From the field4 min read
It is baffling when a government official turns up to an appointment before time. The appearance turns symbolic if it happens to be a national holiday. “Independence day, madam”, the driver mumbled and took the wheel. I was instantly guilty for ruining his rare holiday but forced a smile in reply. In a few minutes we were driving down the NH 17 with a Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation (KCDC) officer and a lot of questions in my mind.
We diverted towards Kenchanooru village of Kundapur. The intention was to meet local farmers in what is hailed as the cashew belt of Karnataka and understand why there has been no hue and cry against Endosulphan – a toxic chemical pesticide used in cashew plantations.
He came with suspicious eyes and introduced himself as Chandrashekhara Udupa. Clad in the typical lungi beneath a shirt, he greeted me with a smile. I reciprocated. We did not speak the same language. Upon learning from the officer about my questions, Udupa – son of the soil instantly obliged. Thus began a series of questions and answers that lost their essence in translations, leaving me utterly dissatisfied. I vowed to never do this again.
While looking up the internet for information on Endosulphan, I came across the “Endosulphan Tragedy” in Kasargod district of Kerala. Government reports confirmed that congenital deformities, mental retardation and infertility in the area were a result of aerial spraying of the pesticide by Kerala Plantation Corporation on its plantations. Activists and local formers fought a long judicial battle and the pesticide was banned in Kerala in 2003. The neighbouring Dakshina Kannada district witnessed similar health hazards, prompting the KCDC to stop aerial spraying in Karnataka. However, it is difficult to digest that Udupi district remained untouched and calm.
He widened the hole in a tree and pulled out a slimy insect with a hippo-like nose. “Here is the culprit”, he grinned, as the ‘Stem and Root Borer’ – a common pest in cashew trees, wriggled in his palm. Chandrasekhar Udupa, like many other farmers in Kundapur, used Endosulphan to get rid of pests like Stem Borer and Tea Mosquito Bug that commonly infest cashew plants. Three years back he switched to organic pesticides and swears to never return to Endosulphan; partly owing to personal experience and partly to Kasargod tragedy in Kerala.
Inside Udupa household, we were welcomed with a cup of jaggery and water. I wondered why? Raviraj later explained that jaggery supplements the loss of glucose in body and hence makes for an ideal welcome drink. Traditional wisdom was impressive. Chadrashekhar’s father, Janardhan Udupa, now 71, had so much to say; only if I could understand. The steaming coffee kept Raviraj occupied and away from translating. He was relieved.
I left a blank page in my notebook and titled it ‘Janardhan Udupa’. Some day I will get back to hear him.
We hit the roads again. Zooming past Mookambika Reserve Forests on either side of the road, the driver decided to turn off the air-conditioner. “Natural AC now”, he quipped. I was still apologetic about ruining his holiday.
The Cashew Plantations under Kundapur Division of KCDC are entirely located in forest area according to the plantation superintendent, Raviraj. Few families who live in the fringes of the forest area like the Shetty family of Idooru village have had showers of endosulphan fall on their houses. They complained about the repulsive odour that remained for weeks after the serial spray, instant death of their cattle, minor headache and breathing problems. “We ensured that a red flag was tied on house-tops and private fields to enable the pilot and spray workers demarcate while flying through the area”, said Raviraj. This he said prevented mishaps like Kasargod where Endosulphan entered drinking water streams and wells.
On the way back to Kundapur town, Raviraj was relieved when conversation faded away from toxic Endosulphan. At first, I was baffled to see Udupa pluck leaves from this random tree and munch on them with such joy but when on his insistence I followed suit, it sure was worth it.There were missing links, but the generosity of farmers and taste of leaves were enough to enjoy the moment.
“Do you take such trips very often?” enquired Raviraj. “Reporting is very interesting”, he added. I flipped through the pages of my notebook and looked at the lengthy notes I had prepared for the trip. “Yes, very much Sir”, I grinned.