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In 2006, I attended an event of ISABS. I had just returned to Mumbai after spending several years in the mountains, and was still missing rural life. So when the community turned out to have two activists from rural Andhra Pradesh, who also happened to share the room next to mine, I tended to prefer their company

They were from Timbaktu. Kidding you not. It is a real place in/near Anantpur. The name caught my fancy, and I was curious. Dinesh also had vast knowledge of flora and fauna, which was very interesting.

Till then I knew zero about the agrarian crisis. I was rural, but hey, it doesn't get lush greener than Himachal (on this side of the rain shadow). Drought was something from black and white films or at worst, lesser crop for a year. Climate problems were more like snow being late, which meant a lower crop for the apples, but not the end of the world. "These activist types exaggerate everything" I thought, but it was better to "over care" about these things than the crap I was finding in the city anyway. By crap, I mean the average city attitude of not being bothered about the world around them, which was very garish after my long stay in the villages and wilds.

So I gravitated toward Dinesh and the colleague of his, Ashish who were attending, because they were rural folk. I enjoyed their company and thought all was good.

On the contrary, Ashish hit out at me viciously (verbally) saying stuff like he couldn't relate with the "likes of me" in the middle of some conversation. Very puzzling, because I liked him. So I asked him, and he spoke of inequality, and I was one of the "haves" - a callous person who lived in plenty while people died of hunger. I was astonished. It was unreasonable. I was the one in the torn shorts. Not him. Dinesh was the one with the laptop. So I challenged him on how I was a have and Dinesh or he weren't.

And out it came pouring. Difficulties farmers face because cities develop, and policies follow them, and so on. Farmers committing suicide because of failing crops and overwhelming debt. Lack of facilities to support agriculture, lack of water. It sounded like a tough deal, but I pointed out that I had led a rural life too, and was certainly not one of the "haves" as he said. If I had a choice, it would definitely favor the rural India.

We got along well after that, but I never forgot that blaze of anger. It made me curious as to what deprivation this person was seeing that he held me responsible for. What was it that was arousing such feelings? And I found out. I asked him, heard hours and hours worth his thoughts, stories, fears, concerns... there was little happiness.

They spoke of efforts for saving indigenous seeds, farming methods, loans, credit, weather, crop cycles, people committing suicide, indigenous species, genetically modified crops and such. I hadn't thought of eating genetically modified food till then. I was totally amazed to know that I was already doing it. The farmers suicides sounded surreal. Frankly, I didn't believe them. Who would commit suicide because of a crop failing? Try again next year!

I was naive, but I learned. And I came home and learned more (that part you know. I just dig in till I find out). News speaking of farmers, suicides, agriculture, and rural India in general started catching my attention and I followed it vaguely. Over time, I started developing some understanding of what was happening.

I am glad that I got on this track, because till then, I simply wasn't aware of most of India and its realities. Things take on a new context when you are thinking of a whole rather than a permanently segmented view or worse, a small cross section and imagining it to be representative of the whole. It helped me understand various objections and "anti-progress" attitudes that later turned out to be disagreements by people representing thoughts of significant populations on the publicized popular views.

India is a diverse country, and this learning curve helps me understand some of that diversity.

Was talking with someone about the problems wildlife sanctuaries face with local populations. On one end, there is the need to conserve the wildlife, to ensure that natural life survives in an increasingly crowded world.

On the other hand, what happens to all those people who live in close proximity to nature?

Over the years, in my life as a wanderer, I have lived the life of a nomadic Khampa horsewoman in the Himalaya, been in close touch with other nomads - Gaddi (shepherds), Gujjars (buffaloherds), etc. This has made me sensitive to the "people of the land". I can't see a rich, luscious lawn without feeling a sense of well being, even though I don't own livestock anymore. I can't see barren land without wondering where the nearest greenery is. It is a part of me.

I see nature in a continuing cycle, but I see humans as a part of it, not just the protectors of something different from them. In a way, perhaps, I see cities as the anthills of humans.

We are different, yes. We are perhaps the only animal on earth to own the very land they live on. Not just territorial within our species, but with other species as well - We kill pests in our home, we don't want pigeons or stray dogs inside, etc.

On the other hand, in my life as a nomad, my horses were family, and there was a deep sense of nurturance for all life no matter who owned it or if it was wild.

Today, as we "protect" our natural life, we isolate it and frame it and put it on display as something "other". Sanctuaries showcase "wildlife" and restrict tribals from using natural resources in it.

Some of it is essential - poaching, hunting endanger animals and need to be protected from. Yet, how does a nomadic shepherd deal  with not being able to wander grasslands at will? Already, Himalayan shepherds face problems in the winter months with reduced grazing in low altitudes with increase in population and development. If they are also restricted in their summer months, soon we are going to lose an entire part of our living history, because of our inability to understand that not all lives can be slotted and allotted only specific amounts of land.