Thursday, November 13, 2014

Permaculture – A type of agriculture..?

Everyone has a different way of defining the word Permaculture. However, one must understand that this addresses way of life itself, including every bit of our life, which is why, it is a wonderful science that is necessary for all to understand.
In the words of David Holmgren, it is all about “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture”.                

We are talking about the culture (which is defined as a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc. and thinking), which has sustainability as its central axis as we are not thinking about now, but thinking about generations ahead. We have to return what we got as it is or in much better form. Instead, we are seeing degradation all around and if there is a way to stop this and better it, then it is understanding of permaculture and start implementing those principles. Particularly, by observing nature and interacting with it, we can start our journey to the world of permaculture.

Normally, there are two ways to look at it. One, in which anything new can be created with this kind of thinking. Second, adopt principles of permaculture to turn around what we have now and minimize the impact, though can not be eliminated. It is all about the current design which we have created for our life and tweaking slowly to the extent possible, without damaging the totality. For this one needs to start observing how interactions are happening with the world around, including flora, fauna apart from humans, animals and elements like water, air, soil etc.. For example, growing food, be in an independent house or in an apartment or terraces, or farms, even road side, can be done using the principles very appropriately. It is a matter of understanding the need to start exploring the ways in which it can be done.  Infact, had it not been for the previous generations, we would not have seen so many trees on the sides of the roads which is helping to keep certain areas cool and helping in overall protection. It is our responsibility to start looking in such manner, re-design our lives to ensure our next generation is much better off than what we are, thinking beyond simple demand-supply models.
Jai Sai Master!

(to be continued…..!)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Permaculture – A myth or the solution?


In any form, across the world, is the most critical part of everyday’s life. Our everyday struggle, is only to ensure we have food to satiate our hunger. Animals never bother about the next meal, but a human being does and this is what is forcing everyone to work towards food security. But, the thin line between greed and need, is changing the way we are working for it, even though we know that small quantities are good enough to sustain happily.

The greed forces people towards stashing away or hoarding, and making sharing a less travelled path. This increases the parity between humans, differentiating them as rich and poor. But the irony is, the one who actually produces, is always remaining as poor. The system is so mired in the artificial layers created by the “smart” people, who tend to become rich at the cost of the producers. Unless there is abundance in food and less need for buying it, the parity will not come down. But is this possible? YES. An emphatic one too.

This is the only smart solution for the critical problem. Small, manageable, local and connected to big chain of food production. Unless every individual, every family, every community and every town does not start thinking about how to do this, we are sure to face chaotic situations worse than what we are witnessing today. Unless we integrate generation of food or part of the supply chain, we can not escape the on-coming logical end. But how to do this? Can everyone afford a garden? What about water requirement? We are staying in an apartment, how can we grow when we have space constraint? What if we do and the neighbours do not, and they start enjoying what we did? These are some of the basic questions that ring in everyone’s mind in the present day. There are solutions for everything and everyone if they start looking in that direction. The nature’s science helps to make sure everyone participates in this big venture, and this can only be a joint venture.


A science, which talks about making sustenance a central axis, gives variety of solutions which when implemented brings out the abundance as naturally as it exists. Understanding this science and learning the art of designing around the fundamental elements, is the key for this small step. If we can afford to put one step, nature will support by giving the abundance. All we need is – take the small step.

(to be continued....)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thank YOU !

October 30th, 2014!

A day, which I am sure, will be remembered by many, as the day on which Sri Sai Master's jayanthi, and a unique one on which, the date, thithi and the star, all happened to be on the same day. A wonderful day.

But for a handful, it is a much bigger day. A day on which they got to spend in the divine presence, which can never be understood by those handfuls. A unique opportunity, for those blessed souls, who came from different backgrounds, different cultures, different purposes, all aligned for one simple cause - of staying close to Ammagaru's family. 

