It was slowly fading away, the reason why I uprooted myself from Bangalore and moved to Pune. It has been almost a year and the push that brought me to Pune did not even surface anywhere in my thoughts. Caught up with a full time job from dawn to dusk, six days a week had in a way paralyzed my urge to wander for the past many months. My second job as a tour manager did allow me the benefit of experiencing new countries and culture, although the intensity could not match my personal travels where my mind would be receptive and constantly stimulated.
It would be unfair to blame my chosen priorities for the inadequate travels to feed my soul. It also had to do with the inhibitions of travelling by myself in a place and culture alien to me. Anything over and above southern India to travel solo was beyond my comfort zone. So I had almost given up. A year into living in Maharastra, seeking inspiration to write, I reluctantly planned my first solo trip within the state to a remote organic farm, four hours from the city of Pune.
The excitement to explore the unknown was still catching up and so, I missed the 8 am direct bus to Pali and arrived in Shivaji nagar bus stand at 9.15 am. Tushar, owner of the farmhouse advised me to reach Khopoli, switch buses to Pali, and take a shared auto to Uddhar. I boarded a red ST bus to Khopoli and began my journey.
I have always been fascinated by the state transportation buses. The seats are highly uncomfortable; journeys painfully slow; vehicles poorly maintained; engines give out a deafening roar, and yet, this is my most preferred mode of transport. This preference could be attributed to the class of people who travel in these buses. The rugged travel combined with earthier people serve as a transformational bridge to let me move from the poised world into a rustic one.
I followed Tushar’s directions diligently and by noon, I reached the farm house. It was everything that I had read: rugged in its true sense.
It was a wide, thatched hut pitched in a corner of the farmland and half a kilometer away from the main road. The floor was made of mud mopped clean and even using cow dung. There were two rooms on either sides of the hut with a center passage opening to the front and back with no doors. The designated sleeping area had a mat with thin blankets laid over it, covered with a pink mosquito net. There were no wires of any kind visible which meant no provision for electricity. The backside of the hut gave out to expansive low-lying grasslands with a river flowing across. Two composting toilets made of bamboo and straw stood in a remote corner.
After seeing the place, I had just one concern, “Do you see snakes in this area?” I asked Tushar.
“Of course, why do you think we use the mosquito net? There are not many mosquitoes here,” he replied, casually.
The farmhouse was clearly not setup with tourists in mind. As for me, I was a volunteer to assist Tushar and his family at the organic farm. And so, he went on to explain the reason behind such an offering. “I am an eco-architect. Using the methods that I have learnt, I want to build an open community space where people from all over the world can come and live harmoniously with nature in a sustained way. They can practice yoga, meditation and assist me in the farm. I am looking to build a meditation hall and a workshop hall as well.”
To me, his idea and thought process echoed the objectives of Auroville in Pondicherry which is meant to be a universal town where men and women from all countries live in progressive harmony.
He said, “People from many countries have visited the farm and contributed through various ways in shaping up this place. We also shared our skills and learnt from one and another. A geo-dome, mud-brick pizza oven, low-smoke chulha are some of the ideas we tried.”
Back at the village, Tushar is not alone in this project. His family is one of his main strengths. His father is a village priest and mother, a home maker. They enrich volunteers’ experience with their heartwarming hospitality. His mother’s delicious food spread during meal times served with a smile is just one example. Together, they encouraged exchange of cultures from anyone who visited their home.
One of the stark cultural differences that I noticed was their cooking style. Besan loaded capsicum, Brinjal topped with ground nut powder, Malvani style chicken liver were some of the recipes I learnt from Tushar and his mother. To contribute my share, I prepared Rasam as requested.
Many evenings back at the farm were surreal. The bamboo chair placed on the river facing side of the hut made gazing at gorgeous sunsets possible. Innumerable cups of masala chai elicited light conversations with Tushar and a bit of gossip. The dutiful pets, Jacky and Akira did their bit to entertain.
Even with just the basic amenities, the farm house proved to be a peaceful retreat and will be so for many who might choose to come here. Personally, my trip’s objective was achieved. The inhibitions surrounding people, culture and places eased out and I am happy to say that my association with the west of India has begun.
Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/tushar.kelkar1?ref=br_rs