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meeting the curator of live museum..

"See if you can get some traditional seeds of paddy during your visit to Mysore", said the Sister from the Ulundurpet Ashram over phone when I spoke to her the day before leaving for my treatment, Ananthoo with whom I was in a Irula village at that time, immediately gave me the phone no. of Syed Ghani Khan, saying "see if you can meet him and get something". Thus I landed in Ghani Khan's village on the 4th day of my treatment with permission from the vaidya..Inline image 1

35 kms from the city of Mysore is this small village, predominantly agriculture and Ghani starts to tell his story like most converted organic farmers..."i was studying archaeology and wanted to become a curator of a museum, fate struck,  my father died and as eldest son, i was called to take his place and take care of the family farm, i was 22 then and my four brothers were all in their teens.", this region was bequeathed to the families by the great king Tippu Sultan and known for the amazing varieties of mangoes, "when we were kids we had 150 varieties of mangoes, now I have only about 110 varieties, we were dry land farmers, then the Krishnaraja Sagar dam was built and we all had the cauvery water, so, except our farm, most other farmers in the area, chopped down the mango trees and planted rice in large scale", he explains grieving for the loss of mango varieties of a phenomena that ,may have been shown as a 'positive' in government books...

"initially i started with chemical farming, then one day i had a problem while spraying and fainted, that lead me to re-think the practice and i wondered if there was a possibility to do farming without chemicals, thus started my organic farming journey, he says", now he has been organic for a little over 10 years..."once my uncle brought a variety of paddy that i didn't recognize, nor did he, i planted it and kept asking the different scientists who visited the field, they also didn't, then one scientists mentioned that it was a drought resistant variety that was grown predominantly in our Mysore - Mandya region traditionally and which has been lost in our collective memory...this prompted me to look at all the seeds that were getting lost in our midst and the eagerness to collect and save them in the farm", so, from collecting what was available locally, he started to move to nearby states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra...within a span of 8 years since he started, he has over 600 varieties today, white, brown, black, scented, rice in all colours and flavours...some he has given GKNF with year no.s - Ghani Khan New Found, because he didn't know the name of the grain or it was a cross between two older traditional varieties...

"I conserve them in the field each year, i plant, multiply and save all the seeds, also give seeds to farmers who definitely assure me that they are willing to save and give me back twice the amount of seeds in return, and, no I don't give it to companies or company representatives...I can see farmers, I know farmers are more genuine...yes, it means a loss each year as I am not doing this for sales, but, then, I always wanted to be museum curator, and, now, I am a curator of a living museum", he says with a shy smile...

..."stay back and have dinner with us", says his Mother as I leave Ghani's place after a cup of tea with the family, "come back again when the crops are higher", says his wife, "yes, you should come when the field is full of paddy, it is beautiful to see pannicles of different colours, size and shapes all next to each other", echoes Ghani, the visual is just amazing even to imagine...they live as a large joint family, one brother has moved for livelihood to Bangalore and one more is a qualified technician, one helps Ghani in the field...yes, he has the support of the family now, he is not sure of the stratification of land in the future (he manages the family farm of 15 acres), he has the same labour problems that most farmers face, he hopes his children will take interest and involves them in the farm when they don't go to school...but, beyond all those regular challenges of farming in India today, he holds dearly to the dream of having a 'living museum" of which he is a curator, a museum where every variety that he conserves can narrate a story of their history, location, lineage, features, benefits...i thought he has already one, but, he wants more, he has already spread the seeds wider, more than 2000 farmers have taken seeds from him and he is in the verge of setting up a trust and getting things a bit more organized...Sahaja Samruddha, Save our Rice campaign and others seemed to have been helping him quite a bit.

What can't a farmer do with a bit of imagination and hard work? I could only contrast his work with that of the agricultural universities to whom i have been exposed a bit earlier this year, with over 600 paddy variety stories and creating more (not to even mention the mangoes), he now is an university department several times over in comparison, it is cruel to continue to count him just a farmer while we call the universities as 'knowledge institutions'.

28th aug 2013, mysore