Often at around five 5 p.m., I go out for an evening walk around my neighborhood or to a shopping area nearby. Yesterday as I was out on a walk, I spotted a group of around ten rural laborers returning from work at some construction site in the area. They were indeed a bubbly and cheerful lot, laughing and joking with each other as they walked briskly towards their temporary urban shelter. The exuberance was certainly far greater than other rich or middle class neighbors that I encounter on these evening walks. It is a common sight most evenings.
These simple rustic labor folk that drop into the city from time to time from nearby rural areas do so to make some extra money. In recent years there has been much economic progress in India, but such progress is in the main confined to urban areas. In the villages, life has not yet changed substantially. Most villagers are farmers but their farm holding are small and they do not have money to invest in intensive modern farming. As a result they do manage to eat and live in a simple dwelling, even a mud and thatch one if necessary, but they do not have any surplus money besides. Under the circumstances a trip to the city whenever possible is an ideal opportunity to raise funds for some substantial expenditure back home such as the construction of a better home, purchase of a tractor, putting in a bore well on their farm lot etc. Recently, as opportunities for temporary part time work have become available in the rural hinterland due to an innovative rural employment scheme of the government, rural labor in cities is not as plentiful as about a decade ago. As a result their daily wages have gone up considerably (they have more than doubled in the last ten years) and incase both husband and wife work together, as they often do, the wages can be substantial, comparable to the average wage of an urbanite or more. Nevertheless, the lifestyle of these laborers has remained more or less the same as before. Perhaps the only change is that they purchase a mobile phone the first chance they get and some mobile device for playing music. This latter need has now disappeared, because now mobile phones incorporate radios and stored music. It is quite likely that the next generation of these rural workers would adopt a more prosperous life style due to better education, media exposure, commercial advertisements that promise a better life and capital investments of their parents, but this one seems content with life as it has always been.
The lifestyle of these temporary laborers to the city involves three or four living in a temporary rented room in the city. This crowded living does not appear to compromise their happiness because they are used to similar living back home in their villages. Certainly their sleep is sweet and deep because they work hard and have few cares or responsibilities in life that they take seriously. That is the prerogative of us better off persons.
The simple diet of these rural persons in the city is the same as in their villages back home. It primary consists of unleavened flat round bread, three to four times a day, accompanied by a little something of whatever is available. The little something could be any one of the following - a soup, some stir fried vegetables, clarified butter, a chutney of herbs, garlic and chilly, a little milk, a sliced onion, a fruit like a mango or just plain salt and water. The little something had with the bread has only a little something of nutrition. Most of the nutrition and calories is acquired from the bread itself. In spite of that, in general, my observation is that these rural folk are healthier than their urban counterparts and even well off urbanites who consume a daily diet that is comparable to the best in the world. Certainly they are far more physically able and active while young and do not suffer from diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and numerous other ailments that plague the urban dweller as they get older. Undoubtedly, modern nutritional science has a long way to go in fully understanding the workings of a human body and the effects of diet on it.
The bread is made fresh daily over a wood fire in the open and it tastes great. As compared to leavened bread, unleavened bread has hardly any shelf life and must be made fresh daily. It costs very little because all it takes to make is wheat flour and water. Wheat flour is one of the cheapest of foodstuff available on our planet. On one occasion while in Canada a student was struggling with his finances to the extent that even food was becoming difficult for him. I suggested this bread. He then managed to survive through his course easily. Adding a little water to flour and kneading it into dough makes this bread called roti or chapatti in India. Small balls of the dough are rolled out into round bread about six to eight inches in diameter while sprinkling a little dry flour to prevent sticking. It is then roasted on both sides directly on a hot iron plate. Making eight to ten such pieces, sufficient for a meal for two, takes about half an hour. Some practice is required to roll and roast the bread evenly and make it delicious. If cooked over a wood fire, it is often given a final flourish by taking the bread off the plate and placing it directly on the fire below for a few seconds for a smoked or barbecue flavor. If a single adult depended primarily on this bread for food as described in the earlier paragraph, around ten kilograms of flour suffices for a month. At current prices in India, the cost of ten kilograms of wheat flour is about three dollars a month. It is quite likely that the price of the flour is similar around the world because of much international trade in wheat.
