It is a rather busy time to get in touch with Pappammal, an organic farmer, who lives with her family in the village of Thekkampatti, near Coimbatore. She has just returned from a function organised as a part of the visit of the prime minister to the city. There was heavy rush by the time she reached there but people made way for her as her vehicle moved past them. When the prime minister got to know that she had arrived, he got down from the stage and met her separately and bowed down in reverence.
“He enquired after my work and my well-being. I had never even dreamt of such things. In the work that I do, who would think that the prime minster or president will give you an award. I was very touched by this gesture,” she tells us from her home in Thekkampatti.
The village has been her home since she was a toddler. “Back when we began work on the farm, women were given 2 Annas and men were given 4 Annas. We went to work and had pazhaya soru kanji (rice porridge) with onion and chillies. In fact, there was no doctor nor was there any disease. If we fell ill, the solutions also lay in the natural remedies,” she says as she rattles off a plethora of every day home remedies. “We worked very hard and were physically very active, as they say, aadi paadi vela seithom. That is literally what we did.”
In fact, there was no doctor nor was there any disease. If we fell ill, the solutions also lay in the natural remedies
Pappammal became interested in organic farming and started growing a variety of pulses, beans, gram and millets. “I began running a provision store, then an eatery and finally bought a 10-acre land with my savings and began cultivation. I have been here for more than 100 years,” says Pappammal, who has dabbled in several roles in the union and even local body politics.
The fame of her organic farm spread far and wide. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University took note of her work and many students from there began visiting her farm. “Several luminaries have come here. Around 45 years back, VC Shukla also came here to see the trees I had planted and was amazed that a woman could single-handedly raise this farm.”
Pappammal has been waking up early in the morning for years. She watches news and rasipalan (astrology) on TV without fail every day. She eats only on a leaf and insists on freshly cooked piping hot food and drinks only warm water. In the last four years, farming has taken a backseat, but travels by bus even now to meet her friends and attends family functions without fail. These days, she also attends a few felicitation functions and meets journalists for interviews. “I saw my face in the newspaper. Did you read? I can’t read but I am told it is there,” she chuckles.
This story was published in The 10th anniversary edition of The Times of India, Coimbatore