We left Bangalore early this morning as the nation went on transportation strike. The roads were clogged as drivers sped in panic to beat the strike hour and we ripped around cars, trucks, ox carts, motorbikes, rickshaws and humanity. As this was the fourth day in India, the weaving, honking and sudden stops were old news. Our team has already traveled nearly 1,400 km on narrow roads and double switchbacks on steep mountain trails.
I struggle for words to describe this area of India. Bangalore is the commercial centre, but the high-tech buildings sit between the time-worn stalls and homes. In the country, the chaos is untamed as millions of people, autos, buses, bikes and ox carts take to the road. For all the movement, life remains still.
Farming is done by indigenous oxen with their horns pointing straight up to heaven. The odd small tractor of maybe 20 horsepower putts along on the red earth, which grows coconuts, bananas, turmeric, onion, groundnut, mangos, mulberry for the silk worms, potatoes, garlic, marigolds for festivals, papaya, sugar cane, maize, sorghum and rice. The vibrant colors of the women’s saris brighten the street and the fields. Women not only often tend the stock and grow the crops – they are the workforce as well. They can be found in the dairy, the coconut sheds, and in every level of agribusiness working for $2.00-$3.00 a day.
The emerging economy in India has driven city wages up to $5.00 day. Government programs are supportive enough that young men often only work three days a week. They can seen by the tens of thousands loitering around. But they will not work in agriculture, as the average farmer makes $1,000 a year. This is a crisis for India, as just five years ago 85 percent of the population was engaged in the business of food. It is also an opportunity as the national population explodes by 22 million each time the calendar changes.
The water is polluted as rivers are clogged with waste. Regulation is rarely enforced. Construction is seldom completed, and the majority of commerce is in small stalls.
This is a hard world tempered by the softness and beauty of her people and an agricultural oasis tended by the quiet and gentle hands of women.