The interesting humans of Vedaranyam | Milaap

The interesting humans of Vedaranyam

The past four months of the fellowship I have been traveling to a few villages in the districts of Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam. The bike rides with the field officers traversing through green fields, and streams, trees shading us through roads, the mud roads and puddles, braving the brief showers of rain stopping by the roads for an occasional glass of tea these are some on-road moments I would cherish. On one such trip, I visited Vedaranyam.
Vedaranyam is a 2-hour journey from Thiruvarur. I boarded the bus to Vedaranyam and got myself in the last row of seats of the bus. The one thing that I discovered during my days here where I board a bus or another at least 4 times a day is that last row seats are the best to observe people. The Aisle seats are good; windows even better but it's from the last that you get to witness the locals. But the bumpy roads might bring pain to your back beware.
        The Vedaranyeswarar temple from where the town gets its name
As the journey progressed different sets of people got in and got out. I could see women hawkers with their empty steel baskets, the ones used to sell fish. Few women with handmade baskets probably taking them for sale in Vedaranyam. It started raining on the way and the door covers had to be closed but the damage was already done with water on the seats. My seatmate, an elderly man was carrying a Thavil( a cylindrical musical instrument) covered in a bag. He was carrying his Thavil over his lap throughout the journey. I was curious to ask why was he carrying as it was seemingly heavy for its size he could have placed it on the floor. Maybe he had guessed what I was thinking he laughed and said that the vibrations would disarm the band and it will affect the playing and also he said that it was his way of protecting the instrument so that people don’t misstep on it.
“Maazhai,” said another passenger near me with a Hindi accent. He was travelling with loads of brooms and dusting mops probably for sale. “Baarish (rain)” I said and smiled.
With the little bit of Hindi, I asked where he was from. He said that he was from West Bengal and he had been selling products here in Vedaranyam. Every day he goes to a different neighbourhood and sells his products. He said that he is hoping to stay around and test his fortune here till January and he will return to his home.
As the bus stopped at Vedaranyam there were no signs of rain I bid him a bye. My field officer was waiting there and we kick-started the journey. We went through the small planting of Savukku (Beefwood tree) and water ponds that housed prawns apart from the agricultural fields.
That’s when we stopped by a prawn pond to talk with the people. The workers were the first to spot us. They were just leaving work after feeding the prawns. They guided to the owner of the pond saying that he would have more information to say.

Eraal(Prawn) Farming

We went across to the hut on one of the banks of the pond. Near that was rope bed which was providing necessary rest to an old man in Dhoti and vest. He was relaxing and was surprised to see us. After the initial explanation, he understood our reasons. He has been doing the eraal (prawn) cultivation for almost 25 years from now. He had been a marine biology graduate from Chidambaram University from 1980. He used to work in the accounting of a government storage godown but didn’t find the job appealing and left the job. That’s when inland fisheries were starting to penetrate in South India. The government was leasing lands to help promote the farming and he signed up for a piece of land. That’s when it started and 25 years down the line, he has been able to expand his farm.
                                           The pond and the aerator to supply oxygen for the prawns
Facing lots of challenges down the road he said that during a certain period sighting the profit in the eraal farming lots of people pumped in money and entered the business. They were mostly first-timers who expected immediate fortunes and their unconventional practices lead to spread of disease and they incurred a loss. Ramachandran added that persistence and patience are the keys in growing prawns. There might be losses in one season and profits the next but one has to stick to proper methods and practices. He explained the prominence of eraal farming along the coastal regions of Andhra and Odisha. With the farming done in quite a large number along with the regions of Andhra Pradesh. He took us through his feeds and medicines. They used to get feeds from other countries during the early days but with the prominence of the cultivation local factories have been supplying feed off lately. He lives nearby with his wife and has three daughters who are married. He spends most of his day around the field looking over the operations. He offered to guide us through the fields. There were aerators to supply oxygen to the eraal since they are in large numbers of in the ponds. He was generous enough to show us the small prawns being nurtured.

The feed for the eraal and Ramachandran showing us the larvae

Ramachandran with Field officer Mr.Karunanidhi of BWDC and the nylon wires to prevent winged hunters
It was quite inquisitive and informative to meet him and we finally bid him a bye as we headed on our trip.

Jasmine Gardening and Savukku trees

As we stopped by one of our borrowers, we came across her Jasmine farming. This was another prominent business in the region. They grow jasmine plants in small or large plots depending on the availability of land. The plants have a good life period and they produce is generally good because of conditions. Their flowers are directly collected from the fields and they get paid. The plants do need some care from pests but they are a good source of income for years. I could witness quite a number of borrowers indulging in the business.
          Women are indulged in Jasmine Farming in the regions of Vedaranyam
The Savakku tree cultivation is another prominent venture in the region. They plant the trees in plots and let them grow. Normally for three years after which the cut down the trees for timber and they are sold for a good price. Since the trees do not require much care and water this venture is taken up by lots of people in the region.
                                                                  The Savakku trees of Vedaranyam
There are also salt pans that produce the salt which is another prominent business people are involved in the region. Vedaranyam along with Thoothukudi are significant contributors to India's salt production.
The visit gave me a first-time experience of the people of Vedaranyam and the different means of their livelihood. It was a great experience getting know the people and about the place. With some pleasant weather and lighting all day I got to take some pictures of my visit.