Cover of Sonu Sood's book 'I Am No Messiah'
A Tractor in Time Saves a Farmer
Name: Nageswara Rao (and family)
Location: Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh
Problem: Manual ploughing of the farms by daughters, necessitated by pandemic-induced poverty
The way out: A tractor for the family and education for the daughters
Dedicated to those who work in acres, not hours. These are not my own lines; I recall having read them once. Borrowed lines but such a perfect fit when I flip the pages of my memory and think of the visual that arrested me on that Saturday, 25 July 2020.
A journalist, Krishnamurthy - to whom I'm indebted for bringing this to my awareness - had uploaded a video clip and tweeted about a tomato farmer in Madanapalle in Chittoor district. The farmer's daughters were being used, instead of the traditional oxen, to plough his field.
It was so disturbing; not an image you wanted to see.
Those girls should have been in school and not pulling the plough. Yet another picture of despair thrown up by the pandemic. However, I wasn't willing to let it get me down. That visual was stuck in my head - a poverty-stricken father giving a hand to his daughters while the mother scattered fertilizer on the fields. When I'm troubled, I have internal debates with myself. That day, I told myself that on the one hand we claim our daughters are our pride, while on the other we let our daughters plough the field like oxen. 'Vision without action remains a dream,' said author and executive Joel Barker. I couldn't just sit back and imagine that my empathy from miles away would telepathically alter the destiny of the two young girls. I had to be the man of action that I knew myself to be.
Once again, my many years of work in Andhra Pradesh stood me in good stead as I tapped my contacts in the state to find out more about this farmer and his family. Within hours, the details poured in. I learnt that his name was Nageswara Rao, and the distressing visual on social media was from his farm in a village close to Chittoor. Although I've shot extensively in the state, I'd never been to Chittoor district. Now, this became one more place on my list of must visit places.
By 9.30 p.m. that same Saturday, my friends from Andhra provided me with further details. They even gave me his phone number, and I connected with Nageswara Rao personally. He told me that he ran a tea stall in Madanapalle, his village. But the pandemic had forced the shutters down on his small business, making him stare at penury and hunger.
My people in Andhra had already ferreted out details of how pitiable his and his family's condition was.
On the spur of the moment, I promised Nageswara that I would immediately arrange two oxen for him, so that his girls could be taken off the yoke. He was so excited at my offer that he called me back within minutes to say that the oxen were available in Tirupati, and once he had the money, he could rush there and buy them.
Without giving it much thought, I assured Nageswara that he'd get the money to buy the oxen. It took a few more moments for the tube light in my brain to light up as I realized that a tractor - and not oxen - would be the ideal solution to this family's problems. If animals were employed on the field, more than one person would still be needed to toil along with the oxen, while a tractor would ease their lives considerably.
So, I changed my mind and informed Nageswara that instead of sending him money for oxen, I'd have a tractor delivered to him the very next day. But I needed a promise from him in return - that he would see to it that his daughters pursued their education.
The hearty Punjabi in me had spoken on an impulse. But shortly after that conversation, reality hit me. I twisted and turned in my sleep. The next day was a Sunday and we were under a lockdown. How on earth was I going to keep my promise to Nageswara and have a tractor on his field the next day? But I'd given my word. Punjabiyaan da vaada mattered.
Here I must tell you that Punjabis are passionate about farming. We empathize with the farming community in more ways than one. Another aside is, a tractor is something every young boy from Punjab has either driven or ridden on.
Fortunately for me, by now my reputation preceded me. People everywhere wanted to help in whatever way they could and be a part of this social movement. On Sunday morning, I called my friend Karan Gilhotra, who is from Chandigarh, and asked him to find out the contact of an agency in Andhra Pradesh, because I wanted a tractor delivered to a farmer on an SOS basis. I stressed to him that I needed that tractor to be delivered to Nageswara that very day. Karan called up the local Andhra agent of Sonalika Tractors, one of the leading tractor companies in India. Though it was their weekly off, when the guys realized that the request had come from me and was really important, they expedited my request. And voila! - around 5 p.m. the same day, Nageswara had a brand new tractor standing on his field.
(Published with permission of Penguin Random House India from 'I Am No Messiah' by Sonu Sood. Order your copy here.)
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