Groups exists in many places, and they live with a purpose. However, when the purpose is beyond materialistic, the group sustains and...flourishes to take up tasks or indulge in activities which for a normal eye would appear to be strange and infact, crazy. But, in this present world, alignment with nature itself is considered crazy and disastrous. Those who are in the thick of such things can try to express the happiness within to certain extent as it is beyond words. This is what probably happened in the presence of some of the Mahatmas, like Bhagavan Ramana or Shirdi Sai Baba etc.. No one can even understand the positive consequences that it can have on the generations to come. The way Sri Shirdi Sai Baba said (as quoted in Sri Sai Leelamrutam), what we do as parents now with bhakti will protect our next generation as our puja to any Lord will be for HIM only, the one who is one with the Universal Consciousness. 

Those who are around, hopefully remember October 30th, 2013 had been. A day on which handful of few had the opportunity to have darshan of Divyajanani. Again on October 18th, 2014, a day, one can say the sheer strength of mind over body, brought HER to our midst. It was a day, which will be etched in memory for many and those who are present, can never express their gratitude in any way, however much they do, to Lord, for what they got. Only thing all of us who are present can do, is to just follow what was told which is very much in our hands.

The ONE in Many Forms!
However, for giving such an opportunity to us and our generations, what is that we need to give in return in the form of dakshina? That is the most important point for everyone who is seeking blessings. When we are invited to share the joy or when we are in need and if someone helps us, we show our gratitude to them in various ways. If someone is constantly guiding, supporting and moulding us, and our families, then how should we show our gratitude? That is the key here. We must always remember in every act of ours that we are here to serve in whatever capacity we can for HE has given us such an opportunity. Serve others, serve the right cause, do whatever. In every step, remember how much we are blessed. This thought slowly transforms one to help look at the world with a compassionate view and it moulds us to be a human being. naturally!

Thank YOU! 

A word that should etch in our mind and flow continuously for giving us air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, place to sleep, clothes to wear and above all, opportunity to give back to nature in some form or other. What we need to do is...just do the right thing with right attitude!

Jai Sai Master!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Unschooling Experience- a mother's view point

I have lost count of the number of raised eyebrows that we have come across when we say that our kids do not go to school. They are shocked and immediately sputter, "But you and your husband are both Ph.D.'s". We smile pityingly and say, as though it makes perfect logical sense, "That's why!"

I would be cheating if I dared to take the credit for this brilliant idea of not sending the kids to school. The story began with my very esteemed cousin badgering me to get my two darling daughters out of good schools, in my husband's opinion, then, a rather insane idea to deprive them of a decent and proper education. As for poor me, I was left torn between my love and respect for the superior intelligence of my cousin and my love & loyalty to my husband dear. So I was forced to do a bit of reading, soul searching and discussing to comprehend the concept of education.

"Education is the manifestation of perfection in man", said Swami Vivekananda. 

"While one is young is the time to investigate, to experiment with everything. The school should help its young people to discover their vocations and responsibilities, and not merely cram their minds with facts and technical knowledge; it should be the soil in which they can grow, without fear happily and integrally", in the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti.

"Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character making assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by-heart a whole library.....If education is identical with information, the libraries are the greatest sages in the world, and encyclopedias are the rishis", in the words of Swami Vivekananda.

After going through such and other similar literature, I was more positive about this adventure and wanted to embark on it. We and a handful of other families came together in this enterprise, though, the other families appeared more skeptical than hopeful for me. In all we had ten children scattered in the ages between 5 and 12. With this set and DJ as our mentor the journey began.

And what a journey it was!

Since then, every day has been new and charged, every movement a mental struggle where my beliefs, misconceptions are challenged and shattered and my brain fights in its endeavour to create new pathways of understanding. Along this voyage of discovery my definitions of joy, togetherness, forgiveness, family and life have undergone a complete transformation and my wish is to share this joy with all.

Our immediate focus on pulling our children out of school was to give them complete freedom, with no restraints whatsoever. The purpose was manifold, one of them being to wipe out the cobwebs of stress from their minds and hearts.

