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My odyssey from Hackathon to Varanashi Organic Farms

It was an exciting Thursday morning as my office had organized an internal hackathon. I wasn't a part of it, but free food and fresh conversations never hurt.

The event took me back to my initial days at SmartQ when I got the chance to be a part of the hackathon organized by Compass Group. It was a 24-hour event where teams across 3 cities: Bangalore, Charlotte, and Paris brainstormed, ideated, planned, and discussed to find a feasible and sustainable solution for complex problem statement. I was fortunate enough to contribute when I had just joined the company.

I was reminiscing about those days when Bhaskar approached Zakki, Aysha, Nikhil, and me.

“Guys, there's good news!” he said ecstatically.

“Remember we were yet to decide on a suitable winning prize for Global Compass Hackathon winners? Well, keeping in mind the theme of the Hackathon, I.e., sustainability, the management has decided to send the winning team and the facilitators on an organic farm trip to Mangalore for the weekend. Congrats guys! We are going for the trip”.

“This is amazing news, Bhaskar!” Zakki said cheerfully.

The news lifted us, and we all got excited about the trip.

We started to discuss among us when Keshav joined the conversation.

“What exactly will we do there, Keshav?” asked Zakki in an intriguing voice.

"Well, this trip is going to be different. We are going to a farm where we will be learning and experiencing organic farming in real-time. For accommodation, they have tree houses, mud houses, and tents. We will be living amidst nature and experiencing it closely. The farm is huge and covered with lush green trees – more like a jungle. So, expect a lot of insects there.” he explained. “I will be sending the itinerary in a while”.

“Sounds exciting!” we all cheered at the same time.

“You are coming, right?” Keshav asked me.

“Eee... yaa!” I said hesitantly.

The thought of living in nature among insects petrified me. However, I couldn’t say no at that moment, nor was I sure enough to say yes. So, I ended up saying eee...yaa.

I told one of my friends about this trip the same night.

“On a farm for two nights? There’s going to be insects of all sorts? You leave your house when you spot a lizard. How will you survive there?” My friend tried to bring me closer to reality.

She had a valid point though. I got stung by a bee when I was 11 and got a swollen cheek. I got laughed at by my friends and was the subject of their jokes for quote a few days.

Although it didn’t leave a permanent mark on my face, the incident scarred me for life.

Ever since then, I have been petrified of insects.

After an internal fight over whether to go or stay, I decided to go.

Saturday early morning at 6 AM, we reached the farm after a long 10-hour bus journey. It was foggy when we got down.

I could hear the sweet chirping sounds of different kinds of birds.

We started to walk on the untarred muddy road in search of our rooms. The farm was decorated with greenery and varied varieties of flowers. I even picked up one and accessorized it with my hair.

After a good walk of 10 minutes and dreading inside with the fear of insects, we finally reached our room. Ayesha, Rohini, and I decided to stay in the mud house. It was a cottage – spacious, cozy, and warm.

We took some rest, and when our stomachs started to growl, we decided to go for breakfast.

“It’s a little far. We will have to walk a bit,” Bhaskar informed us.

“Sure, no problem.” I nodded thinking how far a breakfast place can be.

Turned out, it was a stretch of 1.5 km of an inclined and muddy path. As we started to walk, it felt more like a trek. Bhaskar initiated a conversation by telling us about the various houses where people are staying. Suddenly, we heard some music playing. We knew that it was Manjunatha. That guy was carrying his stereo everywhere during the trip - on the bus, to dinner, and now to breakfast. Whenever we used to hear music playing, we knew he was around.

We finally reached the breakfast place and served ourselves some breakfast. Everyone else joined in the meantime. The food was simple yet delicious. Most of the ingredients were sourced from the farm.

“So, what’s next?” Nikhil asked in his usual enthusiastic voice. I always wonder how that guy manages to stay positive and energetic all the time.

“There’s a pool nearby. I think we should go check it out. And then we have that organic farm tour we talked about” Keshav replied.

“Cool,” Nikhil said.

The guys went to take a dip.

In about an hour or so, Zakki called me and Aysha to join the farm trip.

“Eee..yaa... we will join you in a bit.” Once again, I couldn't say no.

Why do I always have to put myself in these situations?

I was reluctant to go. But I decided to stay there for 10 minutes and then make an excuse to come back.

I was late for about 5 minutes. When I reached there, I saw a man standing at the center. We greeted each other with a smile on our faces. He then started to introduce himself.

His name was Partha, and he was the owner of the farm. One could tell from his looks that he is a person who admires nature. He had a sturdy physique, was tall, naturally tanned, had eyes that sparked conversation, and had chiseled features. The stubble on his face accentuated his looks.

He commenced the session by introducing himself and narrating the importance of organic farming. I was mesmerized by his personality. The way he explained the importance of organic farming was persuasive and hooked each one of us.

He eloquently narrated the importance of attaining the ecological balance with his perfect accent. His voice was like music to my ears – like violins being played in the back. He shared his knowledge on permaculture and educated us on the method traditional farming, and importance of trees.

But soon the violin stopped playing when he took us inside the farm-cum-forest. I was petrified of what was coming next but kept my emotions intact, so I don’t come out as an upscale girl.

I went inside the farm with a straight face. Soon we were in the middle of the jungle, and we heard something crawling behind the trees.

“Is there a snake?” someone asked while I trembled with fear. I thought of running away from there.

Partha gave a smile and replied, “There could be. But don’t worry, it won’t come to you.”

“There are wild boars, varied species of insects, and even snakes. But you must understand that it is their home first. We are in fact living in their home.”

“Should we be scared then? Since we are living among a lot of creatures?” Someone raised a valid and my most wanted question from our group.

“No, you shouldn’t. They are friendly and hospitable. Unless you try to harm them or disturb their homes, they will not bother you at all.”

His words made a lot of sense to me and made me rethink my deep fear of insects. I immediately recalled when I was bitten by that bee. I remember teasing and messing around with the bee. At that moment, I understood the reason why that bee stung me.

And suddenly, my fear of insects dropped down and my respect for Partha went up.

By the end of the farm tour, I also asked him a few questions about veganism where he told us that turning vegan can do wonders to your body. He once went on a diet for 6 months that completely cured his knee pain.

This was the end of our farm tour. We all played mafia during the night and enjoyed each other’s company.

The following day, we went for another farm tour nearby that Partha suggested. The owner of the farm was also a Padma Shree awardee – Shri Mahalinga Naik – also known as the “Tunnel Man” of Karnataka. He toiled alone to fetch water from the barren land by digging multiple tunnels for several years and later converted the barren land into a farm when he finally found success after 6th tunnel which was 315 m long.

Hearing about his incredible and inspiring journey of immense hard work gave me goosebumps. I was speechless for a while. The fact that he never lost hope and continued to work toward his end goal is magnificent.

I felt honoured to have met him and be a part of this beautiful trip.

This marked the end of my 2-day Varanashi organic farm trip.

On my way back, I kept reminiscing about some of the greatest learnings of the trip - how the farm tour paved the way for my insect phobia, how we can live a simple life among nature, and how a person can inspire and influence you to always have a ‘can do attitude’.

I am glad I took the trip. One farm tour helped me put an end to my insect phobia. The other farm tour filled me with positivity, hope, and faith. The spark in Shri Mahalinga Ji's eyes inspired us all to keep going despite our failures - you will always find the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am glad my eee..yaa helped me make some incredible memories that I will cherish for life.

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