April 5, 2010
Come evening time, and one can see a few boys and girls hard at work in the organic vegetable and fruit garden at the Amritapuri campus. After classes end for the day, they change their clothes, and spend at least an hour in their little green haven.
Why do they do it?
“Our motivation for doing this is Amma,” says Gautam, first-year student of MSc (Integrated Maths and Physics). “It has been over two months since I started helping with looking after this garden. When I am at home also, I think about the garden.”
Nearly one year ago, Chancellor Amma had told students to grow their own vegetables. She had talked to them about the devastation human beings had wrought upon the environment and how nature was responding with earthquakes, floods and other disasters.
After that, the students, guided by their faculty, had sincerely tried. They had planted saplings but the soil was mixed with construction debris and at first, nothing much grew. The students had not given up. They had learned to make compost and had then planted saplings in compost beds.
“Amma always reiterates that in each and every house, at least the vegetables that are used daily should be grown,” adds Gautam’s classmate Srideep. “To make compost for the garden, we got cow-dung from the ashram.”
The students and their faculty kept at it for nearly one year. And now the results are there for all to see. Where nothing used to grow before, there is now a beautiful garden producing bananas, papayas, guavas, long beans, spinach and tomatoes. Tulsi and medicinal plants adorn the beds.
“We have harvested over 200 bananas,” the students and faculty note, with pride. “And have taken the harvests to Amma. She was so happy!” We thought that if we do some activity like this, it will be a motivation for others also.”
When prodded, the students narrate several tales of effort and grace. That they have put in effort, is obvious. Nature has responded to their efforts with much grace, that is easy to see too.
“Our papaya plant grew fast and started to give fruit within three months. We first planted the long beans in beds without compost. When we replanted these in compost beds, we could hardly believe that this was the same plant. The beans, and even the leaves, were so much bigger.”
“Our tomatoes were not ripening at first and we thought that it was because we had inadvertently used genetically modified seeds. But then we prayed, and believe it or not, our tomatoes started ripening! This was almost like a miracle for us.”
“We felt that a distance was growing in the relationship between man and nature. We always make sure that some of us are here in the garden. We water the plants daily, except for the rainy days. After an evening’s watering, our minds also feel refreshed.”
In 2003, the UGC mandated that all undergraduate programs in India should include a course in Environmental Studies. In keeping with this directive, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham began modifying its undergraduate curricula in all disciplines to include this course.
The course includes a comprehensive survey of environmental and related topics. The intent is that future decision-makers should be familiar with the impact their decisions may have on the environment.
In Amrita, not only do the students attend this class, they also have the opportunity to experience first-hand the joys of communing with nature. “Many of us had not even touched soil before, for the first time in our lives, we planted seeds,” they joyfully say.