It took a mere couple of weeks to bring out the freshness and liveliness in their faces. They spent their time lazily, enjoying the sun and the rain and the mud on which they showered their individual creativities. They dreamt up stories and giggled and laughed and slept and ate alws! It helped that we lived in the outskirts of Hyderabad where the bounties of nature were very visible. There were peacocks and snakes, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, campfires and sleepovers.

At times this would irk parents and others in the community to see them while away "precious time" when all their contemporaries were seriously slogging away at their studies. In comparison our children were pretty poor in mathematics, English the sciences and geography. I remember I cringed, the time when my 10 year old daughter did not know where in the world Chicago was! (What a disgrace! All school goers know that it is in USA of course.....or so so I imagined!). There were many such incidents like when they failed to answer simple addition questions fast enough for us! But then we took heart and courage in reading up about similar problems faced by other un-schoolers parents. And when we tried to enforce any sort of discipline and study times, they were conveniently forgotten. Most often either their dullness in lessons would be a test to our tempers or else their quirkiness and imagination in answering would send us into raptures of laughter, becoming stories to be told and retold! The emphasis though being on the vernacular, the importance of learning other languages was always explained. Spending so much time together they got to know each others strengths and weaknesses intimately which they expressed in songs that they wrote on each other gently ridiculing each ones typical idiosyncracies. Much later we realised how much this self created fun activity had helped them to overcome their weaknesses and bond them together for life.

Slowly however they were given some duties to perform regularly like collecting flowers for worship in the mornings,  drawing rangolis every morning and evening in front of their houses, singing simple bhajans together in the evenings, etc. The elder kids were given additional activities like doing certain hours of household chores, helping the elders in cooking, etc.  Every festival was celebrated by our community together, so the children had loads of opportunities to perform responsible activities like serving water to all at meal times, waiting patiently for food to be served since, by rule it was served only after it was first offered to God. On special events skits and plays would be performed, they were encouraged to tell stories in public  highlighting the greatness of Sri Sai Baba which had been recounted to them by elders. Some of the kids would cry, some would be shy and others would talk typically like elders! Our community would take pride and would be appreciative of their antics for days after!

Two and a half years passed by thus, and the older kids parents owing to peer pressure showed signs of restlessness. Then again, the children themselves were inclined to prove to their parents and their loved ones that they were as capable if not more, than other school going children. So the idea of taking the 10th class exams through private was flouted. The idea emerged in October, the exams were scheduled for March! And, the group did not want to split, they all wanted to do it together, which meant that the children's ages varied from 10 and half years to 15 years!!! Well, the children's wish was our command and under the leadership of DJ plans were made, strategies formed, books procured, schedules prepared and studies were begun. One would imagine that the children studied on a war footing, but far from it was the case.

Hitherto the underlying but not obvious principle behind the freedom given to the children was the concept of spiritual realization being the highest goal of life, everything else was utterly subservient to this one purpose. Towards this end they were surrounded by literature on the Indian saints of all eras, Sufi saints and mystics, Sikh gurus, etc.. Great people of all times like Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Shahid Bhagat Singh, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Pythagoras figured often in our story telling times and even tantrum throwing time. Lectures, discussions and readings on spirituality that were held almost every day for and by the community were imbibed unhindered, by tender ears. Care was strictly taken that no hands hit a child, no unkind word spoken to them, and an atmosphere of giving, solidarity and service was always maintained.

