A new and up graded kitchen has been inaugurated at the beginning of the year. The kitchen has a pantry for the storage of the farm produce, and a rocket stove designed by the Indian Institute of Science, suppose to be the most efficient stove in the world. The kitchen has been working so well that we felt confident enough to merge it with the worker’s kitchen, thus saving fuel further.
Kalyani, Malar and Devi are our school cooks, continuing faithfully in this demanding roll for the fifth year in a row, and cooking spectacular lunches for over 120 people every single day. Ammu and Davamani, both mothers of children at the school, cooks breakfast for the working force, which varies in numbers depending on what happens on the farm. Maietreyi, who coordinated the farm and school lunches for few years, has withdrawn from these responsibilities in order to fully attend her other projects. She said she feels the kitchen and farm stuff has grown into managing both operations by themselves, as indeed they prove to have done! We would like to thank Maietreyi for the good and delicious work… Your collection of recipes has become staple part of the school menu…
As I write this at the end of the first week of November, there is much to make me scared. For the second year in a row, the summer here ran right into the middle of October, with temperatures hovering around 40C. Rice crops planted during the Adi month were abandoned by many farmers, and here at Marudam the nursery was prepared but not sown. Now, in the middle of what should be the North East monsoon, wells are close to empty and fields lie fallow all around. The leaves of trees on the Hill are turning yellow and falling at a time when they should be at their most verdant. Globally, there have been fourteen consecutive months that each monthly average temperature has been the warmest ever recorded.
We have always tried to keep these newsletterrs to a sharing of the work we do and the little positive steps we are able to make here. But this does not mean that we are unaware of the enormity of the ecological collapse unfolding in our very lifetimes, nor that we are not often stricken with heartbreak and anger at the course the world takes. We have chosen the course of constructive action not because we believe it to be better than directly tackling the forces of destruction, but because we have found ourselves able to do this, and both are so badly needed. A while back, talking to a dear friend who has devoted her life to defending the living world, I used the old cliche of all efforts being ‘just a drop in the ocean’. She responded with a much better one. ‘It’s a drop in the desert’, she said. This change of perspective in no way trivialises the enormity of the problems, nor does it falsely glorify the little steps we are able to achieve. But it does give clarity in times of despair, and reminds us that while our efforts seem hopeless, they may not be meaningless.
But back to the Hill.
Over the last two years, we had for the first time done extensive planting on flat ground at the base of the Hill, on the Western side. The accessibility of this area has meant that for the first time we have been able to carry out summer watering for large numbers of trees. Thanks to our friend Dr Kanishka who has land and a well nearby, Masilamani and his team have been able to carry water to those ten thousand or so plants, and as a result the survival is significantly higher than it would otherwise have been over this punishing summer.
In fact, back in July, when a depression and some good rains gave hope of a decent South-West monsoon, we took the risk of planting a few thousand saplings in the same area, replacing any casualties from last year, and extending the planted area. That gamble failed, and so we’ve been keeping those trees hanging on between the occasional rains and the watering, and luckily haven’t lost too many. We’ve also done most of the pitting for this year’s planting, so that we are ready to plant when the weather changes.
Meanwhile, the Forest Nursery is bursting with more variety and a greater number of plants than ever before, and we’ve had to extend the area to make space for them all.
We’ve also been building a new shade-house. This will house the mother beds where we germinate the seeds that will later get planted out on the Hill, as well as collections of more delicate plants that need the extra protection and care. The nursery has always been a very practical place where a lot happens that is at the very core of our mission, but which may not be so obvious to the casual visitor. With the new shade house and other additions to the nursery, we’re hoping to make it easier to introduce and explain our work without disturbing the plants or the people looking after them.
This year, the day before the team took their Deepawali break, we celebrated a newly dreamed up Forest Way Day. It had dawned on us that after all these years, and with the project having grown so much that there are now different areas of interlinked yet distinct work, we almost never gathered everyone together to meet and share experiences. We wanted to give those that spend their lives on the Hill looking after the trees a taste of what happens in the school and farm. We wanted the children and teachers to hear stories from those that had built the school or created the park they know and love so much. Most of all, we wanted to come together and have some fun, and to honor the work of all those that make up what we have become.
The day began with Parasuraman giving everyone a tour of the farm. After that, everyone joined the morning assembly, where the kids were in full song. Preethi, the teacher of the transition group, shared, ‘I started to cry when they all walked in to join us. Having seen everyone in work mode all these years, I was so touched to see them all dressed up in their best upon coming to the school.’
We then all decamped to the sports field for some festive games, including a relay sack race, and a team game involving blindfolds and a great deal of laughter.
Then it was off to the dining hall for a big breakfast, before a selection of workshops that gave a taste of school activities. Somu led a theater session, Jessica and some of the older kids taught circus skills, Volker took his position by the climbing wall, while Gayathri and Sandhya facilitated arts and craft sessions, again along with the kids. Whether from the morning games or just general good cheer, there were very few inhibitions in trying new things, and everyone had a great time learning and laughing in equal measure.
