Oh, what a revolution:
In the late 1960s, the Green Revolution arrived in south India's villages. The only external output in farming so far had been some diesel for pumps' engines. Now chemical fertilisers, pesticides and exotic, high yielding seeds were arriving. There were unbelievable bumper crops that called for little effort. The land was worked round the year. The pumps ran non-stop. Everyone was rich overnight. "The memory of my schooldays is of all round boom," says Vasimalai.
Just when everyone thought the party would never end, water in the once perennial wells began to go down. By 1970, drillers were roaring into the village to insert tube wells inside open ones. Submersible pumps were needed to pump water from great depths. Yields dropped, input costs rose, profits vanished. Farmers were getting into debt. By late eighties, in under two decades of the revolution, bankruptcies began. Large land holders became itinerant labourers in towns. Mercifully, Vasi's father had died in 1984, some years just before total bust. They sold their cattle and carts; they gave up on farming.
Disconnections had occurred everywhere: between man and his habitat; seasons and sowing; extraction and replenishment of water and nutrients; in the connection between animals and land; in the culture of saving some grain as seed; in the economics and advantages of collective living in large families; and in the notion of living well off the land instead of running it like some factory.
All this was happening as Vasi was growing up to be a young man. None of the trends were registering on him then, he recalls. "I had seen a boom and a bust; I didn't understand what caused them." He was in the stream of an educational system where only examinations mattered and learning if any, was accidental. And he was a good student, excelling especially in mathematics. He took a bachelors course in agriculture. The whole thing was bookish, looking at agriculture as chemistry and economics of maximization. "In the final year a group of students were given a half acre of land and was asked to produce a crop," says Vasi. "That was it. We passed and swarmed out to manage India's agriculture as bureaucrats, bankers and inputs marketers."
Vasi got into IIMA in almost a fit of absent-mindedness. He had done his masters, served the government briefly and was working as a researcher. A friend mentioned IIMA and its entrance test. "I was tempted because it gave me a reason to visit Madras [now, Chennai] and a temple near there," he laughs. He wrote the Common Admission Test [CAT] and found it numerically biased. Being a math natural, he answered it effortlessly. He then forgot about it.
About a week before his family-arranged marriage to a girl from a nearby village, he learnt of his admission. And that was how, M P Vasimalai, who grew up working the fields, studying in village schools in Tamil, who saw a city -Madurai- briefly when he was ten, arrived, in 1981 at a cutting-edge institution of learning, housed in an awesome Louis Kahn designed campus in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.