Not long ago my husband and I visited Earth Kitchen. I hadn’t stepped out of the city (or cities!) for two months and even as a child, two months was the longest duration I could stay away from nature. For me nature meant, and still means country life- hills, rivers, trees, fields, cows, dogs, birds, bees, etc. and a modest lifestyle. The only part that I used to miss in my paternal village was quality educational infrastructure, and perhaps that was the only reason why I would come back to town without whining. Anyway, let me get back to the present. So, I researched on the options nearby and settled on exploring Earth Kitchen (Grassroots) for couple of days. It is a farm stay in Hesarghatta, Karnataka. Thankfully I researched just enough for us to be prepared to meet the couple who shaped (and are still shaping) Earth Kitchen, and left ample scope for elements of surprise. Anyway, one can’t expect words to allow the feel of being midst nature in person. Nature is full of surprises every single day.
Our first surprise began with the sincerity I could discern in the hosts’ attitude: they are true to the words they put in their website. While Arati had been in touch through Whatsapp since the day we booked a room, enquiring about our preferences in food, sending us directions to the farm, Naved welcomed us on our arrival, and showed us to our room. Since then, we had several small evocative conversations during the span of our short stay and felt at ease. Earth Kitchen felt like a place where home could be.
How aptly named! I believe so much in energies and transformation of energies that, according to me, as long as you don’t name it strong, you don’t gain it strong. The names ‘Grassroots’ and ‘Earth Kitchen’ attracted me a lot, and later so did the place. While there are discourses going on about degrowth, sustainable development, organic farming and what not, what is not visible in individual lives is a wish to live in harmony with nature; or the curiosity to understand nature and yet let it be as it is. It is only when changes occur at individual levels that a societal transformation can be expected, or else no amount of activism or policy reforms can bring about long term desirable results. You start it at your home, for your neighbours to emulate.
Living at Earth Kitchen literally felt like living inside a forest. My ears felt heavy and confused before getting used to the silence. How I would have loved to stay few more nights and take in more of that silence! Now this was the second element of surprise, because I have travelled to so many natural places, so many villages and ecotourism sites across India, and yet my ears seldom felt this confused; as if they were struggling to sense where they are. We had deliberately chosen week days because we wanted to be the lone visitors at the place, and I had my fingers crossed that that would be the case. Fortunately, it was. The silence – it is nothing of the kind that we get in overrated ecotourism sites which claim of being situated in silent surroundings. There you can still hear some giggles or music drifting from a distance – man made sounds; a sense of a civilization nearby. I came to a denouement- there are different degrees of silence. What we encountered in Earth Kitchen was perhaps only a degree or two lesser than what one would call absolute silence, especially at night. There were only natural whispers – rustling leaves, occasional barks of the Tibetan Mastiffs, chirping crickets.
The third element of surprise was my feeling like a natural animal. Well, we are still natural, aren’t we, unless we are constituted of metal and wires? Most of the time, however, in our day to day lives we are so engrossed in our gadgets, that we almost forget we are natural. Do we ever observe or contemplate on how easily a crow pokes the cow’s skin and why; or why a dog occasionally looks for certain weeds to eat? We don’t. We have moved away from the natural. People usually scream when a wasp enters the room, let alone imagine it landing on someone’s hair! No offences to nature lovers, but most people who claim of loving nature, imagine it bereft of the natural: one glimpse at a snake and most are likely to faint. On the other hand, sometimes people are so fascinated with nature that even stroking a tiger appears fun to them, irrespective of consequences!
I would suggest don’t have such myths about nature. Living with nature, and being natural is not about being adventurous: there’s nothing adventurous in shaping a farm, let alone a forest. It is not the want of courage that matters, as much as the want of instinct, wisdom, empathy and regard for the natural and an immense amount of patience. Nature is not always about the beautiful; it is also about the ugly. Only when you are used to it, you do not find it ugly anymore.
The cow allows the crow to poke its skin because it knows that the crow doesn’t mean harm; it is just feeding on the pests on the cow’s body; and a carnivore turns to an herbivore at times because it knows that plant diet is better than meat diet at times. And the honeybees of Grassroots knew that Arati prepares aromatic dishes, so the moment we sat down for lunch or dinner, some of them would hover around us wanting to feast on our share. Can you beat that 😀 I wouldn’t mind sharing my food with them, but then I am not that generous. Can you be, with such food…?