All these observations make one wonder what kind of progress is worthy progress? Personally though I would not trade my own lifestyle for this rural one. In all probability I have evolved beyond this simple happiness. These rural folk have a lower life expectancy because they do not have full access to modern medical facilities and usually go quickly. They never have to suffer slowly and miserably to death in a hospital and rarely face the pain and discomfort of a very old age as the rich do. Perhaps where these happy rural folk loose out is in the lack of control they have over their own lives. In times of adversity they are less able to control the consequences and are more easily devastated than a more educated and better off middle class person who sulks his ways through life to the sounds of this uncivilized rustic laughter.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
In a comment of my last post it was mentioned that rural living might be good for some individuals. Present day urban life usually involves an eight-hour workday along with commuting that may be up to one to two hours a day for the round trip. This leaves little time for an individual for himself or herself and it is not surprising then that some individuals who go through that for most of their lives get dehumanized. It is not written in any scripture that the normal workday should be a fixed eight hours, day in and day out. I have lived in towns and countries where the work hours were from eight a.m. to one p.m. six days a week and commuting time to work was just five minutes. However, that is an exception rather than the rule. In ancient times the normal working hours of an individual varied throughout the year. There were weeks of round-the-clock work followed by weeks of lean hours. In modern times this sort of thing has become confined to a few areas of life such as farmers and soldiers.
Besides the problem of work hours a problem with modern life in cities is that busy hours throughout the year reduce time for socializing. Many urban dwellers are also forced to live away from green surroundings. I too live in an urban area. Some twenty years ago when I started to build a home here there were absolutely no trees here. It was a new area that was just being developed. Soon I began planting trees at home and on the street near my home. Then an opportunity came to organize the residents into a residents development and welfare association. As a founder of this association there was an opportunity to get more trees planted in the entire neighborhood. The first tree that came up beside my driveway was a cassia tree. For some reason it attracted all the crows of the area. Their crackling cry is really irritating and often I had to go out to stone them away. In the evening bats flew overhead in the garden and that too was a pain. There is another bird that lived in the vacant lots that has a horrible screeching sound especially at night.
Fortunately as more trees came up and more homes were built here the screechy bird has departed and the crows have left too. Instead there are over a dozen other types of birds that frequent the garden. I do not know the name of all of these but they are gray, blue, green, shiny yellow, black etc. Others such as kingfishers, owls and woodpeckers show up occasionally. I know the name of some such as sparrows, red tailed bulbuls, parrots, blackbirds etc. Their soft chirping throughout the day, especially in the mornings is sweet music for the soul. It is an orchestra of sweet notes and the composition is invariably a new one every day. It is only on rare occasions that a crow or two lands on the property now. I consider myself fortunate that there is a bit of gardening space around the home so that I can enjoy some of this music and greenery. I know it is not like that with many others in the city.
If I had to redesign my life, or next time around, I would move to or create the sort of rural area described in the previous three posts - A rural agricultural life with access to some essential modern urban facilities. This time though it is a bit late for that. It requires a man in the prime of his life, certainly no more than forty-five, when one is full of energy, for that. The population of the earth is seven billion strong now and there is hardly enough good land on our planet for all the seven billion to move to a rural life even if they wished to. Fortunately most do not care to. They prefer the pleasures a city life has to offer. Perhaps it is because of it that Nature has permitted the population of the planet to rise to such enormous levels.
With grateful acknowledgements to http://publicdomainpictures.net for photo. I really should snap some of my own with this is so much easier.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The last two posts described a configuration for farm lots titled as AM farms. This one provides a few more details.
Essentially, AM farms were described as farm lots that are two hundred feet wide and half a mile deep on the average, yielding farm lots of a little over ten acres each. Each of the farm lots would be of unequal size if they face a curving road as shown in the adjoining figure. Curving roads are more natural for rural areas. Often such roads are laid so that they are on lowest ground to catch the run off rainwater. However, AM farms are such that they are not completely rural but rather semi urban because of their configuration and because a depth of two hundred feet is permitted for construction of homes as well as commercial establishments such as shops, restaurants, pub, primary school, produce shop, motels etc. A width of two hundred feet on the road is sufficient to set up both a residential home as well as a commercial establishment if the width is divided into two portions of hundred feet each or in some other suitable proportion. The idea is that such farm owners can derive the benefits of both rural and urban living.
Construction is restricted beyond a depth of two hundred feet so that the area remains primarily an agricultural one. However over a five into five-mile grid a couple of lots may be allowed to set up boarding cum residential schools and a country club. These may be set up from the initial infrastructure expense of setting up the community. A country club of about ten acres is sufficient to set up outdoor activities such as tennis, soccer, swimming and indoor activities such as chess, bridge, carom, billiards and ping-pong as well as a library, restaurant and bar. The high school on the other hand may contain an auditorium for use by the school and for rent to the community if needed. More lots may be permitted extensive construction if they are engaged in food processing industries such as canning, freezing, drying, producing pasta, jams and sauces etc.
