During his long stint with India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), P K Hormis Tharakan had to stay alert for possible threats to the country. Twelve years into his retirement as R&AW chief, Tharakan is still watchful: this time of water crows. In his gumboots, with an umbrella in one hand and a hat in the other, he stands on the mud banks of his aquaculture farm in his village in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, ensuring the crows don’t prey on his shrimp and fish. “They come, swoop down and fly away with their catch,” says the 74-year-old.
Tharakan, a former Kerala DGP, is now a budding farmer in his village. He says his family is of traditional agriculturists but none among the present generation did farming until Tharakan decided three years ago to experiment with paddy-cum-shrimp culture in the brackish waters near his ancestral home.
“After my retirement in 2007, I moved to Bengaluru. But in 2014, I shifted to my village, Olavaip, hoping to spend the rest of my life reading and writing. But now I have become a full-time farmer. The field is my classroom and farming is a really humbling experience for me,’’ says Tharakan.
After the death of his father Kochupappu Tharakan in 1959, none among the eight brothers took up farming and the family’s 5-hectare land fell into disuse. “I joined government service in 1968 when I got into the IPS at the age of 23. I was the first among my brothers to get a job. After me, the others moved to various professions, both in the government and private sectors.’’
“When I decided to take up farming, I went for paddy-cum-shrimp cultivation (known as One Paddy, One Fish farming in Kerala). All my brothers contributed financially for this group activity,’’ he says.
Under One Paddy, One Fish, alternate cropping of fish and paddy is done in wetlands, with paddy being cultivated for four months and shrimp in the remaining eight months, when the fields remain fallow.
Tharakan says he has been learning the method “by trial and error”, with support from government agencies in the fisheries sector. The Agency for Development of Aquaculture has extended a one-time subsidy and this year, the Marine Products Exports Development Authority supplied tiger-shrimp seeds.
Tharakan, who lives in Olavaip with his wife Molly, says he wants to revive paddy cultivation. “Paddy cultivation isn’t profitable, but it triggers economic activity in rural areas. When we hire workers, the rural population gets employment and they benefit in terms of wages,’’ he says.
So every day, the 1968 batch Kerala-cadre IPS officer leaves for his farm on foot to supervise work on the farm – feeding the shrimp, shooing away birds, regulating water flow, monitoring the pH value of water and occassionally, lending his workers a hand.
Tharakan says though he began shrimp cultivation three years ago, it’s only this season that he made some profit – “In the first season, I lost the shrimp to a virus attack. Last year, heavy rains delayed the harvest and I faced losses.’’
After harvesting of tiger shrimps is done by the end of this month, ponds such as Tharakan’s are drained for cultivation of Pokkali paddy, a saline-resistant rice variety.
Tharakan’s presence in the fields has inspired others in the village, says Dileep J, 43, a farm worker in the village. “If we hadn’t been working on Tharakan sir’s farm, we would have been working on some construction site somewhere,’’ he says.