A day in the life of Ram Dhan Meena, 58, farmer in Ramathra village, Rajasthan
Ram Dhan Meena lies listlessly on his charpoy waiting for daybreak. Sleepless, he has been making mental calculations. How much of the crop on his 8.5-bigha land can be salvaged? Will any of the mustard survive? Will his son, a Grade IV staff in the Railways, manage to send some savings for them to last until the kharif crop?
This time of the year is usually the happiest for the 58-year-old. Harvest season is barely a month away and this is when he keeps a close vigil on his fields, choosing to sleep in the open courtyard, shunning the warmth of his windowless room. Unlike his neighbours, Ram Dhan has never considered putting up a scarecrow. He does not trust them. He would rather sit all day long next to his fields, pacing up and down once in a while, inspecting the ripening crop, his eyes glowing with pride. He inherited the land, and these crops are his only possession.
For the rabi season, he grows mustard on 1.5 bighas and wheat on the rest. Till about a week ago, Ram Dhan had been planning to hire additional help for reaping. But then the noon sky turned overcast on March 12, and he knew hard times were ahead. What he didn’t know was how hard. “It has never been this bad. Never. Not in the last 50 years of my farming life,” he says, his eyes welling up.
On a regular mid-March morning, he would have been sitting at the edge of the field, chatting with his neighbours. Today too he sits at the same spot, huddled with his neighbours, but discussing ways to repay the debt he took last year on his Krishi card. While others took around Rs 1.5 lakh, Ram Dhan had borrowed
Rs 2.5 lakh for some extra seeds and fertilisers. The rabi crop last year had yielded good profits. The 55 quintals of wheat sold for Rs 1,400 a quintal had left him enough to sleep peacefully for the rest of the year and he had hoped he would push the profits higher this time and pay it all back in time.
To a passerby, Ram Dhan’s fields still look green and lustrous. But to the discerning eye, the tall wheat plants are a lost bet, as they now lie tilted on the ground, lashed mercilessly by the heavy rains. For days together, it had rained, leaving the crops in knee-deep water.
Walking up to the centre of the field, Ram Dhan bends over and pulls up a floppy bunch of grass from the damp soil. “What lies on the top will get sunlight and can still be saved,” he says, “but that is less than half the crop. The crop underneath will rot. We are finished.” The mustard patch ahead is in no better shape.
Nothing to watch over now, Ram Dhan heads back home, to the chillum lying unlit in a corner of the sitting area in his courtyard. A few friends crouch around him under the thatched roof. Ram Dhan reveals he is a ward panch and hence the crowd trailing him. “They want to know what will become of their lost fields. If I have no answers to my own worries, what do I tell them?” he snaps.
Ram Dhan has heard that Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has suspended the ongoing Budget session of the Assembly and sent out all legislators to their constituencies on a two-day tour to take stock of the crop losses. It is the first day and he has not heard of any visit by his local MLA. “We will wait for him. But is it possible for him to visit every field and make accurate assessments? If we tell the authorities that we have lost over 50 per cent of our crop, will they believe it? They will think we are inflating the losses,” Ram Dhan says sceptically. “No official comes to the field for making assessments. They just make random calculations sitting in their offices,” he adds in a rush.
As Ram Dhan sits talking animatedly, he throws furtive glances at the shut kitchen. His wife has stepped out to see a cultural show at the government school next door. When his wife eventually returns and serves him lunch, it does not lift his spirits. “We have started cutting costs. There will be no sabzi from now on. It makes sense to start curtailing expenses before it starts pinching,” he says, eating his dry rotis with some chopped onions.
The rest of the day is a similar listless wait. He anxiously looks forward to late evening, when he calls his younger son, who works with the Railways, asking him if he would be able to send some money in the coming months. When the son says yes, Ram Dhan is relieved. “My elder son helps me and my wife in the fields and also works as a daily wage labourer. He can still find some work but we are old. The farm is all we have.”
Many plans have had to be shelved. He hoped to build more rooms in the ancestral house he shares with three brothers, and to buy a scooter for his son instead of the rickety cycle he now uses.
“Last kharif crop when we were desperately hoping for good rains, it didn’t arrive. And now when we dreaded the rains killing our rabi crop, nature unleashes its fury. How strange is it?” Ram Dhan thinks aloud. “Now I will wait another few weeks till the surviving crop ripens, then start clearing the fields for the kharif crop, sowing for which will start in July. Then, we’ll plant bajra, sesame and guar. That had in one season struck gold, but such luck is rare. Considering the year started on a bad note, I have little hope,” he sighs.
As he gets into bed, his neighbour informs that local MLA Ramesh Meena may visit the next day. He cheers up for a bit, but adds, “Let him bring the compensation, then we’ll believe him.” The others nod.
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