As I bit into the tomato I knew I was not biting into just a tomato… not just into its crisp skin, or soft, sweetish, tangy pulp, its juices running over my fingers. I was biting into the fabric of relationships… between the sun that warmed it into ripeness, the wind the cooled the scorching heat, the soil that nourished it into fruition, the water that carried life into it and the farmer’s attention and effort to growing his tomatoes. I was ingesting an eco-system. And as I ate it and made it part of me, I inexplicably became part of it. And not just part of the eco-system, but part of the story of Wankute.
Wankute is a village high on the Pathars of the Deccan Plateau. Most people do not know it even exists. With rain just rushing away into the innumerable gullies, and waterfalls that crashed over the barren, plates of barren rock, Wankute, for years sat and watched the villages in the valleys… rich, flamboyant green… prosperous and food secure. Wankute struggled to make a bare living out of the black basalt rock, covered with a thin-skinned soil that refused to give of itself to the people.
Water. We take it for granted. Whether we are urban and have it running out of our taps; or rural having it running in the various streams. But for Wankute Water meant Life. It meant an incredible struggle for the women who trudged up and down steep slopes to fetch few pots of water from far, far, down below. Every day. It meant a battle with Nature for the farmers who tried to grow the few bagsful of Bajra – the only crop that agreed to survive in these harsh conditions. Every season. For the children, it meant growing up, often, without a complete family, as their parents went away, time and again, in search of work.
What did all this have to do with the tomato I was eating? The tomato was no ordinary tomato. It was from the bursting-with-life fields of Pokharkar, a farmer who grew truck-loads of a water-intensive tomato crop… who had a farm-pond bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Up on that Pathar. Up where no water would stay. It is then that the meaning of those miles and miles of lines across the hills seeped into my consciousness. It was those, those contour trenches, that now stopped the water. Held it. Fed it deep underground. From which now Pokharkar pumped out water to irrigate his tomato fields. The miles of black, drip-irrigation pipes that snaked over his land, bringing life-giving water to those juicy tomatoes.The thousands of tomatoes that he grew, telling and re-telling the story of Wankute to whoever cared to listen.
And along with the eco-system that I became part of eating that one tomato, Wankute, too, became part of me. And I became part of Wankute.
I knew and felt something deep inside me change forever.