From snake pit to snake gourd garden

By TheHindu on 22 Mar 2017 | read

Snakes straying onto the corridor was no news at the Government Law College Hostel at Vellimadukunnu here until a year ago. The hostel buildings were hardly visible with wild undergrowth covering them. Getting there after sundown was a dreaded task .

However, a fresher now will find it hard to believe that the well-kept vegetable field around the hostels was a mini-jungle with feral creatures creeping around until just a year ago.

Instead of snakes, it would be a vine of snake gourd or pumpkin that one will accidentally step on to on the hostel campus now.

It was during last March that a small group of students led by assistant professor C.V. Kumaran, recently appointed warden of the hostels, decided to plant a few varieties of vegetables on a small area in front of the hostel as a summer crop.

They cut the wild undergrowth and prepared the field. The warden provided funds for seeds and fertilizers. The group planted lady’s finger, spinach, bitter gourd and cucumber.

“The experiment clicked,” says Vijith Lal, a second-year LLB student at the hostel. The maiden harvest was distributed among the staff members. The rest was used at the hostel canteen.

“The vegetables from our field was used for the entire canteen. It was a moment of fulfilment,” says Vijith Lal.

The Agriculture Department took notice of the initiative and came with financial and technical support. A sum of Rs.40,000 was offered for expanding farming to one acre considering it under the institutional cultivation scheme.

By then, participation from the students had improved. “Girls who were initially reluctant, joined us and we decided to expand the cultivation” says Mr. Kumaran.

Soon, the project assumed a professional character. A truckload of cow dung was send for, tools purchased, seeds selected and technical advice was sought.

K. Ashokan, a final year student, among the frontline volunteers of the drive, says that a new dynamism was spreading among the students along with the farming.

“Mind you it was a campus which used to be in news for all the wrong reasons,” he says.

Not students alone, some teachers and even daily wage employees bothered to spend their valuable time to care for them. “Employees such as Varghese and Binu Kumar tended to the crops even during the vacation when all of us were at home,” says Ashokan.

In the second term, a few more varieties were included on the list; tomato, green chilly and watermelon. Students from the nearby girls’ hostel came in the evenings and watered them.

“There was reluctance initially but once we entered it, it became exciting,” says M.K. Manju, who is saying adieu to the campus after finishing her course.

As part of the cultivation campaign, the students also dug a few rain pits on the campus to ensure enough water discharge to the well, which is the sole water source for the farming.

A variety of fruit trees, including sapota, mango, jackfruit and guava, were planted around the hostel besides some exotic varieties such as durian and rambutan.

“The soil here is great, we are even trying some grapevine,” says Mr. Kumaran, who is also an alumnus of the college.

For Ajeesh Mohan, another LLB student, the vegetable cultivation is symbolic of a fresh renaissance on the campus, which only made headlines for “violence and rotten politics” so far.

“Parallel to the vegetable cultivation, we have also started a new debate on the meaning of real education and politics on the campus. There is a politics we would like to give out to the outer world through this initiative,” he says.

With the cultivation expanding to more area, the campus is expecting a better harvest this time.

Any plans to market them? “We might try that as the last option; we already have a few institutions including some orphanage in our mind,” says Mr. Kumaran.

Jabir Mushthari