A drive down the central curving north- south road of such an agricultural area would give the impression of driving through a town, whereas in reality it would be a farming area. The farms would be hidden behind built up areas. However, a drive down the East- West road would primarily be a drive past farmlands.
Besides these three or four lots over a 5 X 5 mile grid (containing 50 x 25 = 1250, farm lots) there is no need to permit any other lots for commercial activity since it is permitted on all the farm lots as described earlier. Two to four lots as shown in the figure may be left as a common green area that is partly wooded in each square mile. The idea is that this would permit an open field for village fares, weekend farmers markets, jogging or trekking grounds etc. as well as fishing if a stream passes through it. Without such intermittent green areas the layout would become claustrophobic.
A person living in an agricultural area and owning adequate amount of irrigated land is assured of some fresh food and a roof over his head in green surroundings in the worst of times(except for natural calamities like droughts or floods). On the other hand, an urban person in a bad way in bad economic times faces life on a garbage-strewn street or a crowded shelter for the homeless and food from a soup kitchen produced perhaps from expiring surpluses of supermarkets. It has already started happening in Greece.
On the other hand even when times are good a most heaven like life is possible in green surroundings rather than within nests of concrete and cement, nested one above the other, similar to insect homes and beehives, the fate of many urban dwellers in the so called modern age that we live in.
Concluding Remark: The name AM farms was chosen as a pun. It suggests having to get up very early every morning including weekends as one has on farms aside from initials of the person in whose mind the idea originated -mine :)
Saturday, October 8, 2011
NOTE: do read the older post http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2011/10/towards-green-life.htmlfor a background to this one.
Some of my earlier posts have alluded to the possibility of a return to land as a way of creating jobs in developed economies such as that of the USA that is trying to deal with this issue. The last post described a layout of farmlands in designed narrow strips so as to minimize some of the hardships faced by rural communities. May I call these AM farms for convenience here.
Let us consider a fifty into fifty mile irrigated land area divided up into AM farms and try and estimate roughly the expenses for creating them and the number of jobs that might be created by doing so. It would be necessary to divide the landmass into a grid of roads that are a mile apart in order to provide road access to all the farms for the purpose.
One square mile of land area results in 50 AM farms laid back to back and facing two roads that are a mile apart. Each of these farms would be a little over ten acres in size. Thus a fifty into fifty square mile area would create 125000 AM farms. However allowing for about 20% of the area for a central township and some natural common areas let us say a 100,000 AM farms are created in our chosen land area. If these farms work as modern intensive farms, each farm may generate direct and indirect employment for up to ten adults i.e that would create a million jobs. This is only first estimate but a more careful detailed study is likely to produce a similar result.
However a jobless person with little or no money can hardly be asked to move to a farming enterprise and make a success of it, even if they are interested. The infrastructure has to be created, training provided and an initial grant (that includes a starter cottage on the farm with electricity, water and gas connection) is the minimum required. If we assume an initial expense of 100, 000 dollars per farm then these 100, 000 farms would cause an initial expense of ten billion dollars – a small amount compared to the 400 billion dollar job creation plan that is being proposed in USA nowadays and very small compared to a trillion dollar bank bailout. Even creating ten such agricultural hubs across the USA would cost just 100 billion dollars and possibly create ten million jobs.
Some of the expenses incurred would be as a loan to the new farmers with their farmlands (and any construction on it) as a collateral to be paid back in easy installments spread over twenty years. Not everyone is a good farmer. Those who cannot make a success of their farms would lose them eventually for allotment to new applicants. The central town may have an extension and training center with short courses in agricultural technologies such as orchard growing, mushroom growing, beekeeping, poultry, blue water fish farming and diary industries etc.
If such farms were created would there be a market for all the extra farm produce? For sure there would be. The population of our planet is now over seven billion strong and rising food prices are an issue all over the world.
More details of AM farms is provided in the next post. The present proposal of designing farms in narrow strips and permitting the roadside fro construction would add some of the advantages of urban life to rural area and remove its main disadvantage i.e scattered farm houses.
A different proposal in this blog on adding the advantages of rural living to urban areas in a green hybrid city is also described in this blog at http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2012/06/green-hybrid-city.html
Photo: Hen by Bobby Mikul from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net