Cool Buddies

A dream called Badanavalu [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on May 7, 2015

Badanavalu is a small village tucked away between the boundaries of Mysore and Chamarajanagar districts of Karnataka. We can see this as an obscure station in the railway route that runs between Mysore and Chamarajanagar. One might miss it because the express trains do not stop here and the passenger trains stop for a few brief seconds. What may be easily forgotten as a small dot in a magnified view of a map, at closer look, has an astounding history behind its existence. The villagers, especially the elders, are full of stories from a bygone era.

In the last century, Gandhiji had visited this village. And the most interesting part is not the fact that he visited, but the reason behind his visit. Because, this was no ordinary village. Back in those days, when Gandhiji was advocating “Swaraj” and “Self-sufficient” villages, Badanavalu was a living example of one such model village. The Khadi and cottage industries Centre started by Shri. Tagadoor Ramachandra Rao was a flourishing enterprise, providing employment to the villagers and helping them produce some commodities, mostly hand-made. It played a major role in women empowerment as a majority of its employees were women, who could come and work at their convenience. DSC_0085

And not just the Khadi centre, Badanavalu was a leading supplier of milk, curds and other dairy products to all the nearby villages. Legend has it that, a dynamic woman named Parvathamma used to take this train everyday with her supplies of milk and curd for sale. And the train wouldn’t leave the station until she boarded! Such was the glory of this place and the people of this village. And this is what drew Gandhiji’s attention to this village. He came to experience this beautiful setup and see his dream of a self-sustained village come true.

DSC_0168The vast nine acre campus of the Khadi Centre would come alive every morning with the tinkling sound of women’s bangles and anklets, as they walked towards their spinning wheels. The tranquil atmosphere was broken by the welcome sound of the women’s laughter. The day would start with a daily prayer in front of the Gandhi Mantap. The various neatly constructed structures housed each unit like Khadi spinning, weaving, paper making.

Each building was decorated with its own garden with various flowering plants. The entire setup resplendent with brick walls, tiled roofs and well-trimmed garden gave a homely feel to the Centre. The hand spun yarn would go the weaving unit and any waste generated would feed the paper making unit. The paper making unit housed large machines that would process the pulp. Three living row houses served as quarters for any visiting officials and guests. The water needs were taken care by a well in the premises.

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But now, this place is desolate. The once flourishing industries are all shut down, barring a handful of looms that are still managing to exist. There is a deathly silence as you enter the campus. The tree roots are reclaiming the building and towering over them.The buildings are in various stages of ruin – some which are missing tiles, some whose walls have fallen down, some that just exist as a rubble heap, each of them speaking of neglect.

DSC_0179The quarters look like bombed homes, with the kitchen walls still covered in soot and the door frames decorated with vestiges of dried up mango leaves; a chilling reminder of life that was lived between these walls. The campus resembles an excavation site, a chapter from a history book.

The paper making workshop looks like a ghostly hall, with huge machines now standing silently, covered in cobwebs. The place is now house for bats that rest here during the day. A small black board with production log still adoring the wall, a reminder of work left incomplete. Although the pathways to these buildings are still visible, the gardens lining them are long dried and vanished. The entire setup looks like a miniature of how the planet would looks like without its people.

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The few women who still come here to work do so with their own determination and grit; driven by poverty, with nothing left to enthral or motivate them. They sit all day and spin yarn, rotating the wheel in an endless loop; their eyes glazed and looking away into a far off past. Some of these women are almost a hundred year old and have been working here for the past forty years. They have witnessed the grandeur and downfall of this place and yet, they continue to sit at their wheel, stoically, day in and day out, unmoved.DSC_0024

It is heartening to see their excitement when someone visits the centre and spends a few moments with them. They greet you with toothless smiles and gestures signalling “did you have lunch” and then nodding their heads when you ask them the same question. Their voices are drowned by the constant sound produced by the spinning wheels.

With the industry unable to provide work for the villages any longer, they are faced with a new challenge – of men migrating to nearby cities in search of daily labour. The women see their husbands and sons board the train each morning with the hope of securing some work, and returning late each night, often inebriated and abusive, from despair. The railway line which was their lifeline has suddenly turned into a curse. There is no milk or curd produced now, it is bought in packets from nearby towns. Severe water shortage has left them helpless. They are now depending on the fast depleting ground water for their needs, with bore-wells drilled as deep as a hundred feet. The place is scattered with structures that look meaningless and ridiculous, even – like a huge water tank with no water, a well that is completely dry, serving as home for pigeons, electricity poles and lines that run everywhere but with nothing to carry.

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But, all this is about to change. A few spirited people made this their home for the past twenty days and started a Satyagraha movement here for Sustainability of Villages. The Khadi campus was host to a large congregation of five thousand like-minded people from across the country, from various walks of life, who came here to stand for our villages; to stand for a dream called Badanavalu. Important issues were discussed and brainstormed. One could witness an atmosphere of high energy and positivity, with everyone resolving to do their bit towards sustainability of our villages. Even the tamarind tree at the entrance sprouted fresh green leaves, as though expressing its support.

DSC_0080Sustainability of villages, people losing their life because of migrating to cities, villages unable to provide basic facilities for them to live comfortably, Govt. policies, or the lack of it were some of the issues discussed on that day. Eminent scholars, experts in their fields, celebrities who care, activists from various sectors were part of the discussion panel. The Badanawal Declaration, blessed by Elders, senior Gandhians, proclaimed that GDP is an inadequate measure of growth, as it completely ignores human happiness; and that traditional practices like cattle herding, hand spinning and cooking should also be considered as wealth generators.

Our country, unlike western nations, has a rich tradition that boasted of villages that were self-sustained. The villagers had enough work, good food to eat and led respectable lives. But, a few industries and the lifestyle that goes with it, imported from the west, has lured people to move to cities and leave the villages and villagers ignored. We have trampled upon our traditional knowledge, shunned the grandmothers who told us these stories and burnt the land that gives us food. If we need to come out of this mess, we have to first recognize and respect our villages. We need to build a society that treats villages with respect and stop promoting the false notion we have created that “cities are rich; villages are poor”. The Badanavalu Convention was an effort to understand these and create a paradigm shift.

The people of Badanavalu had never experienced such warmth in years, they reciprocated with open doors. People came here to search for something within themselves – a true “Satyagraha” (Search for Truth) and left with a fresh mind filled with enthusiasm and new ideas. This movement gave a new hope to a lost cause; like a battered army receiving enforcements when they are at the verge of surrender. The people have something to look forward to and talk about in the days to come. And, the cycle continues.

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One Response

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  1. Balachandran Chidambaranatraj said, on May 10, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Nicely written article Sharada. Perhaps, it should be added to the main sustainablelifestyle website as well….


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