Now again, not to loose that foundation of spirituality, the children were told to perform worship and arati everyday to Sri Sai Baba, the embodiment of spirituality of the current age. Food was organized so that all of them ate the same thing together. In short, they continued to spend all their time together going home only to sleep and bathe. They had exactly three months to read for10 papers. It had been close to three years since they had touched a pen properly or taken any notes, so the struggle began from there. Yet, they took around 15 days to finish each syllabus after which they were promptly taken out to celebrate either with a 3-D movie or Pizza Hut.......It was a pleasure to watch them help each in their studies. The older kids would memorize a portion and then help the younger ones to understand. Then the younger kids would help each other memorize. They would make gentle fun of each other to snap themselves out of boredom. Images would be taken on cell phones of them sleeping or struggling in awkward positions to memorize particularly useless stuff! The jokes and laughter were never far away. From February onwards we started on written tests to make them practice their writing skills. Oh Man! Were they creative, those answers! The younger ones had to be told to write longer answers in keeping with our education system, the smart Aleck's were told to curtail their imagination and write to the point, it was a blast, timing them, doing the invigilation and correcting the answer sheets. We all had tremendous fun!

Then came a mass exodus from the scene of preparation to the scene of the crime or errrr examination (pun unintended). There were six adults including our mentor DJ and ten kids who shifted base to Ongole where they were to take the exam. We adults spent a hectic two months cooking, washing, cleaning and helping the kids learn. The kids poor things got adjusted to the twin hassles of the heat and humidity of the coastal town of Ongole, without a word. The daily cooking 4 to 5 times a day for hungry teenagers took its toll on the adults and we ended up making some really weird combinations of food, which were taken in healthy stride by the kids but has gained a fond and indelible entry into our '10th class exams' memoirs. There were mid night teas and early morning snacks, there was squashing the mosquitoes and hitting the books, writing formulae with peices of chalk on the terrace floor and discussing answers with DJ while the sun gently set. The option of quitting was openly dicussed when the going got tough,  but somehow the will to see a decision through sustained. Yet when inspite of it when their spirits flagged and they felt disheartened, DJ energised all of us by playing cricket in the first floor hall and 'deep' in the entire two storied building. Through it all the childrens daily itenary of worship and arati went on without interruption.

Once the exams started the countdown to home turf began! Exam days fell into a ritual like pattern. Once ready the kids would all stand in a vague semblance of a row and they would be handed over their writing pads, pencil boxes and hall ticket by DJ with Gods wishes on his lips. They would then be escorted in a couple of cars to the examination Centre. Here they would group around DJ who would give them last minute words of encouragement. A dose of lecithin to beat the heat and provide mental strength and they would be off into their respective rooms. After an agonizing wait for them by us, they would then emerge out of the examination Centre, escorted back in cars amongst a riot of cacophonic sounds and then they would all sit around DJ for the last ritual act of discussing their answers with him. Once he'd gauged each ones' performance in terms of percentage, only then would they sit down for food!

The day of the last exam held the grand finale. The kids were unsuspectingly brought home and once their answers were discussed as usual they were ushered into the first floor hall where they encountered a WHOLE ROOM FULL OF BALLOONS IN  A MYRIAD COLOURS!!!! They stared open mouthed at first and then came the peals of joy and laughter when they started to hit the ballons, fall on them, hit us with the balloons in mock frustration and generally screamed an shouted. Their tension slowly ebbed away as they played and the return trip where they tore their textbooks to pieces and let them flutter away in the breeze through the window of the bus saw the last remnants of their stress disappear as if into the wind. It was a bunch of happy, successful kids who got  a grand welcome on homecoming!

However, the spiritual footing on which everything else was to stand had taken a beating in the pressure of formal education.  After all to think about marks and ranks and the necessity of being judged  for life by someone who does not know you and will probably never set eyes on you in his entire lifetime, on the basis of a few written words (reproduced from an outdated text) on a few scraps of paper, and then make a lasting, public conclusion on your mental capacity is not only ridiculous but downright obnoxious. Their inherent curiosity and love of learning had diminished, books had become equated with exams and so their minds simply closed up. So, there was again a lull and freedom  given to recover their natural healthy mindset. They learnt the basics of karate, got their yellow belts and continued with yoga, football, throw ball, badminton, chess, etc. They experimented with cooking and became quite good and also innovative chefs. In the meanwhile they also took a course in Permaculture Design. They learnt to prepare the potting mix, make compost and grow plants. In the process they came to identify different plants and their growing times. Marveling at their interest and grasp of the subject they were given a small  plot of land where they started and successfully maintained a nursery. They learnt the art of marketing their saplings, taking orders and  even made a profit on their enterprise.

