Of Agri-Culture! - VII
   Date :01-Jan-2022

“Jab kisan ke bete ko gobar mein badboo aane lag jae to samaz lo ki desh mein akaal padane wala hai”- The legendary Hindi litterateur Premchand (When the farmer’s son starts sensing stink in cow dung, then be sure that the country is going to face famine. - Premchand)
WHAT the legendary author Munshi Premchand prophesied decades and decades ago is being witnessed by the larger Indian society for the past some time. The farmer’s son has started feeling that agriculture is stinking and so he must look for other pastures -- for his survival. The country may not be literally facing famine as per official definition all right, but it is, no doubt, feeling a terrible crunch on the farm front
-- which is reflected in farmers’ suicides, rural poverty, villages bereft of the old glory and joy of simple but meaningful living ...!
That is simply so because the farmer’s son has stopped finding meaning in cow dung, literally and proverbially. This is one reality the nation had never anticipated. This is one dark side of Indian agriculture -- in the sense it has stopped being an attractive proposition for the younger generations from rural and agricultural families.
This is very clearly more of a cultural dimension than economic or financial. This suggests a tipping point against Indian agriculture as a traditional profession in whose glory India basked for centuries on end. Indian agriculture faced a terribly dark period when the British rulers imposed oppressive cess on farm produce and even swooped on the traditional crafts and artisanal professions and tried to crushed those. In that dark period, the British banned export of finished goods from India and also made imports of similar goods from Britain. That did not just crush India’s economy then, but also crushed India’s collective confidence in the meaningfulness of its traditional pursuits.
Today, Indian agriculture is almost passing through a similar phase when the farmer’s son has stopped finding meaning in life on and around farms. Most unfortunately, those who considered themselves experts only offered a superficial and perfunctory balming of the badly wounded sector. In the process, neither could they stop the decline of India’s otherwise promising rural sector nor could save farmers from suicides in shocking numbers over decades on end.
Let us talk of cow dung -- literally and proverbially:
Literally speaking, in traditional agriculture, cow dung has immense importance -- as a manure, or as a medicinal ingredient or conditional material, or a cultural symbolism. Its fragrance often provided a soothing experience to human nerves. Modern minds may not believe it for lack of experience, but cow dung also acts as a mosquito repellent through derivative use. Ancient Indian society had found countless usages of cow dung -- whose knowledge modern society has lost unfortunately because it fell victim to a false and malicious propaganda that cow dung was dirty.
Proverbially speaking, cow dung was a symbolism of the basic or core of traditional agriculture. But when the farmer’s son starts finding cow dung has a stench, then it is sure that his mind is wandering all over without focus. That was what Munshi Premchand meant when he prophesied famine once the farmer’s son started finding the cow dung with an unbearable stench. that is a psychological conditioning indicating a cultural decline. For, in these so-called modern times, cow dung seems to have lost its emblematic or endemic importance. That is because commercial promotion and consumerist propaganda started diverting the rural mind to glitter of modern living -- in which tractor sought to places the bullock-drawn ploughs or carts, and wrongly administered chemical fertilisers and pesticides started replacing cow dung and other traditional manure.
In other terms, cow dung also represented a construction material that kept houses cool in summers and warm in winters. Even though India’s architecture was symbolised in finely-designed and built temples and castles and palaces and mansions in the urban sector, the rest of India used cow dung as a major material for wall plastering and flooring -- either independently or mixed with some other materials.
There is yet another angle that we can only ill-afford to miss -- that of cow dung as a fuel that warmed not just hearths but also hearts all over India, beyond regional diversity and geographical variations. Yes, firewood was one source or fuel all right. But rural India also depended heavily on cow dung as fuel. And in those days, there never were complaints of environmental degradation. For, in traditional agriculture, fuels, too, came from the farm and its extensions.
All that has changed drastically and rather dangerously. The farmer’s son sensing the stench of the cow dung Premchand talks about, thus, is representative of the changing cultural consideration. When such a decline was talking place in such a big proportion, then the degradation of Indian agriculture was only a natural, though unfortunate, consequence or outcome. In other words, cow dung represented the metaphor of Indian agriculture, its emblem, its signature, so to say.
Will it ever be possible for the India of today to restore the importance of cow dung -- in literal, physical and proverbial terms? For those who seek to address any problem only superficially, that may be an impossible task. ‘Things have changed beyond change’, they would argue. But those who wish to address the issue of decline of Indian agri-culture in all its depths will never be able to ignore the importance of the metaphor of cow dung. In that consideration, cow dung will not represent a stench; it will represent a source of fragrance that stood for solution to many a problem -- provided, we gather courage to understand things correctly.