On a serious note, everything in nature has a symbiotic relationship, maybe not in equal degrees, nevertheless symbiotic. The honeybees and I too. So, we let them fly around us, because it just felt natural. I felt natural when their cows gave me this look – ‘Oh, we know you are harmless’ and I felt natural when one of the younger Tibetan Mastiffs licked my hand. I can go on and on, because there were so many instances: the scent of earth after the rains, the feel of waking up to a peacock’s scream, watching the trees all around, and countless others. I would rather not spoil the fun 😉
Arati and I had an enchanting conversation, on our second day, after her morning round through the farm. She felt like a kindred soul immediately, and I, who do not usually talk about my dreams and aspirations, opened up to her like an overjoyed teenager discovering a friend in a stranger. That too, I feel is a part of being natural, living naturally: the layers of complicacies in our personalities – the defenses, inhibitions, prejudices – slowly peel off. I came to know about her journey, how much time and hard work it took them to turn a plot of land which previously supported only grasses, to a forest of all sorts of trees and vegetation; how many of her wishes are often crushed by nature’s ways. For example, there was this instance when they were looking forward to having the fishes they had been cultivating in their pond, when one day they discovered some migratory birds feeding on the fish; again, in another instance her wish that she would eat the seeds of the sunflowers which she had tended well to see the day, was trampled on by some enthusiastic parrots who spotted them before she did. As she narrated the stories, we smiled, because how can one feel offended by some innocent birds? Yet, I realized, being natural, living naturally is a journey of acceptance. It is about learning how organic life is – how happiness is incomplete without disappointments; to be able to smile and let go. Didn’t I know of these things before? I did. After all, I have heard numerous stories from my grandmother and father, but to live (even if fleetingly) and hear similar stories from someone from our generation felt like reality; not fiction.
Lot of surprises unfolded as we got to know Grassroots. Arati told me about how jackals have been spotted on the land, and how shy those animals are and Naved narrated stories to my husband of spotting snakes and how they have made burrows for the snakes using rocks, and about the Tibetan Mastiffs they have. I love dogs, but I know little about the breeds and I haven’t had enough chances of patting and cuddling dogs in my life yet, and those Tibetan Mastiffs were huge (!), but honestly, with the amount of love the younger ones were showering on me, I wouldn’t mind having couple of them at my own place someday. The natural – animate or inanimate- leaves an impression on us, at least I can say for myself, that we humans are not superior to them when it comes to wisdom.
For a small plot of land, compared to many other farms in Bangalore, Earth Kitchen is not only green, it is also colourful and vibrant. Something that not every farm owner succeeds to create. Even huge monetary investments cannot infuse the feeling of a home to a place, if one doesn’t invest one’s heart in the project. Homestays are meant to feel like homestays – be at ease with a family. That doesn’t happen when people grow too ambitious. As Naved says – as long as we know where to draw the line, pursuit of profit is not all that bad, but the nub of the matter still is – ‘if you know where to draw the line’. What inspired me most about their initiative is the uniqueness they have come to attain compared to other farm stays, by embarking on a wider journey of rejuvenating the whole biodiversity in and around that plot of land. Organic farming, in most cases is still commercial agriculture, monocrop cultivation even (which is not very organic actually!) dependent on organic fertilizers and other so-called sustainable technologies. Achieving certain innovations within a system of commercial farming doesn’t designate the venture as organic, as long as there is a departure from the entire system. Oh, but most higher middle class professionals are fearful beings, so despite having resources to bring forth changes, consciously or unconsciously, the attitude would continue to be – as long as we can go for guided tours in jungles and sky-dive, let us live off the farmers; who cares if the system changes or not!
The morning we left, Arati was already up and about building a shed and a fireplace along with the farm hands, for some weekend visitors. How devoted they are in shaping the place is evident in their activities right from morning to dusk, but I doubt it’s only about shaping the place. They are shaping their health and their lives along with it. After all, no one can be happy compartmentalizing one sphere of life from another. At the end of the day, no amount of wealth can nourish health, if one is not prudent enough. So, yes, I believe people like Naved and Arati can teach us a thing about healthy lifestyle. Occasionally trekking to wilderness and being on a GM diet doesn’t mean we are health conscious. It only means we are restless, or rootless, following a popular trend, without deeper knowledge of our beings or of the earth from where we come. Many aged villagers in rural India have often shocked me with their strength, and I believe it is because of how organic their lives have been: feeling the sun, or the rains, and the wind everyday of their lives; picking and eating vegetables directly from the kitchen gardens; conversing in myriad ways not only with humans but animals, trees, hills, rivers, lakes as well, that’s how these villagers had lived their lives. I have seen and experienced such a lifestyle to some extent through my parents’ life. However, to see Naved and Arati living this lifestyle, felt relatable, since they belong to a generation we have had more exposure to, and their capitalizing moderately on the resources they have brought to life, for sustenance of the farm, felt even more relatable and reasonable. Thanks to such initiatives, it appears possible for us as well. Modern opportunities don’t necessarily have to stand opposed to traditional living styles, and that is what initiatives like Earth Kitchen prove.
All in all, those two days and nights felt very enriching. Naved and Arati maintain their website well, and anyone interested to know more about Earth Kitchen should read it.
Having said more or less everything that I felt about Earth Kitchen, I must conclude by acknowledging that with Arati’s culinary skills coming into the bargain, nothing can beat that experience. So, Arati, if you are reading this – we are definitely going back to Earth Kitchen someday soon.
Let me end this piece with two of my most favourite photos of my time there 🙂