Table of Contents
The narration is about the story “Call of Soil” which is written about the engineer Venkatesh Iyer. He wanted to plant organic food through organic farming. He met a farmer named Mugra who suggested he buy a plot in Surat. He planted the crops there with his hand. Then Mugra suggested he apply the pesticides. The scientist denied saying he wants to grow organic food. He learned about the Kasbi rice which is less pesticide, so he grew it.
- Writer: Venkatesh Iyer who wants to grow rice without using any chemicals.
- Moru Dada: The writer’s uncle who insists and helps him in growing moong in his land.
- Baban: the one who traveled with the writer in search of Kasbai rice.
- Devu Handa: The ex- sarpanch.
- Jeevan: Translator who helped the writer communicate with the old lady who gave them Kasbai rice.
The writer’s first crop
In April 2004 the writer stood in the middle of the dense green field of moong. The writer’s feet got muddy because the ground was damp. The field was surrounded by chikoo trees and the moong plants were almost two feet tall and had green pods hanging out. The writer was happy that the pods were almost ripe and there was still time for harvest. It was the writer’s first crop as a farmer and owner of the land.
It was Moru Dada who got him the land and insisted on planting moong dal at once even when the writer wasn’t ready and trying to figure out what they could sow. Moru Dada advised him to buy seeds from Surat and thus with Moru Dada’s help, the writer went to Surat rented a tractor to plow the land, and quickly planted moong all over the land.
A few days later, the writer was delighted to see small plants grow just like when as a child he planted a hibiscus plant and saw it grow for the first time at the railway quarters in Vile Parle in Mumbai. The writer was pleased to take Moru Dada’s advice.
Moru Dada Insisted on using pesticides
Moru Dada also wanted him to spray chemicals but the writer was clear that he didn’t want to use any pesticides. It took a lot of convincing to make sure that Moru Dada didn’t use chemicals however they didn’t understand anyway. On the contrary of what everyone had told them, nature did its job and it didn’t need any offerings for successful harvesting. Soon it was harvest time and they managed to gather 300 kilograms. The writer was now sure that the land was fertile and it was possible to grow crops naturally.
In the first year, they were a little late for rice-sowing and thus they decided to start a little early the next day and try to find some good traditional variety of rice to grow. The writer now learned rice did not need high input of fertilizers and were quite strong which resisted pests and thus the writer knew what type of rice to grow now. Previous years’ experience and low yield had taught them a lesson and now they were sure that they would not plant hybrids this year.
The writer learned about Kasbai
In April 2005 they started to look for a good variety of rice where one of the neighbors in the village suggested that they should plant a local scented variety of rice. Most of the farmers preferred hybrids and the young generation thought that the writer was crazy to ask for natural variety. The writer’s regular visits to the villages around searching for a good traditional variety did not turn out to be successful.
The writer decided to give one last try to search and spoke to Baban’s father and some other elders and got familiar with Kasbai which is a variety of rice. It is a traditional long-grained rice variety that has a distinct aroma that is much milder than basmati. It is a long-duration crop most of the older people used to grow it years ago but no one knew where he could find its seeds.
The stories about this traditional seed made the writer more determined to find it anyhow. The writer even visited the agricultural officer for the matter but it turned out that he didn’t even know about it. The officer took several hybrid names and even offered to give some free of cost for trial. The writer found it a waste of time and moved to the next destination.
The writer is hopeful of finding Kasbai
The writer went to the Adivasi Mahamandal at Kasa which buys rice from the tribal villagers on behalf of the government. They did not sell Kasbai but the officer in charge had the knowledge about it and remembered Kasbai being sold to him a few years ago.
When the writer and Baban went to Dhanivari they were searching for Devu Handa and found him as a greying old man wearing a cap sitting outside his house on a charpoy who turned out to be an ex-sarpanch. He had acres of land, a huge house, and a large family. The writer offered him some gifts and talked about Kasbai. The ex-sarpanch told them that once the entire village used to grow Kasbai and everyone in the village cooked the same rice but now everyone shifted to hybrid variety as they were forced to do so.
Farmers were convinced to grow a second crop instead of Kasbai as it took a long time, replaced by hybrids that took a shorter time and could be done earlier. The writer was curious to know the reason why they shifted to hybrid if it made them unhappy. The ex-panchayat explained that since they did not have any fence and once the harvest was over the cattle were released on the fields and Kasbai would become a treat for the cattle.
It is better to go with the community, hybrids need more water fertilizers, and pesticides as if this new variety had innumerable capacity for chemicals. On the other hand, Kasbai could uphold even floods, such as the strength of it.
The writer finally finds the Kasbai rice
The writer revealed the reason for his visit and learned that only the tribals in a hamlet at the foothills of the mountains in the next village called Asarvari grew it. There they asked the sarpanch to help them communicate as they were not very familiar with the local language. They were assisted by Jeevan who took them to a sleepy hamlet (small settlement) of Boripada. There they met an old lady who had the rice they have been searching for all along.
The writer had difficulty having a straight face because he couldn’t keep his happiness inside and wanted to hug her. They bought a basket of rice from her in hundred rupees. While leaving the old women’s place the writer realized that the real people of India lived in the foothills of an unknown mountain away from all the hustle. These were the kind of people who held on to the rich biodiversity of our land that no one cared about. They are not aware of the hybrids and grew their rice and ate what they got. The old lady had probably never left Boripada and her world remained unspoiled and the writer was grateful for that.
The word ‘Scent’ in the subtitle ‘Scent of Rice’ has a deeper meaning than its usual meaning of fragrance or ‘perfume’ in the context of the text and for the author because he was trying to revive the tradition of Kasbai rice which everyone agreed had an alluring aroma. Modern farmers are forgetting conventions and have fallen prey to hybrids.
The natural ‘scent’, that is ‘flavor’ of Kasbai had drawn the writer towards real India, unspoiled by progress. The ‘scent’ was largely responsible for his quest. The writer wants to highlight the importance of organic and why it is important to be preserved and it is the tribals that help in preserving even when others do not consider it as an important duty.