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Alagesan, born

We will not talk in the bazaar or at home. Somebody will disturb us. We can go to the field and sit in the shade of my pump house. I have planted banana trees and brinjals. My father was also a farmer. I was the youngest of three brothers and a sister.

I studied up to the seventh standard. Both my elder brothers left for Bombay and I stayed back to work in my fields. I assisted the workers in watering the fields. We grew paddy and bananas at that time.

During the Shiv Sena riots of the early seventies in Bombay, my elder brother was stabbed by the rioters. My father ordered my brothers to return to Madras. So at the age of 14, I too was sent to Madras to work in a grocery shop. But I returned in three months. I couldn't do the calculations in the shop.

For 14 years I worked under my dad. Those days they harvested 12 to 15 quintals of paddy per acre of land. These days they harvest 24 to 30 quintals per acre. But its pointless. Earlier we put plenty of cowdung and little fertiliser. Today we use nine times the amount of fertiliser, but the increase in output is offset by the cost of fertilisers.

A decade back a crop was cultivated with spring water from the neighbouring red sand forest area. Now the spring has dried up because of the innumerable bore wells sunk there to supply fresh water all over Triuchendur taluka. My own village is supplied drinking water from a 185 feet borewell. The water is very tasty so everybody likes it.

There used to be excess water in the canal throughout the year. Now water is scarce. Most of the water is diverted to the Tuticorin thermal plant. Tuticorin has also developed into an industrial town so our field water has now become their drinking water. Even when there is no water for agriculture, the water supply to Tuticorin continues unabated. Those people pay for the water. We don't, so the PWD prefers giving it to them.

At 26, I married Avadaithangam. It was an arranged marriage. She brought 40 sovereigns of gold and Rs 15,000 as part of the dowry. I have two sons and two daughters. The elder daughter refused to study beyond class 8 and the elder son stopped at 9. Like father, like children. The younger children are still studying -- the girl is in the 9th and the son is in the 6th. The elder son now works in a shop in Madras.

I've realised that agriculture on lease land is useless, but what to do? I have only one acre of my own land. My father had four acres which have now been divided. I hold a lot of lease land. I pay more than Rs 130,000 as lease every year. I have 18 acres of fields and one acre of coconut trees. I grow paddy, banana, sometimes vegetable or pulses.

I bought a house in the neighbouring village for Rs 35,000. Last year I sold it for Rs 110, 000 and built a house in my own village. I had some cash in hand and borrowed Rs 25,000 from a cousin who gave it to me without interest.

This year I think I'll get a good profit because bananas are selling at a very good price.

Prices are generally low during harvest time. They begin to climb later. The rich farmers hoard the produce and get a good price. The poor sell the produce soon after the harvest and lose the benefit of a good price.

To make a profit one must harvest two paddy crops and a short term cereal. Luck is essential; if any disease strikes the paddy, you will only be harvesting hay.

Out of the 40 sovereigns of gold that my wife brought,we sold 20 sovereigns to buy our first house. I haven't made any jewels for my wife or daughters. My wife sells milk and woven coconut leaves used as the roof of verandahs, huts and mandaps. She weaves the coconut leaves herself. With that money she has bought 6 sovereigns of gold. One good banana harvest is enough for one marriage.

I believe in God but don't pray too much. My wife is very religious and observes all the fasts rigorously. I have a television at home. I bought it from the banana money. I watch it while having lunch and before dropping off to sleep. In the last ten years I haven't gone to see a movie.

I hate politicians. I never vote, they are all crooks, these MLAs and MPs. I only work at the panchayat elections if I feel the candidate is honest. The irregular rains are more dependable than our politicians.

Leaders called us farmers the backbone of the nation. They mouthed slogans like Jai jawan, jai kisan, now the backbone of the farmers itself has been broken.

The government should increase the purchase rate of farm produce. If farm products gets a good price then they need not subsidise fertilisers. Free electricity is unnecessary. What is important is new power connections. For the last ten years we cannot get a new connection because the electricity board does not want to give us free electricity. Hence, we cannot dig new wells in time.

In the old days if you sold two bags of paddy, (130 kgs) you could buy 1 sovereign (8 grams) of gold. Today you have to sell 16 bags of paddy (65 kgs each) to buy 1 sovereign of gold. The price of gold has outstripped the price of rice eight times.

The price of rice decides the fate of governments. Therefore, the government keeps a firm control on the price of rice. And the paddy farmer suffers.

The poet, Subramania Bharati, said, Jadi matham ellayadi papa, (there is no caste or religion dear child). But the government itself instigates caste wars. They give jobs on the basis of caste, and merit is lost.

This is the fiftieth year of our Independence. It looks like the first crop is going to fail. There is no water in the dam. We have already spent all the money on this crop. Who will compensate if it dries?

It the crop dries, I will have to borrow money from loan sharks at the rate of 10 per cent interest per month. I may even have to mortgage my wife's jewels.

As told to Athimuthu Ganesh Nadar