A rich year at Sarang; some thoughts!

A year since our return to Sarang; a year full of hopes & efforts, dreams & work, plans & building, learning & unlearning. We have struggled with bureaucratic hassles, lack of resources and sometimes depression! But we have been free, freer than many of the past years. Gautham said to a visitor, “To me freedom is being able to pluck a sprig of fresh curry leaves for lunch!” We are thankful that we have had the freedom to choose living here, where each sunrise is a work of art! Hiranya, now 4 and Parthan, one and a half, have flourished and enjoy being out doors all the time. This is a small note to share the important points from last one year.

This is where we spent three years running Sarang Cultural Exchange Center

This is where we spent three years running Sarang Cultural Exchange Center

We had been planning the move to Sarang since 2011. But we had a lot going in our lives. We took a year more to make sure that all our projects (the cultural centre, web designing etc) would go on smoothly even after our move to Sarang.

moorikkaalam-post-production-posterWe conceived the idea of making ‘Moorikkalam’, our second short film in 2012. Scripting, budgeting, casting, planning took some time. Finally we finished shooting, editing and dubbing the film by April. Final preparations followed and at the end of May we were ready to move.

Attappady was facing crucial water issues due to lack of rains. Like all our neighbours on the hills, we were prepared to go to the river for bathing and washing. The rain water tank held a 3 months’ supply of water for drinking and cooking.  The plan was to bring water from the river by jeep when this ran out.

This was the last sunny day before monsoon

This was the last sunny day before monsoon

After days of hectic sorting and packing, on June 2nd Gautham and Revathi left Pathirippala with the first lot of things. The same pickup returned later in the night to bring more stuff alongwith, Anuradha, Vishnu and Hiranya & Parthan. They reached Palliyara, 2 kms from Sarang, about 1 am and had to crash at Jeep driver Mohanettan’s house the remaining night due to rain. Even a slight drizzle make part of  the road impassable. Next morning Anu and others walked the rest of the way with essential things, leaving the rest safely stored at Mohanettan’s house.

When roads where dry, the second lot of things were brought up. Now we were here. Unnikrishnettan, Vishnu’s father, who had been looking after the campus, was staying on for a month more to ease us (especially Anu) into life here. Reluctantly but since it was the only practical solution, we had to sell the cows almost immediately. What with the water and fodder scarcity we would not be able manage the animals.

Another urgent thing was power. We needed power for the computer so that we could keep up with our web assignments. For the first month, Gautham worked at a computer centre in Agali. The help given by Shri Anu who runs GTec, Agali was invaluable.

Solar-Arrival

When we mentioned 4 wheel drive, they thought 4 wheeler! After unsuccessfully trying to negotiate the mud road, the truck with the solar panels and equipment, is going back.

Solar

Kannan, removing the slippery mud from the road for his 4 wheel drive pick up truck.

In July, our 1 KW solar power system arrived from TATA. This was bought under the 10,000 rooftop solar project of ANERT.  The delivery agency had no clue about the condition of our roads. They sent the equipment by a vehicle that could not negotiate our roads. Mohanettan and his boys were very helpful in taking over the delivery from where the other vehicle left.

 

 

We hired a JCB to dig out the stones from the collapsed school building. They were to be used to build the walls of the groundwater well.

Well-Work2

Maruthan and team digging the well

With hired help we cleared and dug out the old well. The diameter was increased as suggested by the expert long back. We got struck rock at the bottom. When we sought permission to blast the rock from the local governing body we were informed that all types of ‘mining’ had been temporarily stopped due to heavy rainfall in Kerala. Surely, the government knew that even though part of Kerala, Attappady is a rain shadow region?

BricksAbout 1500 pressed mud blocks were made under contract by village youth. These would be used for building the new kitchen.

Gautham had his hands full, fabricating machine accessories, attending to his work commitments, working on the buildings all the while taking time out for the kids. The pace of the work was slow.

Hands on technology!

Hands on technology!

Lumber making with the chainsaw proved very handy. However, a more powerful machine and better accessories were necessary. Since we couldn’t afford these at that point, we managed to make all the necessary lumber with the chainsaw at hand.  The work was stopped due to a cutting permit issue and related bureaucratic hassles. It took about four-five months before we got the permit.

The smooth flow of work was now lost. By fortuitous chance we found out that our smart phone’s WiFi hotspot gives manageable speed for internet. This was a relief. Gautham could work from home now.

Anu and Parthan

Anu and Parthan

All the while Anu was learning a lot about basics like how to start and maintain the fire in the wood burning stove, juggling the kids with housework and other assignments.

apu9 students from Azim Premji University, Bangalore stayed with us for ten days in October exploring the village and rural life and brainstorming about sustainable development. Interacting with this young and enthusiastic group who were dreaming about positive change gave us a huge boost.

Meanwhile, the villagers were walking 5-6 kms to get water. The Panchayat announced a 5 lakh grant for renewing an old water scheme of pumping water up from the river. Gautham was selected on the executive committee.  The suggestion of re-charging our own watershed for drinking water was waved off as impractical by the villagers. Even after 9 months of the initial announcement, the project is still under progress.

Gautham and his students

Gautham and his students

In the meanwhile, Gautham’s web developing students (from CMC, Pathirippala) launched their first web site at a small function.

Summer was very hot since we didn’t get much rain during the monsoons. We had to clear a fire boundary so as to avoid a disaster. The threat of fire was real especially after a fire destroyed the slopes to the east of us. Gopalakrishnan came from Kongad to clear the boundary. One well wisher, Gautham and one of his cousins joined in clearing the boundary.

Visitors/Volunteers

Asha and Bijesh lal were one of our first volunteers. They came with their son Gautham and stayed for five days. They were great help in the initial work for the kitchen

Hatty and Tom, workawayers, stayed for a week at Sarang. They helped in scanning old images and      captioning them for the website. They were also great ‘household trolls’ as Hatty put it. Hatty cooked some of her Indian curries, and now we have added ‘Hatty curry’ to our menu too.

Lou and Leah, also from workaway, were a great help with the children. They also translated some content for the website into French. Another great help they did was firewood collection. This wet season we are super thankful to them.

Snake enthusiast Mamta Naidu, her sister Kesini Naidu and Anjali Anantharaman visited during a weekend. Though the team looked high and low for reptiles they had to be satisfied with a garden lizard! They could however photograph some interesting mushrooms and birds. We have since seen the rat snake, sand boa, hump nosed pit viper, krait and more here.

Jagadeesh Shastri, birder, volunteered for a couple of days, making a checklist of birds in the campus. You can find the list here.

At the peak of summer, Vaishakh and Hashif came to help clear the fire boundary.

Subid, a friend, activisit, toy maker stayed with us for a few days helping with the new kitchen, sorting a huge pile of plastic, making toys for the children and listening to our plans.

Abhayam Krishnan and Sujeevanam Basheer came for a quick visit with some friends.

Hearing a lot about Sarang from students, a few teachers from the Government College, Agali came. They stayed for a detailed slideshow and had a lot of questions. They returned much later than they had planned already making plans for a lengthier visit.

Three students from IRMA, Ananad, Gujarat came along with Mary Chechi, old friend to learn more about Sarang’s work.

Ravindran and Baby, Palakkad, old friends of Sarang, came for a quick visit with their grandchildren to see the work in progress.

Kuriakose master and his wife from Nilamboor, both retired teachers visited Sarang after 21 years. Their appreciation of Sarang’s work and good words were heartwarming.

Srinivasan, a previous resident at Sarang came for a day’s visit with his wife and two little children.

Everyone who came brought the gift of togetherness and support with them. We feel loved and our spirits are strengthened to work on…