Nammalwar Ayya is the guru of natural farming in Tamilnadu. A saint, seeker, guru, friend – he was everything and anything to all of us working with farmers, farming or food. A gentle, smiling man, soft spoken yet a very effective public speaker, he traveled around the state effortlessly evangelizing natural farming and holistic living. When he began decades back, it would have been daunting, but he never lost his energy, spirit or smile!
As part of my work with farmers I first met Nammalwar Ayya in 2008. It was a moving experience. The frail, white bearded man smiled broadly and said very lovingly, “nallairikkingla kanne?” After that, every meeting with him would mean some exchanges on work and his asking me about my family and other news. I know that sometimes he mistook me for my colleague who he met more often. However that didn’t matter, his love and affection was evident.
The most humbling part of his personality was his thirst for knowledge and his indefatigable energy and spirit to work. During breaks in day long meetings, he would start writing his next article in the letter pad provided. He was one of the few people, who I have seen, would listen keenly to fellow speakers and take notes. All these notes did not go in vain; these would come out in the forms of speeches, articles, anecdotes and be shared. Evangelising and sharing whole-heartedly without reserve was his hallmark.
Last Friday was the 80th birthday of Nammalwar Ayya. Vanagam, the Organic Farming and Holistic Living Centre founded by him near Karur, in Tamilnadu.
Last Friday was the 80th birthday of Nammalwar Ayya. Vanagam, the Organic Farming and Holistic Living Centre founded by him near Karur, in Tamilnadu. The team running Vanagam is a vibrant lot and constantly hold training sessions and workshops. They decided to celebrate Ayya’s birthday as a special day to honour women and their work in promoting sustainability and holistic living. Kumar and team at Vanagam are doing wonderful work keeping the spirit of Ayya’s work, philosophy and teachings alive in such a simple and mindful manner. The number of young people, families, children milling around the place truly gives one hope about the next generation.
About 10 women from different fields – bee keeping, organic farming, seed saving, acupuncture, natural healing, education, and other areas were chosen for the Nammalwar award. All the women on the stage, the organisers, the guests, and the awardees were women and the men were in the audience applauding and motivating the achievers. Usha, a dear friend and colleague, and Ayya’s long standing associate was the Chief Guest. She spoke movingly about her work with seed and how Nammalwar Ayya seeded a revolution. I was also honoured to be one of the guests on that occasion, sharing the dais with Usha, Ayya’s widow and daughter, and talked about farmers, food and consumers.
Meeting the many farmers, men and women, the healers, the alternate education proponents was very inspiring and moving. The spirit of Nammalwar Ayya permeated the event and it recharged my energy to continue my work. There are times I wonder whether I should do what I do, whether a small venture like Bio Basics will make any difference, whether farming would be a better option? The meeting reminded me that Ayya believed in evangelising tirelessly and to evangelise requires you to set aside your ego and take the knocks, the disbelief, the skepticism, the cynicism and get up next day with the energy to do it. So here I go again with the motto printed on the painting of Ayya (that was gifted to all of us guests and awardees), “Change is about taking action, not just talking”.
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