattle field,” says he. After having read an article in a local newspaper about scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose’s experiment with plants Dhareppa has been playing music to his cattle and the crops since last ten years. “Between 10pm and 4am every day I play recorded instrumental classical music and have seen an increase in the yields by 10 per cent,” Dhareppa concludes.

Rahul, the mango man

Jarda, Langda, Bambaiya, Cipiya Sukul, Bathua, Mithua, Fazli, Chausa, Krishnabhog…Many of us who are not from the hinterland of Bihar will not recognise that these are names of local varieties of Mangoes, prized for their distinctiveness and loved by the locals.

“Cipiya has a better shelf life, Sukul is the one you like to dig your teeth into and then suck the juice besides its best suited for pickles while Mithua as the name implies is the sweetest of them all,” says Rahul Singh (24), a mango grower of Namidih (24°40’18″N   84°28’27″E) village in Vaishali district of Bihar. Those who can’t think beyond Alphonsos, Bainganpallis, Dasheris et al may not agree. Each his/her taste, as it’s said. For there is nothing called as ‘common’ taste.

Twenty-four-year–old Rahul, a M.Tech, is recipient of Krishi Yuva Samman 2015, awarded by the Mahindra Samriddhi India Agri Award for reviving his four-decade old mango orchard using the Canopy Management Technique resulting in increased yield. The Agri Award which is in its fifth year recognises the innovation undertaken by farmers in increasing yields and adopting new technologies. Sadly, it hardly gets any media coverage. In fact, the organisers this year inserted a full page ad in The Times of India.Remember these are the farmers who feed us.

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh

Village Nimidih is 40kms from the capital city of Bihar, Patna. Here the Singh’s own 30 acres of land in which they have a mango orchard in 7 acres, litchi in three acres and the rest they grow paddy and vegetables. Rahul’s father, Jitendra is the sole custodian of the family’s land as the other male members of the joint family have moved to the cities, taking up government jobs. In fact, you’re likely to come across such stories in Vaishali—of people abandoning farming as returns are low and preferring to be sarkari babus assured they are of their monthly salary. “I have been taking care of our land since the last 15 years growing paddy for our consumption and selling the rest in the market,” says 54-year-old Jitendra.

In many parts of the country, senile unproductive orchards of seedling origin continue to stand. These orchards with unmanageable canopy neither produce fruits nor the quality. Besides, they act as sources of pest and disease. Canopy management is the manipulation of tree canopy to optimize the production of quality fruits. It encompasses both training and pruning which affect the quantity of sunlight intercepted by trees, as tree shape determines the exposure of leaf area to incoming radiation. An ideal training strategy centers around the arrangement of plant parts, especially, to develop a better plant architecture that optimizes the utilization of sunlight and promotes productivity.

In 2012 July Rahul, an alumnus of Jaipur’s Gyan Vihar University, began the process of Canopy Management on the four-decade old mango trees under the guidance of National Horticulture Mission. He followed the three principles:

  • Formation of strong frame work having branches on all directions with near equidistance between branches
  • Developing the canopy with centre opened so that it gets better exposure to sunlight
  • Controlling the stature/size of the plant to harness the maximum productivity

Two year later, Rahul’s mango yield jumped from 4000kg/acre to 10,000 kg/acre attracting the attention of the jury of Mahindra Samriddhi Award resulting in him winning the Krishi Yuva Samman’s Regional Award (East Zone). Reminiscences Rahul’s father, “Every year when he came home on vacation he tried new methods to increase yield and has even gone for high density plantation, planting 160 mango saplings in a acre, compared to the old orchard which has barely 40 plants.”

Rahul suggests that pruning of the plants be conducted only once in three years, immediately after post harvest. With seven varieties of mangoes the harvesting begins in the month of June and continues till mid-August. “After pruning the plants I spray them with a fungicide. In July and November he plies the plants with vermicompost and neem cake. “While vermicompost works as a fertilizer the nitrogen-rich neem cake also prevents pests, “says Rahul.

Asked whether he would continue to do farming considering he completed his MTech degree in 2014, he says, “I have still to make up my mind. Presently, I am enjoying farming.”

Chikoo Chikoo Bang Bang

For over two years now I was denied the chikoos.
Come evening as darkness spread over my orchard insects (I don’t know what they are called) would descend on the chikoo plants and chomp on the tender new leaves. In the mornings when I checked the plants which are six years old now I found as if the leaves have gone through a shredder. The pests were very choosy preferring only the new shoots.
I tried several organic pesticide recipes provided by online forums, horticulturists and farm owners but nothing helped. Once in a while I even put up small bonfires to attract the pests.But my chikko pest kept away from the fire.
At last I tried a combination of cow urine and neem oil with soap used as a surfactant. I sprayed it for over two weeks, every alternate day. It seems to have worked, at least for now. The new leaves have been left, unharmed. Flowers have appeared aplenty and some fruits too. Of which I picked up five last Sunday bring them home along with methi saag, plantain, curry leaves and green papayas.
“Its verrry sweet,” remarked my college-going daughter after I had convinced her to try a misshapen chikoo which had survived the noon train journey of the CST local I boarded from Badlapur.
I smiled and said: “It had to be.”
Happy with the knowledge that I had decided to be an organic farmer.

Fruiting tree and fragrance

Do fruiting trees give off a fragrance?
I had never thought of it until this Sunday when I ventured under my seven-year-old Jackfruit tree which had several tiny fruits hanging from the branches and couple of big ones too. I could sense a wafting sweetness. No, it didn’t smell like a ripe jackfruit but something totally different. I am unable to identify the fragrance but I did see tiny insects flying all around the tree, having arrived to taste the olfactory cocktail around.
jackA fruiting tree does produce a positive smell telling out bodies what is good to eat and what we should avoid. For the connection between smell, emotion and taste is important for the continuation of fruit to thrive. Fruits have evolved to spread their seed by luring animals who will carry their seeds away. They do so with their appealing smells, bright colours, and textures, and in anticipation that we would throw their seeds back into the soil.