Sunday, 10 July 2016

Down home on the Eicher farm...

We understand that our hardy Mennonite Eicher forbears left the old continent for the new expanses of Ontario in the late 1880s.  They were farmers and settled down to tilling the New World soil - and then their progeny moved out across the mid-west so that today you can still find plenty of Mennonite Eichers (some still farming too) across Indiana and Ohio and points west.

The tiny bit of the Eicher family that has been grafted into our dear land of Bharat 3 generations ago has not been very agrarian.  But could that be changing just a tiny bit?

Having moved to Lalitpur, our family is back in a pretty rural setting after 14 years in the big city. Today we live on a big spacious hospital campus in a ground-floor building... with a bit of space for a garden outside!

So lets take a little look at our new world...

We will start by going back in time.  This is what the 'Bethel Villa' looked when I was commuting between Thane and Lalitpur earlier this year.

We had to do a fair bit to get the venerable bungalow ready for the Eichers, including moving the kitchen from the back to the front and adding another toilet to the right of the entrance. 

About half-way through the rebuilding, this is what the future Eicher homestead looked like:

In mid April - four of us Eichers had a traumatic leaving from home as we were not given permission to take Yohan along with us by the authorities - a situation that frustratingly continues into today, and is one of the areas of our life where things are far from 'happy-happy.'

Our arrival in Lalitpur had its own set of hiccups and it was a few weeks before we finally moved into the (mainly) rennovated Bethel Villa.  As many of you gentle readers will have experienced - being the first to live in a 'new' house has its own joys.  An almost endless set of things that need to be adjusted (this door does not close,  that switch does not work, when the power goes off we are left in boiling heat darkness etc.).

And our arrival in May also coincided with one of the hottest summers in memory at the end of two years of scanty rainfall.  Each day was a new experience of what living inside a tandoori oven is like. 

Sauna?  We had one all around us - 24 hours.  I remember idly picking up an empty bottle in our living room - and being surprised at how hot it was.  Our flat cement roof absorbed heat and efficiently radiated it down into us. 

Garden?  A distant dream.

But what a difference some rain makes!

 In an amazingly short time, we have swapped worlds.  The arid, parched days are somewhere in a distant memory.  We have been transported into a cool green planet, with not only rain, but abundant, gushing rain, pouring down now, lightly drizzling then, a week without sunshine but the cool blessing of water all around.

It's time to break the soil, and we found an old man who agreed to dig up the plot of land outside Bethel Villa for us and plant a small hedge.   So at the end of the day, we found ourselves looking at a blank sheet - ready for things to be planted.  The few plants that came along with us (and who survived the Lalitpur summer grilling) remained clustered at our door.

Our first thought was to hire a 'mali' - a man of the soil to plant and tend our little patch of Eden.  The wizen old fellow who did the initial work was candidate no. 1, but said candidate proved surprisingly hard to pin down and a week later our plot was still barren and the rains were still coming.

So last weekend we swung into action.

Act 1.  Drive into town in our Papaya in search of 'plants.'   Find out more about the geography of Lalitpur.  Meet a plant seller who also seems to be a candidate for a political party.  End up at the nursery of the horticulture department - and yes, they have plants for sale.  Lots of them.  And at an unbelievable (for us Mumbai types) price of Rs. 10 per sapling (with a few at Rs. 20).   In Mumbai that would hardly buy you a small plastic bag of soil, let alone a whole plant.  we certainly were not complaining.

Did the horticulture folks have any vegetable seeds for sale?  No they did not - but they did have some Lady's Fingers (okhra) seeds and some Lauki (bottle gourd), which they kindly gave to us.  The price?  Just a smile.  Bless those dear men.

Act 2.  We lug our plants back and array them.  We borrow a mattock from our dear and experienced gardener colleagues Drs. Tony and Asangala Bishwas.  

Some local roses, a few hibiscus, two 'Raat ki Rani', two jasmine, we are set.   Plus we also have our Easter Lillies that have come up from Mumbai with us.  And we have our seeds to plant too.  

Now to delight of deciding where the plants should go.  Let's put that one here - and this one there.  A quick consultation, a hole is dug, the plastic bag cut off and in the plant goes.

We decide that the 5 by 5 m section just outside the kitchen will be a veggie plot.  Using a spoon, we dig little holes a hand-span a part and drop in the Lady's Finger seeds.  Will these little dried balls actually sprout?  They go into the soil and are covered.

The next day we decide to get some manure.  A local family gives us 3 big bags of goat-dropping based mulch.  The local hardware store equips us with some implements.  Mattock?  Sure.  Water pipe? Check.  The manure is spread and our new mattock mixes it into the soil.

Dr. Tony's garden gives us some local grass which we plant in little tufts to colonize the front portion. Will it grow to be a lawn?  Lets see.  Tony and Asangala also give us some maize seeds which we planted in the little portion on the right of the building.  The lily bulbs - when we get them out we realize just how many there are - get spread out liberally.

And the rain comes down again.  This time in buckets.  And so this is what the Bethel Villa looks after our first round of planting the Eicher garden.

These days when we wake up in the morning, it is usually to the greyness of a monsoonal day.

And we take a peek at the plants.

Glory be!  The seeds actually have sprouted!  Who would have thought.

Here is what the Ladies Fingers looked like a few days ago.

Humbling to know just how little we actually do in this great business of growing food.  Yes, we prepare the soil a bit (usually by tilling it).  Yes, we drop in the seeds and water and weed.  But the actual growing?  Those little balls of life which magically transform and start feeding from the soil and the light and the air and building themselves up and reaching for the sky in green-goodness-of-fruit-bearing?

Amazing grace.

Here is another evidence of the finger prints of a Master-Designer who makes all things well - courtesy of our front garden:

So there we have it.  A bit of green in our lives.  We are waiting for your visit to us Eichers at Bethel Villa - and hope that our little bit of Eden will be all the greener when we welcome you.

A last look when a bit of sun visited us recently.  See you soon!


  1. So amazing to read this post. What a wonderful way to see Gods magnificent splendor. Praying for you guys to be united with your Yohaan soon and permanently.

  2. oh so wonderful to keep reading this.. it almost felt i was there witnessing it all happen.. Brother Andy your writing skills have evolved.. thanks for the update.. To everything there is a season.. A time for every purpose under heaven.. Let's hope for the best.

  3. Really so sweet and amazing. We lived in this house from 1997-1998.When we were living we had developed garden and planted some flower trees etc.