The excursion to Siruthavur village, organised by Dakshinchitra where the brochure had read "A visit to our roots - a village visit" that got us excited although most of us visit our native "Ooru" for vacation. We met our guide Mr. Ramachandran, a local of the village and a government school teacher.
Once a teacher always a teacher. Mr. Ramachandran taught the kids the five landforms in Tamil and made the kids repeat after him explaining the landforms
1. Kurinji - Mountain and surrounding regions
3. Marutham - Fields and surrounding regions (predominantly the villages)
4. Neithal - Seashore and surrounding regions
5. Paalai - Desert regions
We started our trip from the enormous village tank, the source of water for the villagers which maintains the ground water table and helps in rainwater harvesting. Next, he described to the children that the raised platform we saw under the peepal tree (arasamaram) is where the villagers gathered to resolve their issues and disputes by talks and discussions evoking a picture of the panchayat in our minds.
We saw a herd of cows lazing nearby and were encompassed by a strong odor of dung and learnt how cow dung along with five other ingredients is used to prepare panchakavya, a special tonic used as an organic spray to promote growth of the plant system around.
Next, we walked on to meet Smt. Shantakumari who worked as a government school preprimary teacher now involved with many SHGs. She graciously greeted the children and prayed for them.
The children then visited a typical village house with a tiled roof which keeps it cool. The "thinnai" (verandah), we were apprised, was a symbol of the traditional Tamil hospitality as it was made for common purpose of the travelers where they were offered food, drink and a shelter to stay at. The house design included a muttram (center point) with rooms surrounding on all four sides used for different purposes like storage, personal use, bedroom, and for prayer. The teak pillars supported the ceiling. Each house had a traditional kitchen area with the grindstone (ammikal), pestle and mortar grindstone (aatu kal), rice pounding stone, etc. It was remarkable to note that every village had their own organic kitchen garden with plantain trees, Moringa or drumstick tree, guava tree, mango tree, sundakkai plant and many more plants.
The next stop was at another teacher's house to see the intricate and elaborate kolam she had put and the kids enthralled her with their enthusiasm for making kolam messing her kolam a little in the process which she did not mind and was very kind to provide a bagful of kolam powder for the kids to work with.
We then walked on to see some fields being tilled by a tractor picking up a lot of little wild flowers and feasting our eyes with cows, calves and cart loads of hay as we walked past the tranquil village streets and the curious villagers glancing at a noisy, euphoric bunch of kids from far off. We did speak to some of them who were eager to know where we came from and which school we belonged to.
We next walked into a government school with the children preparing for their exam but it was amazing to watch some of our kids overcome the language barrier to interact with those kids. We interacted with the teachers then and got to know that just this year the school introduced the grade 9 and due to space constraint the principal gave his office for their classroom and shifted his office to the corridor. We were told that some children attended school and only got one meal a day provided free at their school. The cheerful and smiling faces never gave a hint of their deprived state and gave us hope and a sense of gratitude for the blessed state we were in.
It was break time and the kids were overjoyed to taste fresh tender coconut water with cream and the taste so enticing that some kids went on to take 2 to 3 tender coconuts. We were thankful for the generosity of the villagers.
Our next knowledge bite came about irrigation and the four types of irrigation. We saw the canal water for irrigation coming from the lake. We then went to other paddy fields to see water gushing out from a powerful pump fixed to large well, borewell irrigation, to irrigate the lush green paddy fields. It gave us an ecstatic feeling to be surrounded by the green paddy fields all around us.
The next spot we were taken to was the rice mill of Mr. Krishnamurthi Chettiyar, an honest and humble farmer who owns 35,000 hectares of paddy fields and supplies the market with the rice from his fields and mill at a fair price continuing the legacy of his family who have done this for generations. We were enlightened about raw and boiled rice and saw the tanks where the paddy is soaked and the enormous boiler where rice is boiled, dried on the raised floor and finally taken to the mill for dehusking.
We witnessed how the rice was dehusked and collected to be packed and taken to the market. Ms. Lakshmi and Mr. Ramachandran thanked Mr. Chettiyar for allowing us to visit his rice mill and honored him with a shawl for his service to the community. We then thanked Mr. Ramachandran for taking the time off his work to take us on this educative tour of the village and the paddy fields. We walked back to the magnificent tank from where we started our trip and got onto the bus to rebound to our school.
- Naqeeb Sultana