August 5: Imagine green paddy fields and a calm pond next to it. The breeze that blows over the still waters is cool and refreshing in the afternoons. Imagine all this in the middle of a city.
Actually that is what Govind Mhatre’s farm is like. Like a dream. It looks like it has been displaced from a picture book and placed in a wrong setting. Govind’s farm exists in the middle of a bustling city — complete with its concrete buildings and polluting vehicles –in the suburb of Borivli in Mumbai.
But all these buildings around him do not affect Govind or his two neighbours, who also have similar farms. In sharp contrast to the people of the city, they depend on their land for their survival. They grow paddy and vegetables and breed fish in the pond. That is sufficient to look after their needs throughout the year.
“Our 1.5 acre land holding (the equivalent of a football field) yields about 250 kg of rice per year, which we consume ourselves. We grow vegetables like ladyfinger and radish and sell the produce,” Mhatre told the Indian Express newspaper recently.
About 20 years ago, the whole area was forest. Elephants, tigers and other wild animals roamed there. But, now there is no trace of the jungle. It has been replaced by a concrete jungle.
Govind and his two neighbours belong to the Agri community which owned all this land 20 years ago. Now everyone is gone. They all sold off their lands to builders. But, Govind has decided not to get tempted by the money offered by the builders to sell his land.
Govind’s neighbour Kesarinath Mhatre, agrees with him. “The money is good. But it does not last beyond a year. The people who sold their land now live in semi-pucca houses and do odd jobs. Some have permanent jobs in government offices, but none of them have much money,” he said.
While Kesarinath and Govind continue to use their land in the same way as their fathers did, one does not know how long they can hold on to it. Kesarinath’s seven-year-old son Darpaan says he wants to become a doctor. But, his father has other plans for him. “He can be what he wants to be, but he is a farmer first,” Kesarinath says. Only time will tell whose desire emerges stronger.