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A Dive into the Past

A team outing was planned for Nandavanam staff to visit Tamizh Nilam Tamizh Pannai, a 15-acre farmland near Mahabalipuram. We travelled by bus to this place, and during the journey, we had fun and joyful moments playing music and dancing to some catchy tunes. We arrived at the farmland at 10 a.m. and were greeted with some organic coconut drink brewed at the farm. We proceeded to see the rich flora in the area like peppercorn plants and climbers, betel plant, a lot of native trees, teak trees and sandalwood trees as well. Following this, we walked around the farm barefoot, an exercise for all of us to feel the earth beneath us. It was exhilarating to do this and have a sense of connection to the surroundings.
Next was a fun bullock cart ride along with a demonstration of how oxen and bulls are used in farming practices like ploughing. This showed us how integral animal husbandry is for farming. We also got to plough the field ourselves, which was a completely new experience to us because most of us have only seen these things in movies. We also got our hands dirty by planting rice seedlings.
Next on the agenda were some long-forgotten games like goli (marbles) and pallanguzhi (Mancala), the latter is often played using seeds or dried beans as the token pieces. These are the games we played in our childhood and playing them again brought some pleasant memories. Web crossing (also called Spider Web Game) was another game that we played, in which we were split into two teams and each team had to pass a player through a mesh made of rope. The difficulty was that the rope was tied to a bell, and the team that managed to pass their team member without sounding the bell won. This game fostered a sense of team spirit and was the most unexpected fun we had in a long time with a lot of engagement from the teachers. It made us feel like children once again where we were fully immersed in the joy and amusement of the games. Lunch was prepared on the farm using the vegetables grown there, as well as fresh seafood.
The farmland has a huge well used for irrigation. One main attraction of this place is the chetru kuliyal (mud bath), which refers to having yourself covered in mud using the ploughed field. While it may sound like a child’s game, it has a rich historic significance as well as proven therapeutic benefits of relaxation and healing properties. We also had a lot of joy during a pump-set kuliyal (shower at a high pressure water pump set). Subsequently, we also had a bath under the pump set which was fashioned as a rain bath using sprinklers.
This was also the first time that some of our teachers experienced something like this. Most of us have had an urban upbringing in cities where such traditions haven’t been heard of or have been lost to time. Anna, a teacher in our group who also learnt about the chetru kuliyal and other things, was very excited to learn about how agricultural practices can be incorporated into our daily lives.
Before we wrapped up the day, we were offered sukku coffee (a strong spice decoction that is made from ground pepper, dried coriander and dried ginger, sweetened with jaggery) and millet sundal (a cooked, lightly-stir-fried legume served as a snack). It was a day filled with fun, learning and re-learning about the agricultural practices of Tamil Nadu. It was a great change from our routine daily lives and a day like this once in a while helps put things into perspective. We said our goodbyes and expressed our gratitude and hopes to return soon in the near future and we left with treasured memories.

USHA RAJARAM is a passionate teacher with more than 25 years of experience. At the Nandavanam Center for Learning, her enthusiasm and dedication have made vital changes and seen positive outcomes in many of the club’s children.


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