Keeping a date with his roots ? to see it flower
DR SUDHIR Kumar (78) and his wife Jagriti (75) could have easily settled for a cozy life, perhaps in the US, long back. But they did not. Something else beckoned them. Something their own.
Little wonders then, in the dim-lit mud hut that houses their food-processing unit hangs a map; no not a World map or an India map but a map of Sitapur and its rural areas, where the couple has started a small revolution of sorts.
Obsessed as they were with rural development, the couple moved lock, stock and barrel to Bari village in Sitapur (Dr Kumar’s birth place) in 1994 and are currently giving shape to their long-cherished dream – by sometimes announcing incentives to lure villagers into collecting neem leaves, training uneducated youth for employment and many a time inspiring educated young people to extend a helping hand in their endeavor to change the quality of life in villages. Dr Kumar is also writing a book commissioned by Department of Science and Technology.
Sudhir Kumar, the boy from Bari, was good in his studies. After his graduation, he got a Rockfeller Foundation scholarship to study in the US. He went there in 1962, studied further and went on to complete his Ph.D. As he studied well, he started getting job offers in the US. “She told me no, you should work in India and not in the US. So we returned,” he says. He also had an offer from Germany where he worked for six months.
“Jagriti’s father was a friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. That probably explains why Jagriti had this streak of nationalism and rural development in her. She simply passed that on to me,” says Dr Kumar. The opportunity to live in the US once again knocked at their doors when their son got settled there. They went on a vacation for four months a few years ago, but the ‘son of the soil’ returned to the village.
Dr Kumar returned to his village for good in 1994 after his retirement. Till then he had been professor in five different universities—Udipur, Gujarat, Nagaland, North-Eastern and Manipur Universities. “I don’t get pension, as I never stuck to one university for very long. But safe faces simply bored me,” he says.
He used to teach botany, genetics, agriculture and biochemistry.
After he returned to the village, he formed ‘Society for utilization of science and technology for rural population’. And unlike the complicated science that he studied and taught, he chose to use science in a much simpler way to change the standard of living of the rural folks.
He has made the villagers grow bamboo at places nobody thought it possible. CAPART, a government organisation gave him an offer to plant 10,000 bamboo saplings. He went to Pune, brought the saplings, and gave them free to villagers, as he got them free from CAPART. Then he offered a Rs 27-incentive per plant for each survived plant. Today he purchases fully grown bamboo at the rate of Rs 40 each to sell it further. He now has trained several men and women in the village in bamboo cultivation to generate more income from it. The village today has three bamboo nurseries.
“I have made a rule that no villager who comes to us to sell any farm produce should go disappointed. So whatever they bring, we purchase,” he says.
But then what does he do with all the things he purchases, from tomatoes, to fruits, vegetables etc. He applies ideas at his food-processing unit. “Once a villager came 20 kg jaamun. Jaamun is a fruit that perishes in a day. I purchased all at the rate of Rs 3 per kg. From pulp, we made 30 bottles of jaamun squash, and since the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow, wanted jaamun seeds for diabetes medicines, we sold seeds to them at the rate of Rs 40 per kg.”
He has also introduced bee-keeping in the village. And to make it easy for villagers, he introduced an Italian variety of bees that are sting-less. Currently he has five boxes of bees. “When the number of bees multiplies, I will tell the farmers to have bee-boxes in their fields as bees promote cross pollination. So the farmers then can have better farm yield as well has honey to sell, without any investments,” he says.
He has started teaching villagers how to make vermin-compost by rearing earthworms, how to use water from the vermin-compost pit as insecticide and how to use bougainvillea (as it has thorns) and other such plants to fence fields to protect them from stray cattle.
At his food processing units, villagers make pickles, jam, squash, vinegar, puree etc. NABARD, like CAPART, is helping him in some projects.
“I saw him working and his sincerity for rural work despite his high education. I too started feeling the same way about villages. So I joined him,” says Anjani Singh, daughter of a former Indian Airlines pilot. She runs the training programme of uneducated youths in association with the Planning Commission. She is State Project Co-coordinator of the Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) and trains youth in the rural areas in trades relevant to construction industry.
Till now 30 youths have been trained and placed with some top construction companies in India, including Larsen & Tubro.” Her husband is an educated farmer.
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