Story link:



  The incredible Dr Shripad Dabholkar

This story by Arun Shourie is almost seven years old. It is therefore a damning comment on our society and media, that the man featured here is not widely enough acknowledged as a genuine Indian hero.

Dr Shripad Dabholkar stunned Shourie when he paid him a visit in Kohlapur, Maharashtra. “I still remember my gasp of wonderment as we came out of the staircase and stepped on to the roof of Dr. Dabholkar’s modest house,” writes Shourie. “Vegetables in pots. On one side, corn stalks five feet high. In another, sugarcane. In one pot—just a small 12” pot—a mango plant with a mango larger than my hand. A layer of soil made from vegetable-waste, from leaves and the rest; Dr. Dabholkar would lean down, and pluck from under the surface ginger, garlic, even potatoes. On one side, by the wall, standing high and erect in what seemed just a pile of the same sort of soil, a subabul tree—almost two storeys high.”

There were also a couple of dozen farmers visiting Dr Dabholkar at that time, but that was a daily routine. He had in fact created a network of over 10,000 poor and marginal farmers who called themselves members of ‘Prayog Parivar’, or ‘Clan of Experimenters’. Dr Dabholkar always addressed himself to the realities of poor farmers who owned a half to two acres. And Dabholkar decided --of all things-- to lead them into growing grapes. This was way back in the seventies when no one had ever thought of grape’s potential nor known anything about it. Remember also that the section of Maharashtra he chose for this crop receives just 300 mm of rain annually.

But given Dr Dabholkar’s painstaking leadership farmers were soon harvesting 15 tonnes to an acre. And by the nineties, grapes worth Rs 500 crores were being harvested in Maharashtra. Soon India was to develop its own wine industry.

Dabholkar, born in 1925, is a man of many more parts. He was an educator with many original ideas in teaching. He had built a profitable business, running a network of several teaching centres. But he lost interest in educating urban classes and wound up his business. He turned to rural education but soon realised that in rural India livelihood issues mattered more than education. And that brought him to the twin passions of his childhood—growing plants and experimenting with ideas.

Shourie cannot resist mocking ‘revolutionaries’ who rile against ‘lackeys of imperialism’, ‘comprador classes’ and ‘agents of bourgeoisie’. He says these have a mass base in press clubs whereas the Dabholkars of India are true revolutionaries, for whom the press has little time.

Shourie’s article does some justice to the man. Dr Dabholkar deserves a full-length biography.

GoodNewsIndia deems it an honour to have unearthed an exhaustive lecture Dr Dabholkar gave in 2001. Entitled “Prosperity with Equity”, it gives several insights into the mind of this creative man. He also details at some length his ideas on many subjects.

On his approach to horticulture, savour this: “upon reading in some popular science book, that pumpkins have two types of flowers and some tribals in Madagascar put powder from a part inside one type of flower, to the other type of [smaller] flower when it opens, I discovered my breakthrough to get fruits!  So although I was not aware of the real scientific principles of vegetative and reproductive growth patterns in banana nor about the process of pollination in vine crops, I was very near to hitting the cause and effect relations.”

That’s but one of the many anecdotes and usable ideas, you will find in the lecture. It’s a long piece. Do take some time to read through. You will be rewarded.