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April 25, 2007

Chat with Jyothi, Ananthu and Om

So what was I doing in ND? I told them a little about myself and my interest in sustainable living. The current scenario of liberalization, structural adjustments, SEZs are both causing small scale farming to be unviable and proceeding on further industrialization etc because small farming is unviable. So are there any alternatives - can we think small and work on sustainable initiatives that will help us grow without exploiting nature and other human beings? It seemed to me that ND was experimenting with such alternatives and I was there to learn about their efforts. This led to talking about how ND was started.

Some of the folks I met at ND - Jyothi, Ananthu, Om and Partap, are founding members. Jyothi and Ananthu were based in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. Ananthu, an engineer worked for a few years in the corporate world and then moved to the Gandhi Peace Foundation. Jyothi was a sociologist by training and taught at IIT Delhi. In Delhi, they started a study group where they analyzed the current system and discussed alternatives. Through this group, they came in touch with others with similar interests. Partap Aggarwal had been experimenting with alternatives for a few decades. An anthropologist by training, he taught for a few years at Colgate University before moving to India. In India, among other things, he worked for 8 years at Rasulia, experimenting with natural farming or ‘rishi kheti’. Jyothi, Ananthu, Om and Partap met at Atheetha Ashram (from what I gathered, their spiritual camp in those days) and decided to work together towards seeking an alternative to the unsustainable urban life. About 105 acres of land was identified near the Anekal area and the Navadarshanam Trust established. The land, that had been a thick forest 80 years ago, had degenerated due to deforestation for timber, intensive agriculture and finally unchecked grazing. They decided to work with the land and try and revitalize it with the larger spiritual goal of inner quest.

They function on an ideology of wholeness. At both the level of the body and the mind, each of us is an individual, separate from the other. It is at the level of life that one realizes the oneness with all beings. Such a connection, they believe, would lead to new technologies that would provide us with better lives and not exploit nature and hence other human beings.

While most of the founding members wanted to stay at ND and work together, many of them were unable to do so due to different commitments. Jyothi and Ananthu, who had by then moved to Whitefield, near Bangalore, became the coordinators and started managing the day-to-day activities. A couple of things tied them all together: their spiritual growth and Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. They wanted to practice natural farming and most of them had no idea how to go about doing it. Partap had worked on it at Rasulia but he was unable to spend much time at ND. They had a very resourceful person in Sunny who put his heart into it but for some reason it didn’t work. It could be that the land needed more time to heal or as Partapji mentioned at a later conversation, that there was a search for immediate results and natural farming requires one to have a different mindset. They have had success with the fruit trees though. They then started the health foods initiative to work towards self-sustenance. Looking back, they say that it was a learning experience in adapting to the situation while functioning within their ideological framework.

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