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The man who sowed Gandhi and reaped happiness[continued]

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"Then came the great war. There was a huge shortage of yarn and we were out of work. I then heard there was a large stock of unusable cotton, lying at the Mangalore Khadi Bhandar. Everyone had declared its yarn unfit for spinning.

"I examined it and brought a sample lot over. I spun it and with some care, I could weave it. The Khadi Bhandar was delighted. They thought me a master-weaver. They commissioned me to convert the whole lot and spent the princely sum of Rs 30,000 on my word. I put a charkha in every home in Brahmavar and set up seven looms. We began to turn a warehouse full of dead cotton into good cloth. Gandhi was as good as his word. We spent the war years in reasonable comfort.

"The Khadi people then sent me to their ten acre farm in Moodbidri to revive it. There was a goshala, a weaving centre and agriculture to care for. I was paid Rs 25 a month. It was hard life with our three children to feed. I was there for four years. The extreme poverty nearly broke me.

"Post-war, famine was stalking the land. The British knew how to march around and terrify people but they knew nothing about managing a crisis. What do foreigners know who are not born to this land, who have not experienced its truths? Gandhi did. He urged people to return to the land and grow food, just food. I knew he was right."

Back to Gandhi:

Cherkady Ramachandra Rao pauses with a soft smile. He looks into the dense stand of trees and plants. We eat some sweet-sweet pineapple chunks just out of the ground. He resumes his story after a while.

"We returned to Cherkady. My brother-in-law gave me a cow and this patch of land. It is a hectare. He had no use or plans for it. It was barren, with some water in a ditch. Despite reasonable rains in these parts, no water ever stayed on the land for long. I built a hut and the five of us moved in. The cow fed us all. I sold the milk and we ate whenever we could.

"I began to scrounge for seedlings and planted them all over. I would walk about wondering what to do next. There was no water to grow paddy. I raised some vegetables after deepening the ditch for some more water. I spent most of the time shaping the land to harvest rain water. That was the scene 57 years ago, and I am still here, a very contented man.

"Slowly the plants and trees grew. I never wasted anything that arrived on this land. All fallen leaves and cow dung, were spread around the young trees.

"I had built my toilet based on a design by Gandhi. It was a simple pan set into the ground, the outlet had a trap door and looked down on a pit layered with leaves. There was a rudimentary privacy screen around it. After each use one poured just a mug of water and that dumped it all into the ground; the trap door shut again, sealing out all odour. One then went around and emptied a small basket of dry leaves over the dump in the pit. Every year or so I made a new pit and moved the pan to it. In about six months the previous pit awaited me with rich manure.

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