The Organic Life
--Suchi Shenoy
5 minute read
Mar 29, 2013


The road from the Coimbatore airport narrows and the instructions grow quaint: “follow the main road” becomes “after the high school but before the bus stand, go over the first speed bump but not the second one, look for a bakery and turn right.” Coconut trees sway their welcome, hills mark the hazy horizon. At the end of a curving road, beyond thatched huts and banana orchards, sits a brick-and-stone house with a baby-pink roof. For those familiar with Indian architecture, it is unmistakably a Laurie Baker house. For those familiar with the spirit of generosity, it is unmistakably the home of Nisha, Ragu and their six-year-old son, Aum.
Our baby and the fierce summer sun keep us indoors. Conversations meander.
It is also fallow season. “The heat beats even the weeds down, so last year we thought we’d grab the chance to get a head-start on the sowing and planting. … Now we know better,” Nisha says with a wry smile. Their daily and monthly rhythms are attuned to the land – land that was barren when they got there. With help hired and volunteered, they have planted close to 9,000 trees on their nine acres. Trenches 25 feet apart hold teak, jack fruit, mountain neem, mahogany and silk cotton, interspersed with mango, guava, drumstick, banana and papaya and many, many others that I cannot name. These trees have transformed the land. Branches intertwine, parrots come home to roost, peacocks and rabbits rustle unseen in the undergrowth. “For the first time we have seen water in a hundred-year-old well on the property,” says Nisha.
E.B. White, in “A Practical Farmer,” wrote: “A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus.” He could have been describing Ragu. “We wait for the coconuts to fall,” Ragu says with a mischievous sparkle. “It is do-nothing farming.” After the intense labour of trenching and planting, the farm has been left to grow. Water is delivered by a drip-and-sprinkler system. Ragu, like White’s handy man, marches around in a loose-limbed gait, using a long, spanner-like tool to turn valves on and off. They do no large-scale harvesting, no selling of produce. “We barter,” says Ragu, although it is clear that he is using the word expansively. He looks for opportunities to use the farm to bring about change. “If a trader wants to buy drumstick seeds or oil, then I invite him to come over. Once he is here, I explore other ideas with him, like looking into the health of his family, or whether he can set up a supportive scheme for his employees.”
Did you ever play with a kaleidoscope as a child? A shake of the wrist and vibrant shards of coloured glass form a new intricate, interlinked pattern. Ragu and Nisha’s choices feel like that. Bright individual pieces of life-philosophy and practice that come together to form a beautiful, enchanting design.
With vigour and patience, Ragu explains what they call “life natural,” a philosophy that weaves together food, the innate knowledge and abilities of the body, and how chronic and acute diseases can be addressed. Along with their 75-year-old teacher, Ragu and Nisha have conducted twelve workshops and worked with more than 500 families sharing this combination of nutrition and natural therapies. Thanks to Nisha’s caring, mindful cooking, we experience the link between health, food and life for ourselves.
For those who meditate, the parallel is uncanny. What vipassana does for the mind, the life-natural approach does for the body. Meditation moves from the internal to the external. We are what we think. The life-natural approach comes at it from the other end. We are what we eat. Soon I find myself feeling as I used to after a meditation retreat: one’s mind and body want to go back to that natural base.
The occasional falling-off-the-wagon keeps Ragu and Nisha real (and accessible to us regular-food mortals). They are passionate, but far from fanatical. Days start with raw food, a cooked meal for lunch, and only fruits for dinner. But every now and then “violations” occur. At tea-time we munch on muruku from Grand Sweets in Chennai, and fruit biscuits from Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad.
Just when their life-natural approach workshops were gathering momentum, Ragu and Nisha paused. (Who does that?) “People were coming from all over, but once the workshop finished they did not have the support to continue on this path,” says Nisha. “We also did not want to become the sole point of contact. This has to be a movement; a network had to be nurtured,” adds Ragu. They decided to wait for enough of a groundswell to guarantee continued local support for participants. “Pune has that, and has been asking for a workshop for the past year or so, Bangalore for even longer.” This holding-off is conscious and tightly linked to their decision, having lived all over India and the United States, to root themselves on their farm in Alandurai, Tamil Nadu. From that decision flow all others.
On their blog, Ragu and Nisha describe their life as “our experiment in laying a new path on an old road that leads to simplicity, sustainability and dare we say, spirituality.” All three words come alive during our visit. Home schooling takes time. Food-based care demands patience. The only thing more strenuous than Ragu’s “do-nothing farming” may be doing nothing— practising meditation with the dedication that Ragu, Nisha and Aum bring to it. All their activities seem to involve extended gestation, an awareness of rhythms and cadences almost forgotten in Twitter-time. And everything is done with passion, grace and good cheer. There is much that we will miss on departure from Alandurai.
Despite Aum’s generous request to “stay here for-ev-er,” it is time to go. As we bump away from the waving trio, we notice that our taxi has a name. Large yellow letters stencilled on the windscreen spell out a single word: “Blessings.”


Posted by Suchi Shenoy on Mar 29, 2013

5 Past Reflections