Published On: December 29, 2018 12:25 AM NPT By: Babu Ram Neupane
Every winter, an escapist and idealist inside me gets transported to those fields of eternal bliss, beauty and bounty of yesteryears
The season of harvesting and threshing is almost over. It is the season of plentiful and a bit of pause for farmers before another phase of hustle and bustle sets in with onset of next crop cycle.
Some farmers are readying to move down to their fields, set up the folds and also set their animals free to graze without having to worry about them encroaching upon other farmers’ fields to destroy their crops. The farmers in the pertinent expanse always reach a mutual oral agreement to protect the remainder of crops, or ‘kuniu’ (heap of rice grain/seed) on their own if they have not already been taken care of.
The farmers traverse to the fields from the villages with their animals along with all basic stuffs to set up folds including posts, rafts, ‘chitra’ (bamboo works), ‘bhakari’ (coarse matting made of split bamboo) and a bare minimum bedding set consisting of a straw-mat, and a quilt stuffed with worn and torn silk clothing strewn together.
This ritual riot of whistles, sights and sounds of farmers and their family members, animals, and their offspring is in itself a feast to the ears and the eyes performed upon determination of the most auspicious day for moving by the local astrologers.
I believe the insouciant policymakers in agrarian Nepali economy could do well to come up with novel plans of promoting such movements to encourage domestic tourism in coordination with the pertinent villages where the practice is common. Apart from expanding the scopes of recognition of contribution of farmers, such moves would help in showcasing the long-held traditions that are immensely original and undoubtedly scientific too.
Habitats for all
Once the fold stands on the strength of wooden posts with hooks on them, the makeshift folds/shades turn to a shared habitat for smaller animals like goats, baby buffaloes, cow calves, and the most agile and cutest little goat kids that keep lovingly licking everyone’s chins, foreheads and knees waiting for their mothers to return to let them suckle the milk.
The fireplace full of glowing embers from trunks of dead trees underneath the ash keeps the inhabitants warm and ensures that the farmers have the soundest of sleep possible in the whole world after the days of exhaustion. The tidier, more obedient and peaceful animals like oxen and cows get to share some spots under the same roof of the fold whereas the more hulking, untidier and rowdier buffaloes are kept a little further. The oxen are the most hardworking companions to the farmers and deserve this reward of proximity which is duly meted out to them.
There exists an undeclared, but fierce competition amongst the farmers to take their animals to graze on the virgin grass that is available on the post harvested fields. Some of them even lead their animals to the greenest of pastures around. Yet no badmouthing and enmity takes place among the farmers for these innocuous adventures.
Literally, it is the season of full-fledged freedom for animals too. They can unilaterally roam the fields, enjoy feeding off any reachable ‘kuniu’ or ‘paralko kuniu’ (hay stack) and even unattended or unsecured crops until they get spotted and shooed away.
The preparation of threshing floor comprises of the most meticulous practice of leveling field and scrubbing with mixture of water, cow dung and mud to sanitize it.
The oxen that help till the fields across the seasons get to fully enjoy myriad of flavors of hay while revolving around ‘miyo’ (the post to which oxen are tethered and around which they are driven to tread out the grains) during the traditional threshing in the granary. The oxen are so central to the threshing process that farmers quickly rush to hold their dung in their cupped hands (rather than getting offended) before they drop to the haystack.
The collective action of threshing is a wonderful sight to see except that it is a pain in the ass to collect the oxen early from various household or folds in the chilly winter morning in preparation of the harvestainment (I am coining this word right now right here with combination of ‘harvest plus entertainment’ as in ‘infotainment’).
Children get to play games of hide and seek and ascent and descent without being chided by the grown-ups on the heap of haystack that is strewn in the buffer zone between threshing floor and systematic storage at a secured location to prevent loss and decay. The frolicking children are unaware of the goodness lurking in their parent’s hearts, who are covered in chaff being separated through wind winnowing process on the threshing floor.
Food and rituals
The brunch being prepared near the threshing floor gives off the best smell of any food in the world. It may have the simplest menu of rice, lentils, big mustard vegetable, milk and buttermilk but it is the most delicious and healthiest meal enjoyed under the warm sun in the lap of nature. Make no mistake, the housewives mix their hearts with the meals they are preparing.
It is also a pious picnic of the peasants as many of them set aside some rice and vegetable in the name of god (as a gesture of thankfulness) before they start eating the meal.
Some farmers even perform ‘bhumi pooja’ (worship of earth) that often includes ‘naagpuja’ (worship of snakes) on the eve of threshing day with a generous offering of breads, ‘panchamrit’ (a concoction of five ingredients: raw milk, curd (yogurt), honey, sugar and ghee (clarified butter) that is typically offered to the deity or deities and is consumed at the end of worship) and other niceties.
Worshiping of snakes is symbolic appreciation of their roles in giving continuity to the larger ecosystem and protection of crops from various unruly and uncouth creatures such as mice.
Yours truly has stealthily tasted many of those breads offered during the earth worship upon its completion without disclosing the fact to the worshipper (invariably my father). It was a kind of an annual feast that I rarely missed as the youngest son of the household. Fortunately, none of my elder siblings ever staked their claims on it.
Against this backdrop, every winter, an escapist and idealist inside me gets transported to those fields of eternal bliss, beauty and bounty of yesteryears. And I cannot resist but sing aloud in praise of those heavenly fields:
Country fields, make me room
To the terrace I belong.
I do not have even an iota of doubt that those words are nothing, but a brazen parody of a famous song sung by American singer-songwriter, John Denver, dedicated to celebrating the mesmerizing rusticity of West Virginia, one of the 50 states in the United States:
…Country roads, take me home
To theplace I belong…
The author loves to write on love, culture and nature
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