There are people you do not forget after spending just an hour with them. Narayan Reddy is one of those people. I stayed with him for 8 days.
Over Fall Break, while some hiked to Himalayan mountaintops and saw the Dalai Lama’s center of operations, I was to be found in Dodd Ballapur, Karnataka, on a 4.5 acre organic farm in a remote village of 5 families, spending dawn to dusk with an incredible man and his amazing family.
Narayan Reddy is 75 years old. To relate his entire life story is impossible, first because I still do not know it all, and second because this website would crash. This run-on sentence will have to suffice. After running away from home and his farming roots at age 17, Narayan started working his way up the labor-ladder, from restaurant-wallah earning Rs.7 per month (that’s less than $.50 per month in those days) all the way up to trucking manager earning quite a bit more, which is when he decided to reconnect with his family, get married, and start farming again, initially with chemicals as per Indian Green Revolution standards, then through wholly organic methods when he realized the doomed nature of any chemical-based farming operation, and proceeded to become one of India’s and the World’s most famous and successful organic farmers, working every day of the year to enrich his land and turn out awesome amounts of produce.
A history as rich as Narayan’s produces quite an extraordinary person. The 8 days I spent living with and learning from him changed me. For starters I learned so much, just about how one goes about living on a farm and growing plants to eat. I learned to graft plants, how to bund for irrigation, how to pick coffee, check chickoos for ripeness, identify the plants to pick to ensure the animals get a balanced diet. It was an incredible process, and one that involved every minute of every day. But what struck me then, and has stuck with me since, is what I learned about why you live on a farm, what you gain from such direct contact with your food, your income, your health, your world, and how us city-folk can (and probably should) learn from all of it. Never before have I re-thought so many aspects of my life. Food, cleanliness, work ethic, simplicity, spirituality, and what it all means in an industrializing world.
Narayan speaks provacatively about the way a lot of us live. The Good Life, as he sees it, is work and family and comfort. Work, though, is doing what you love, and loving what you do, in the most moving way I have seen. We might be weeding the millet fields and get called in for tea, so I would start towards the house, look back and see Narayan still working, apologizing as he crouched repeatedly to get just one more weed, pocketing the ones the goats like, that kind of love. Family for Narayan is everyone and everything on the farm. His wife works harder than anyone on the farm, he knows this and praised her constantly publicly and privately. His son and his wife and their two children are very dear to Narayan, and jokes fly between them like minute projectiles of affection. But I was also family. I still am, I am told. And I feel that way. The goats are part of the family, as are the dogs, chickens, and most certainly the cows. The land itself is a member too, though not called family by name, Narayan mentioned the importance of the mutual health of us humans and land. Lastly comfort, it inspiringly simple. Comfort is freedom. Freedom from financial concerns, which being a self-sufficient farmer will do for a person. Freedom to eat what you want, which when you grow what you want is easy. Freedom from harm; a healthy family that loves each other openly, a roof over your head, water to drink, and a fire to keep you warm. Anything else is frills and in Narayan’s frank opinion, you tread at the brink of a slick slope when you bring too much excess into your life. We have a responsibility to society, says Narayan, to live well. That’s all. After my time on the farm, I feel much more equipped, motivated, and inspired to do so.
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