Food infused with a prayer for good health…

As we sit down at our dinner table, how many of us typically think about where the food we eat is coming from, who is growing it, with what mind and intention? Does any of this make any difference to the food, and more importantly – to our health ?

A couple of years ago, I witnessed a theatre workshop at a school in Delhi. It started with some typical breaking the ice exercises. The kids were asked what they ate for breakfast. Varied answers – bread – butter, milk, parantha – jam, cereal, biscuits, cornflakes. The conductor’s next question was

‘So what is a parantha made of?’

‘Its made of atta.’

‘And what is atta made of ?’

‘umm.. errr.. atta comes from the supermarket..’

‘What is cornflakes made of ?’

‘they are made of atta.’

Cornflakes is made of atta ! Bizarre is how it gets. The school here didn’t seem too far from the elementary school in West Virginia of Jamie Oliver’s Food revolution.

My thoughts go back to my boarding school days in Dehradun. Anyone would vouch that meal times were undisputedly the most awaited, and food, a single point agenda on everyone’s mind. This was a school that didn’t allow us to stock any kind of food or cash, and anything packaged (chocolates, biscuits, chips etc.) we could buy from the tuck shop that opened twice a week for an hour only.

The entire school would wait at their dining seats in a single dining hall, filled with endless rows of dining tables, in pin-drop silence. The schoolie (head girl) would say the grace ‘Thank you God for everything” and almost instantly the silence would convert into a deafening sound of cutlery clanking mixed with the chatter of the 450 schools girls. And it didn’t matter whether it was the kadi chawal Tuesday or the shahi paneer/butter chicken Thursday, the eagerness for the food was the same each meal.

The grace I guess was the last moment of patience between us and the food, a moment created for us hungry souls to feel the good fortune in what awaited us.

This one moment of silence, of patience, of prayer, probably even went a long in making the food more delectable ever.

As the rain came to a halt at the farm, off we were with buckets of aloe veras to plant, on a hillside near the water pump, as aloe needs a considerable amount of water to grow healthy.

But what it needs even more, says Kalyani, as she teaches us to plant them into the soil, is prayer. Prayer that the plant grows into the healthiest plant, and it gives the maximum health and benefit to the person who uses it. And this is how each and every sapling and seed is planted on this farm.

What a thought.. I was blown with this idea !

Now imagine, if what we eat every day, has an embedded prayer in it, for our health… I can only imagine what power one such meal could have – if only we give it its due, take a moment to reflect on where our food is coming from, the soil it grew on, the person who sowed it, nurtured it over a few months, and toiled out in the open, in the heat, in the rain, to reach this to our dinner table.

Of microbes, nutrients, cow dung and life..

Last month end I was at a place called Ganeshpuri, a small pilgrim town, touching Mumbai (the town made famous by Liz Gilbert of the Eat, Pray, Love fame).  I was hosted by a couple who have recently started an organic farm there.

Kalyani (Carren) was formerly an environmental consultant and a yoga teacher in Britain, and Daniel, an artist from the U.S. They met at Ganeshpuri, got married and the rest as they say is history. Well actually, they are in the process of creating history, and I was witness to it for a few days. The couple have leased a few acres of land and are farming organically there.

As we hopped off the road and reached the Saha Astitva farm, the difference between their farm, lush and bountiful, and the barren land surrounding it, was visibly evident.

2 years ago, their piece of land too was one with the barren landscape, Kalyani informs us. The lotus ponds, the prayer pagoda, the dense banana grove, all seem to exude the same spirit that the owners have infused into this.

Kalyani brings us under a grove of trees and digs out the soil.  She is delighted that the soil is soft enough to be dug out with her hand. She lights up like a child as some earthworms and insects show up and say hello, all signs of good healthy soil, thriving with life, excellent for growing anything.  These insects that we can see, and the millions of microbes that the naked eye cannot are what give life to the soil, which in turn is the source of rich natural nutrition in the plants that grow on it, as opposed to soil made dead by chemical fertilizers.

If what is available in nature in its natural form can simply be looked at as its chemical composition and replaced by the man made chemical (such as nitrogen and urea), then why cant we just eat coal to survive ? After all we are made of carbon molecules, and coal is the purest form of carbon. Kalyani’s words seem to make sense and are telling of their approach and philosophy.

As we go on through the day, it is amazing the to see Kalyani and Daniel’s interaction. As a harmless water snake passes us by, in the moat created around their shelter,  they actually discuss whether the snake would be happy in the moat or outside. Daniel is concerned that some of aloe vera plants have been pulled off the ground for replanting have been waiting in a bucket for sometime, and he is sure they don’t like it (meaning they must be replanted asap).

It’s amusing at first, but touching on second thoughts.  It’s not hard to see, the dignity for life given to every living thing on this piece of land.. not just for humans, but animals, plants, even microbes. The Saha Astitva farm looks like a place where these two people are creating conditions for every living being to fulfill its purpose.

Reminds me of words of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda ‘The universe does nothing in vain. Everything has meaning. Even plants that we spurn as ‘weeds’ have a role and function to fulfill. Each living thing has its own unique identity, role and purpose – the cherry as a cherry, the plum as a plum, the peach as a peach, and the damson as a damson.’

As we wait a rain shower out, we use the time to mix cow dung with soil. For all my love of organic food, farmers and farming, I never in my life actually thought I would get down to touching cow dung. The yucky smelly dung, that most of us (in cities) are conditioned to react to as a dirty repulsive thing, is anything but touchable.

If it wasn’t for Kalyani and her warmth, God knows, I would end up shedding off this conditioning of a lifetime at some point, but I’m not sure it would be so simple and natural.

No word exchanging, a moment was what it took, and a deep breath in that moment, to know from within that this task is in front of you, not for you to do it, but to breakthrough your own little limitations.

My hands sank into the soft-course dung, that was still warm (which means it was fresh) and I started mixing it with the cold heavy soil, I didn’t really feel anything, or rather held on to me feelings so tightly, that literally didn’t allow myself to feel what I shouldn’t be feeling (repulsion). Perhaps, just doing this physically, once is not enough to shed the strong conditioning off completely. One needs to grow into it, inside out, give it time, and slowly trust oneself to recognize our real feelings, rather than what we’ve been taught.

I’ve thought about this later, and come to one conclusion. If I hadn’t known that was dung, perhaps I might have enjoyed the experience much more. I actually liked the texture of the dung. Its soft-course texture, its warmth, and I don’t know if this sounds like it means anything, but let me say it anyway – I felt a sense of life in it. And as I mixed it with the cold lifeless soil, it was not the dung, but this sense of life that was actually getting mixed into the soil, that would perhaps pass on to what that grows from it.