When I was told that we had some time allotted for an internship in the duration of our course (Science and Management for Sustainable Living), at Bhoomi College, I was quite sure that I needed to pick a farm. Not just any farm – an organic farm in Goa.
I have done quite a few gigs like this after I graduated from school – cheese-making in New Jersey, managing a garden kitchen in Auroville, volunteering in Himachal, and so on. Each time, I picked a place that was a farm or near one. But, I never seized the opportunity to get my hands sufficiently dirty. For a person who dreams of living on a farm, that was quite absurd, in my opinion.
So, I promised myself that this time, there was no way out. And it had to be in Goa, because if this internship was going to be about testing out all my fantasies, then I might as well put Goa in the mix.
When the option of volunteering at the Samata Holistic Retreat Centre came as an opportunity, I thought, “Nothing could be better!” It is in Goa, where they do plenty of yoga – something I had been practising recently. They also have a smallish garden where they practise permaculture. Perfect – this was the kind of place I dreamed of building for myself one day.
The Centre is basically a facility which yoga teachers from all over the world rent out to hold short- term residential yoga retreats. Samata provides rooms to stay in a beautiful and secluded location, Ayurveda-inspired food (a lot of which comes from the adjacent garden), a yoga-shala, and other services, so that it can run smoothly.
Tess, my point of contact, warned me that there was no manager at the garden. So, I would probably not get the kind of guidance I was looking for, as a beginner. But, they really needed more hands in the garden and would be happy to have me. I assured her that the local ladies (henceforth known as The Ladies) working on the farm for the last five years or so would be teachers enough for me.
When I arrived, I quickly realised that practising yoga was not going to happen, unless I did it on my own. But, working in the garden had a lot of potential.
Jonathan, the guy who had created the beautiful garden from scratch, was out of the scene due to discrepancies between him and the founders. Personally, I feel that this was quite tragic, because Jonathan had a green thumb, to say the least. But, the more I grew up, I realised that sometimes, the world sometimes reserves more value for a lot of other things other than mere skill.
Through the course of my internship, I also learnt that in my case, it’s not easy to learn things by myself. For some people, this is the only way they learn. But, I love to be the ‘teacher’s pet’ – and having someone who I can look up to and impress goes a long way in my efforts to be a perfectionist.
While The Ladies do have a wealth of knowledge, I feel that they don’t have the realisation of it. They don’t use it as consciously as they do it, instinctively. And for me, it became a challenge to decipher what they were planning to do next and why they wanted to do it – because to them, it came naturally. It is not simply an intellectual process that I can note down.
As a solution to this, maybe I should have asked more questions. I did ask questions every day – but I don’t think that was nearly enough. Somehow, I had placed myself in a position where I was making more suggestions than asking questions. And this was my biggest mistake – rather, I guess I should call it my most important learning.
It did not help that the other managers at Samata, who had always had a garden manager to rely on, felt quite abandoned without one. They really needed someone to be the point of contact between the garden and the kitchen (to which the garden supplied the essential organic ingredients). All of the managers at Samata are foreigners – they do not speak the local Konkani language or even Hindi. For them, I became that person who helped translate their requirements to The Ladies. I also became the person who understood what was going on in the garden.
To the Samata managers, I was something of a relief. Maybe that is why they offered me a permanent position as a manager of the garden, even before my internship was over – knowing full well that I had zero experience of running a farm. And maybe because of me, the communication between the garden and Samata became much smoother.
Maybe they are right, and the garden does need a manager – but I honestly feel that The Ladies are the managers already. If only they are given a bit more education and freedom, they can easily sustain the food production level, if not increase it even more.
For this reason, I helped create a garden map for them, so that they may plan their planting season more efficiently. I started making some compost piles so that they didn’t have to buy much manure. I told them the advantages of mulching. I created a multilingual price-list of the regular produce, so that everyone could be on the same page. I tried to work on pest control and shared with The Ladies the beneficial properties of flowers, and so on. In short, pretty much everything I had learnt in college so far.
And while I think that some of these things were helpful, this was also why I felt that it was my shortcoming that I took the role of someone who preached more than stayed inquisitive. A part of the reason was that The Ladies were always skeptical to refute or correct me (probably because I come from a more ‘privileged’ background than them). So, the opportunity to learn something new by way of being corrected was missed by me.
If I had kept my mouth shut and just observed, or spoken strictly if I had a question, I would have probably learned much more regarding why some things are done in a certain way. I could then have come to a better conclusion of where those things could be improved. Making suggestions based on my bookish knowledge were (or could) have been rash and quite presumptuous. Hopefully, I know better now. Taking on a role before fully understanding the bigger picture can be harmful, or wasteful, in the least.
Nevertheless, I did learn many important things about gardening from them – things which I cannot list but are now a part of my instinctive knowledge, and which are yet to be tested. A part of what I learnt was from observing the garden over the 45 days I spent there. This too is now more of an imbibed knowledge, which has been absorbed by me subconsciously. It would have benefited me more if I had stayed on for an entire year to see the full cycle the garden goes through. But in any case, it has done a great deal to boost my confidence about growing things. Gardening doesn’t seem so much of a mystery to me anymore.
I do feel that I should have been researching more actively through the internship – much more than I actually did. This was even more essential because I did not have anyone to whom I could direct my learning. And although I had planned to do much reading in this break from college, I fell quite short on my promise to myself.
But, in the long list of things that I did not do right during my internship, something that I did do right was make amazing relationships. Not only with the Samata team, but also by way of meeting many people who are into permaculture and organic farming. I met some of them at the International Permaculture Conference. I actively sought out the others in and around me in Goa.
Each garden or farm is unique and gives an opportunity to learn about how nature works. It also gave me a chance to see how people (who have dedicated their lives to their land) do what they do.
What I learnt from my conversations with each of them (and what I saw in their gardens) is enough to qualify for another blog post. The questions I asked them helped me put together the missing pieces of the puzzle – the life of people who take an ‘alternative path’. In turn, the questions they asked me put me in a place of reflection, challenging my preconceived notions. For me, meeting like-minded people and seeing each new variation of the same train of thought really brought home the fact that anything is possible. Now, the only challenge is to know what I want to do.
I grappled with that question for most of the latter part of my internship. Why am I here? Can I even do this for a living? If I decide to do it, how will I do it, without compromising on my needs and wants? Is this the best way to utilise my strengths, while doing something meaningful at the same time?
And this is what I am the most grateful for, in my time here in Goa. While these questions are quite painful and difficult to answer, they are the most important ones. Only by relooking at my fantasies, did I begin my journey to find the true dream. And while it is still in the making, interning at Samata has been a turning point for me in my quest for this dream.
The author is studying the Science and Management for Sustainable Living course from Bhoomi College.