Punarvasu Farm

In mid-March, I came to this farm full of banana trees, areca nut trees, black pepper vines and tall coconut trees near Udupi on the coast of Karnataka. I spent a lot of time watering all of the the coconut trees, some of which are 40 years old and towering over 100 ft high. Here as in Kerala I saw bats with a wingspan of like 4 to 5 feet - some kind of prehistoric pterodactyl roaming South India. I also watched a large snake slither up a banana tree and huge exotic-looking spiders were everywhere.

Patriarch of the farm mixing water in with cow manure for biogas system. A pipe connected the biogas chamber to the kitchen and they used this as fuel for cooking. But I don't think it got quite hot enough as they burned wood daily in the kitchen too. Unfortunately, I never saw the biogas in action for I never entered the kitchen as this was a very traditional Brahmin family with strict rules and I as a foreigner/non-Hindu/non-Brahmin/occasional meat-eater could not go into the kitchen or the puja (worship) room. I ate on on a lower step on the floor than the others and could not serve myself food. My plates and dishes were kept separate at all times. The father spoke neither English nor Hindi so our verbal communication was limited to "full water." Although he was 70, he engaged in intense physical labor in the humid heat - spending a few days carrying 20 lb baskets of ash atop his head. Several times a day, he would don the white mundu and perform puja - in the worship room and around the tulsi/holy basil plants. He wore the Brahmin string around his torso. On the backs of his legs, long worms were visible through the skin.

Amma, mother of the farm, was the only one who could speak a bit of English. She fed me and put me to work. She has lived here on the farm since she was 18. At that age, she was brought here from Chennai by her father and married her husband (aged 30) without ever having met him before. She said it was difficult at first as she didn't speak the local language and that her mother-in-law was hard on her. Now, she takes care of her aging mother-in-law and they watch TV together (mostly in Telugu language I think). I never saw the grandmother/mother-in-law leave the house and her chamber pot was next to her bed in the same room where we ate...At first, I thought the grandmother was crazy as she occasionally muttered incessantly, but then I heard "Ram Ram" and realized she was chanting "Krishna Krishna Ram Ram." All of the family members performed puja several times a day.

Coconuts and Bananas...My first evening when I arrived, there was a huge cockfighting tournament across the road. I thought I would grab my camera after visiting the temple, but a police raid ended the event prematurely. The nearby Brahmin Krishna temple was pretty amazing. Next to the temple tank, (which looked temptingly like a swimming pool), I chatted with some young guys who were training to become Brahmin priests. And then, after taking off my shirt, I accompanied them through several entryways into the inner courtyard of the temple for evening puja that felt more intimate, authentic, interesting and special than the daily ones at the Sivananda Ashram. Amidst bell ringing, gong clanging, three priests, three boys and four women, I watched and listened politely. We then circumambulated the inner temple and I ate some sandalwood? paste, drank some rose water and got a tilaka on my forehead.

House in background, areca nut trees in foreground. Amma told me that her farm's typical annual income is about 10 to 15 thousand rupees a year (about $225 to $335).

Sweet potato

Areca nut - used to make paan

The ash from brush pile fires is used as fertilizer on the fruit trees. In the background is a newly built road for laying pipe for bringing in ocean water to a nearby power plant.

The well...more on the quality of the water below

Idli! Idli is a steamed rice cake shown here with chutney. South Indian food with its emphasis on coconuts and rice is delicious.

Trip to nearby beach with some neighbors...

An Ambassador

in bedroom

There was an enormous coal plant looming on the horizon. The plant had taken a strip on the backside of the ancestral land for their new salt water pipe that connected to the beach. Almost everywhere I've been in India, the electricity shuts off for a good part of the afternoon. There is a growing demand for more and more of the electric juice. And there is a huge scramble by large corporations to quickly build and expand power plants for India's huge and increasingly power-hungry population. In speaking to some of the power plant workers in the nearby town of Pudubidri, one mentioned that there had been some problems with local groundwater contamination. And, in fact, this is unfortunately a big problem at Punarvasu Farm. Amma told me that the well water used to be sweet, but now it's nasty. She said that the once sweet coconut water is now not as sweet as the contamination of their groundwater is affecting everything on the farm. I am seeing a recurring theme here in India of new power plant projects negatively affecting villagers/locals/farmers on their land. It's reminiscent ofthe issues I was seeing with the new hydroelectric plant across from the farm in Himachal Pradesh.

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