Narendar had been affected by his work with Vincent Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit priest living in India since 1920. In the late seventies Ferrer, seeing the poverty all around, ended his life as a man of cloth, married an Englishwoman and went around rural Maharashtra observing farmers in distress. He became the centre of a huge media controversy. His programme of drilling tube-wells for farmers was suspected to be a Trojan horse. Forming Rural Development Trust [RDT] to continue his work with creating irrigation facilities, Ferrer moved to Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.
Narendar was living in the USA with his wife and two sons when he read of Ferrer and his work in the LIFE magazine. He came back to India to work in the rural areas on the invitation of Ferrer.
Anantapur, scorched by the sun:
Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh is located in the Rayalaseema region. It is perennially drought prone. It receives the second lowest rainfall in India: 522mm. Of its 4 million population, close to half were deep in debt. Only 15% of its cultivable land is irrigated. It challenges men of action. And they came.
Green Past [-from timbaktu.org]
Today Anantapur District is nearly a desert, however this was not always the case. Anantapur District was part of one of the most powerful and rich kingdoms of south India - The Vijayanagara Kingdom. Penukonda, situated 70 kilometers south of Anantapur town and 140 kilometers north of Bangalore Metropolis, was the summer capital of King Krishnadevaraya, some 500 years ago.
In the late 19th century a well known British forester had described the forests of Penukonda as one of the finest summer deciduous forests in the south. The Pomegranates and Sitaphal of Penukonda were well known even in the courts of Delhi. For over 700 years, from the Vijayanagara Rayalus to the Bahamani Kings, from Tipu Sultan and the Nizam of Hyderabad to the British, great armies had fought to keep control of this rich and fertile land.
Although the rainfall was always scanty, the farmers knew how to deal with this situation and their agricultural techniques suited the conditions. They had an appropriate selection of sturdy drought resistant crops and their cropping pattern protected the fertility of the soil, which they further increased through on farm production of manure. An elaborate system of scarce water resource management by harvesting of rainwater through tanks and canals allowed successful farming under difficult conditions. Effective community management insured the fair use of the Commons and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Teak and Hardwikia Binata, two of the finest timber trees to grow in India, were exported from here to lay the railway line between Gudur and Madras. Till recently, food and fruit crops in the district were grown with rain water harvested in more than 300 major irrigation tanks (Cheruvu), some having Ayacuts of over 1000 acres and known to store enough water to grow two if not three crops a year. There also were numerous minor Tanks (Kunta) and perennial springs. Many different local varieties of rice, major and minor millets were grown here.
After a few years with Ferrer, Bedi decided to start the Young India Project. Capt Davinson, associated with MYRADA [Mysore Resettlement and Development Agency, created in 1968 to settle Tibetan refugees in Karnataka] promised to help raise funds. Bablu aged 22 in 1978, arrived in Guttur, A.P.,in a tonga to join Bedi. He says: "I was fantasising: we were going to change Anantapur. I was then, I must add, an Anglicised Bengali with no Telugu." Dreamers need no qualifications, though. He was to stay with Young India for 12 years.
Mary was born in Idikki District, Kerala in 1956. Her folks were liberal and had made her feel proud and equal to the man's world out there. When she finished her Masters in Social Work, she asked her parents to let her travel in India for a year. The logical first stop was Anantapur where her brother was already working with Ferrer. Coming from wet and lush Idikki, the near desert that Anantapur was, unsettled her.
Ferrer suggested that she go and work with an organization called CROSS in Hyderabad area which was doing very radical work in those days.