After that we again came together, and those who have been with the project from the start told stories to the kids of how it all began. ‘Big’ Parasuraman reminisced about how you could see with a glance what everyone was doing back then, but now your colleagues might be invisible from ten yards away as the forest has come back. When Kumar spoke he said ‘Nobody should underestimate what it means that so many people support their families through their work here helping the forests. This is truly a rare thing.’ Others shared their personal journey of falling in love with Nature and the forest through their work, and what it meant to them to do this on Arunachala Hill.
Many of the children were clearly very touched to hear these stories, and got a stronger sense of what went into regenerating the forest they visit so often. Vijay from the older group said he was overwhelmed by the sharing experience. “My father worked for Forest Way for many years. I used to come with him and see all the work. But back then, I was too young to see that they were doing something so incredible,” he said. “Today, I finally saw.”
A foul smelling hell of unstoppable waste,
That we dump on the earth without thinking
in our haste,
Animals eat plastic and fall to their death,
Or choke on all the smoke that smells like
Plastic is hidden everywhere in everything,
And birds are so disgusted that they stop
their morning sing.
But it’s not only us, have you thought of
the lovely earth?
A slowly breaking system of one before
We were cared for, for many years, by a
thousand caring hands,
But now we turn against them with our stupid
For the past two years, we have been documenting the biodiversity in Thiruvannamalai, particularly on the hill and in Marudam farm. We have been uploading our observations onto the India biodiversity portal, which while helping with identification, also serves as a record keeper of the biodiversity of the region. This documentation process adds fuel to our conservation. We have been identifying and recording birds, moths, butterflies, snakes etc and we are so happy that our searching and learning is still proceeding vigorously even after two years. We have uploaded more than 1000 observations so far, which in the last year included six species of birds newly sighted in the region. Of these, the Spot-billed Pelican, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Black-headed Ibis are all water birds, drawn over the winter to the lakes which filled in last year’s good monsoon. The Rosy Starling meanwhile is a winter visitor from Europe, common in North India but not often seen this far south. The last of the new sightings was the Brown-breasted Flycatcher, a forest bird finding a home in the improving green-cover.
And what a grand event this was. Beyond doubling our human population over the eight days of activity; beyond providing all with food, hosting, accommodation and of course the workshops; beyond the different complex logistics of it all… Beyond that there is a certain energy on which all this is being sustained.
And the energy is big and generous. Whether things of beauty or practical stuff, this energy exalts in things made by hand, with natural materials and with ancient skills. It is material which has heart and soul, attempting to fly but at the same time is real and well grounded.
Two things have struck me this time from the very first day:
One is the direct, coherent and exaggerated continuation of our ethos regarding mixed cultures and backgrounds. Around mutual tables, in complete randomness, one can find humans from all edges of society. Students from a middle-class Waldorf school in Bangalore; from Chennai Olcott school for children from disadvantage families; foreign kids and teachers from TLC school in Auroville; Tribal kids from a school in Gudalur; Children from the local Shanti Malai school; Village children from Puvidam in Dharmapuri district; kids from a village in Andra Pradesh; small homeschooling family units; and the list goes on.
Where in the world can one find this complete equality in a meeting between people coming from such diverse backgrounds, such rich human tapestry sitting together creating.
The second thing I find even more extraordinary. In what seems like a complete chaos of multitudes, with the simplest conditions and rather minimal space, the arts and crafts themselves have that magic to draw people inward.
The level of concentration, absorption and application is going through the roof. Where the West has its underlying belief that perfect conditions (such as ample space, silence, perfect tools etc) are a requirement for creation and recreation, we are shown here (not for the first time) that less can actually enhance a creative process, that chaotic situations sometimes offer a unique opportunity to turn inside and tune within, and that when getting truly involved in something which is real and alive, there are endless ways in which the spirit of sharing and helping can come into play.
On 23 of November we celebrated our very-own, first-ever, in-house marriage. It was an event as original as it was joyful, conducted in true Marudam style – funky, informal, spontaneous and full of life. in Gayatri’s words:
Many things about the wedding of Tilo and Shyam I loved; the spirit of celebration, the nervousness in the air, the children dancing, the excellent food, the words of Arun, the song of Tilo, the impeccable handsome Shyam, the togetherness and happiness felt by all of us in the beauty of such a simple wedding, the unexpected ice cream…; but the most beautiful and special thing for me was to be with all the women dressing up Tilo. It took almost one hour and it was wonderful to contemplate. The bride sat, quiet, in a chair, surrounded by the experienced and wise ‘older sisters of the tribe’ and allowed them to take care of everything, completely surrendered, like a small child with the confidence and trust of being loved. Slowly, and with every small touch, she shined and transformed, and everyone gave opinion, enjoyed and laughed ……a few times she closed her eyes and looked so beautiful and then somebody will tell her:”What? Are you sleepy? Awake, today is your day, don’t close your eyes!!!”
Anna and Betty from the Czech Republic came for a six month volunteering program. Here is a little write up about their stay with us:
We came to Marudam to take a break from our European city life, to gain new perspectives and to experience a life close to nature.
What Marudam gave us was a lot more. We were welcomed warmly, given time to feel at home, encouraged to explore and find ways how to contribute to life here which would suit us most and met with patience when learning things completely new to us. We were happy to get to work in the school, teaching music and English. Marudam children are wonderful, we had a blast in all our lessons.
Our stay here altogether was unexpectedly perfect. We’ll be very sad to leave and we hope to be back soon.