Call of the land
SOIL is the thin layer of earth's crust which serves as a natural medium for growth of plants.
This is a formal definition of soil. So soil is the birthplace for plants. And plants are essential for all other life on earth including humans. Reasons are known even by children – plants transform CO2 to oxygen that we breath; they absorb greenhouse gases and keep earth cool. Plants are at the lowest rung of the food chain—all herbivores like cows, goats, deer and sheep live off plants and all carnivores like tigers, lions live by eating the herbivores. We humans usually eat plants and herbivores. Thus we may say—soil of mother earth is the cradle of life.
I am a thinking person, a person away from soil, away from doing things by hand, a person whose main job is thinking. And inevitably I live in a large city where roads are paved and concrete buildings aspire to touch the sky.
I miss the soil, the open soil.
In my childhood, we lived in a two storied house in a small town. It had a kitchen garden. I remember it as a large garden. I was small during those years. My father somehow understood my affinity towards soil and the things that are soil-born. He taught me to sprinkle seeds of chilli on the wet earth during monsoon. I still see myself on my knees intently looking at the small green shoots coming out of the seeds; then the same me but the chilli plants now grown up. And then the unbounded joy, the plants flowered and finally little green chillies hung on my plants. I sat by them quietly, a river flowing in my little heart silently.
Though outwardly people consider me as a man of thought, I still remain a man of soil. I crave for soil. Plants comfort me, jungles heal me and the open soil calls me.
One Sunday morning I came down my high house holding the hand of my little son. We were on the lookout for soil. This area has a few apartment buildings and the rest walled off houses of rich folks. Behind the walls lay sprawling gardens. Walking outside the walls we could see the branches of the trees rising above the walls. We could imagine the greens inside. Not for us.
Paved road gave way to paved lane. Still the same apartments and walled off villas. I told stories of soil to my son. To him it was an outing—the morning was beautiful for a walk. He was enjoying it.
While talking to him, I thought of myself sitting beside the little green chilli plants. I wanted him to feel the softness of the leaves with smell of earth filling him. I knew my childhood is lost forever—I cannot give back the soil to my son. We walked on in search of a bit of soil.
The twentieth century witnessed the rapid urbanization of the world’s population. The global proportion of urban population increased from a mere 13 per cent in 1900 to 29 per cent in 1950 and reached 49 per cent in 2005. Since the world is projected to continue to urbanize, 60 per cent of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2030.
Soil is taken over by humans and eroded by water, wind and tillage. The pace is accelerating and the extent of damage is not well known. It is practically an irreversible process.