A village in Tiruvannamalai has become home to a sustainable community.

 In natures lap These five TN families gave up city life for the rural dream
news Society Friday, March 03, 2017 - 16:32

Have you ever dreamt of a life far from the madding crowd?  Five families and a few youngsters chose to give up the heady pleasures of city life to sit in nature’s lap.  

About a half-hour distance from the Tiruvannamalai government bus depot lies the Marudam Farm School in Kanathampoondi.  While approaching the farm on a dirt-ridden road, one is greeted by the green of banana, mango and coconut trees, mud houses with roofs made of country tiles and the Arunchalaa hills in the distance.

It is in this setting that five families live and run an alternative school for children.

Four years ago, 40-year-old Kamalakannan left his high-paying job at Hewett Packard (HP) and shifted to Marudam Farm School. “I felt that we were taking everything that we had for granted. I had an office cab which used to pick and drop me. I was in an air-conditioned office most of the time and did not know what was going on in the outside world. It was just such an unhealthy lifestyle with so much consumerism,” he recalls.

The birth of his first-born spurred him to think about his fast-moving life and the choices people make in the city.  

In 2012, Kamalakannan decided to take up the job of a school teacher in the Marudam Farm school and shift to Tiruvannamalai along with his family. “In the beginning, there was a bit of objection from family but now, everyone supports me. I now do farming, teach students in a school and run a small co-operative shop after school hours,” says Kamalakannan.

Ask him how he sustains himself and pat comes his reply, “In the beginning, it was a little difficult. But now, I can easily live with less cash. We need to distinguish between what is necessary and what is not.”

Kamalkannal says he ensure most of the fruit and vegetable he sells at his cooperative store are organic.  “Why we need to be dependent on corporate companies for everything. We can make everything by ourselves. I try to get organic things from farmers and I also try to keep things as natural as possible. I ask people to get their containers for things, I do not want to use plastic bags,” he explains.

It was in 2009 that the idea for the farm school was born when Govinda and his wife Leela came to Tiruvannamalai for an afforestation project. It was then the couple dreamt of building a sustainable community. After 8 acres of land was donated to them, Govinda invited Arun, who was then working at Krishnamoorthy School in Chennai as a teacher. 

But despite the dream of living in a community, Leela, who hails from the UK, admits it was not easy in the beginning. “I’m a very private person and living in a community was quite a difficult task. Moreover, language was also a barrier for me.”

Arun together his wife Poornima were one of the first families to move to Marudam Farm school.  “There were only two families and about six to seven teachers when we started in 2009. It has been a happy journey. It was like moving from hell to heaven. It is such a peaceful and a free atmosphere here,” he recalls. The small community has grown in size over the years, with 30 people presently living at the farm.

So, what does daily life look like at the Marudam Farm School?  

“Everyone does farming in the morning and then the school starts at 8am, the education is mainly based on activities and experiential learning. The school ends at 5pm and then we have our personal time after that,” explains Harish, who teaches at the school.

About 60% of what they consume comes from the farm. “We grow rice, millets, groundnut, pulses, etc. We also have local vegetables and fruits like guava, papaya etc.,” he notes.

For 28-year-old Karthik, who was always interested in farming and agriculture, giving up his job at Mistsubishi was easy when he got the chance to work as an English and Mathematics teacher at Marudam Farm School. “There are no monetary concerns, we lead a very simple life here,” he notes.

Shyam, (27), loves the fact that the spirit of the place has not changed. Harish says, “Everyone does everything here. There is no set hierarchy here. I love teaching here and got to learn about farming.”

As we reach the school, the students have just returned from their walk to the hills. “We walked and observed the trees, plants, insects and came back,” says a student.

The school focuses on activity-based and experiential learning. “Children are inherent learners and can learn anything. A school should be a home where children do things and learn,” says Poornima, who is also a teacher in school.

The school started with 12 teachers. Today there are 23 teachers and 70 children, who are divided into groups according to age groups and their pace of learning. Most of the children are from different backgrounds.

The school is run under the Forestway Trust. While children are given the total expenses of the year, they are asked to pay as much as they can. “The students can pay whatever they can afford, rest is collected through crowd funding and sponsors,” says Harish.

As we leave, one group of students begin a discussion on ‘respect’. They look happy and free, surrounded by the beauty of the hills and trees.  

 
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