Friday, August 17, 2007

Nanaji's Agricultural Institute

Model farm

I've driven past the building often enough -- it used to be a drab ochre structure on the road out to the airport, right next to a vast field, in prime real estate in downtown Baroda. The road goes straight through this stretch. On both sides, normally, folks sit selling fresh corn, which can be bought by the dozen, or roasted on the cob, on coals, smothered with lemon, salt and mirchi and eaten on the spot. Then, it was repainted, brick-red with a yellow accent. I was dropping a cousin off at the airport earlier this year, when I noticed the name. "Woah ... is that ... ?" "Yep, that's your maternal grandfather."

I had no idea that there was an Agricultural Institute named after nanaji. "You didn't know?" My mother couldn't believe it. I can, however. It's such a patriarchal place -- I know way more about my father's side of the family than my her's. (Besides, three of my four grandparents died before I was born. I only knew my dad's mother.) Apparently, my grandfather donated the land and some Rs. 50,000 (a princely sum in those days) for an agricultural college. It was inaugurated by the Maharajah of Baroda in 1937.

Naniji, the Gaekwad, Nanaji

So, this morning, mom and I went out to the Institute with my mother. We were introduced to the new principal, who was very solicitous. We got a tour of the place (typical desi educational institution -- bright pastel colors, dusty, old equipment, one feels like one has gone back 50 years upon entering the doors, creaking fans [what would any "sarkari" establishment be without creaking fans?]). And then, this being India, it turned into a bit of a "function" We went to visit the student dormitory ("hostel" as its called here). They had just finished lunch in the mess, and were all herded together into a seminar room, chair were hastily furnished, and a few speeches of thanks were said. We were given two bag fulls of fresh corn, and some flowers. As chief guest, mother was asked to say the obligatory do shabd (literally "two words," but more often than not, many many more. As kids in school we used to groan on hearing that phrase.). Years of practice as an IAS officer meant that this was no problem for her: a short piece about gramin vikas (village development) and vaigyanik kheti (scientific agriculture) and congratulating the Institute for producing the best tuver daal (a kind of lentil) in the country (how did she know this?), flowed effortlessly from her lips. I was quite impressed. And highly embarrassed by this whole turn of events -- I just wanted to go have a look and take some photos, and not be treated like a visiting dignitary. This is a small institute, with hardly any visitors, so I hope we were welcome entertainment.

The student body is 60 strong -- all boys (there's a separate girls' institute in Disa in the northern part of the state, in Banaskantha district), from villages in nearby districts, who enroll in a two year Diploma course. "And yes, we do practice reservations" the Principal had shared, unsolicited, "There are even SC/ST [Scheduled Castes and Tribes] and OBCs [Other Backward Castes]" (referring to the Constitutionally mandated affirmative action for lower castes).  I was rather impressed that students from different caste backgrounds were actually eating together! "We do all round education. Including prayers in the morning and evening. And you know, improve culture of the boys. You know how these village boys are. Smoking beedi-veedi." There are no fees (the State foots the tuition bill), and room/board and a small stipend are provided each student. A certain amount of agricultural research is conducted (hence the nationally known tuver daal), and the large fields on prime real estate are used for that purpose. Builders and developer have tried for years to get their hands on this land (two new malls have gone up just down the street), but so far, the government has not budged. (Which probably means that the Institute has powerful patrons, or no one has figured out how to properly channel a sufficient amount of the purchase price into various pockets. Yeah, I'm cynical)


I took a photo of all the boys, promised to email them to the principal, and we bid leave.

The corn's darn good!


PixelChick said...

Gashwin babu... he he, couldn't resist that. I thought you were back. I actually miss those creaking fans - they have such an Indian, summery sound to them - quite different from an AC kicking into action.

Gashwin said...

Gashwin babu! I died laughing! I get back to the US on August 25 and will be in DC August 29. We'll meet up after you're back!