All too soon it was decision time again! The older kids wanted to finish off with school education as they felt interested in higher studies. The younger children did want to be left out and they too jumped in. This time they were older and wiser and also confident about doing it by themselves with only a little help from us in the form of providing teachers for certain portions. We admitted them into NIOS and let them take the lead this time. /

They all handled their routine chores and studies well, taking care that they kept pace with each other. Towards the end when they found that they were short of time, they felt the need to recreate their '10th class exam' spirit. Surprisingly they came up with the idea of taking a house on rent and living together so as to better manage their time! Although we parents were very skeptical about it, in the end their eagerness and sincerity touched us and we gave in. True to their word they managed the cleaning of their house and sundry work by themselves. Meals though were handled by us. The pride and confidence that shone on their faces on managing an entire house just by themselves was gratifying. By the end of two months they had not only cleared their exams but also learnt the nitty gritties of housekeeping and home economy.

Now six months later they are accomplished tailors, wonderful cooks, sing bhajans soul touchingly, great managers planners and event organisers, draw beautifully are respectful, confident.......the list runs endless. They all show leadership skills but they know exactly how to mould themselves into a group so that each one shines with the strength of their own brightness!

But that is not to say that all kids have the same learning curve even in a group. My younger daughter is a case in point. She was too young to join them in taking the examinations that the others took. Besides, her health did not at that time support her enough. But knowledge and capability have not been compromised. She reads well, knows enough math to manage her life, thanks mainly due to the gentle prodding of the other children. Her knowledge of the sciences is more than what I observe in other kids because we have made it more practical rather than allowing it to remain a bookish concept. Her levels of curiosity and interest in all matters has remained undiminished. With her we hope to go one step further and completely do away with the need for taking unnecessary examinations. A solid spiritual and secular education, a strong sense of morality, intelligence, confidence and innate creativity can surely create avenues for leading sustainable and content lives. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Love For The Country... !!

Jai Sai Master!

There are two great days every year, that brings out emotional bonding with the country we live in. Aptly placed, one in the beginning of the year and one in mid year. It also feels great, to shout "Jai Hind" with all energy which reverberates for sometime. Particularly when you see OUR flag flying high, in all street corners.

On these two days, January 26th and August 15th, we own the flag with all the love even atleast for few minutes and salute it. 

It is indeed a great feeling!

When one thinks back, how a small thing like a flag can unite us, just look at it. This brings in the word, OUR country flag in the mind and tells us how great we are or our history is. The struggles we went through and rich past we have. Though we got freedom from British only in 1947, this country has rich past which not many current generation does not know of. Probably because the facts are not available or they are not easily accessible. It was quite well known that our history was re-written during british period for the want of erasing few emotional issues or to disconnect us from our past which was studded with great people and culture. In the world, we are placed very unique due to our strong spiritual backbone, for which we have to be ever thankful to our past generations. 

Their formula was a simple one. Let us be together. Let us share our joy and grief and work together for betterment of society. This is precisely what the new age culture, Permaculture says, Share the surplus. Economic differences might remain, but that should not deter us from caring for others or sharing with others. As our great poet Gurajada said, country is not soil, but it is people. So, when we shout Jai Hind or when we salute the flag, that should remind us these words and must motivate us to work for the poor and oppressed. There should not be dearth of clean air or water, fresh food or a large heart. 

As they sing while marching during parade, Kadam Kadam badhaye ja...", we must walk shoulder to shoulder on the path of prosperity, as we are endowed with rich resources.

Let us salute the great heroes who gave us the freedom, which is a costly one, earned with lots of hard work. In many places it is not easy to think freely, work freely and move freely without any bondage. So, let us remain humble and always look up to those who worked to free us from bondage and oppression.

Jai Hind!