It’s almost impossible to have a conversation with R Pappammal, 105, as she welcomes a constant stream of relatives, friends, and journalists to her home in the village of Thekkampatti near Coimbatore. Not when she insists on feeding each of them. She received the Padma Shri this year for popularizing organic farming and since the announcement a few days ago has given numerous interviews. “I gave 30 interviews yesterday,” she laughs over the phone. This commotion is new to her, but she took it in her stride, posing for cameras, sometimes smiling, sometimes stern, and visibly exhausted from walking in her field every time a photojournalist asks her to. “It all sounds like a dream,” Pappammal says. Pappammal comes from a generation of farmers who believe in doing the hard work themselves. “I used to help her in the fields and I remember her berating me if I even got a little rest,” recalls her sister’s grandson, R Balasubramaniam. “She was like, ‘When I’m working non-stop at this age, what makes you stop? Go back to work ‘. “He adds,” She was quite intimidating: At six feet tall, with a stern voice and feet that never rested, we would bury ourselves in work whenever she was near.
Pappammal comes from a family of farmers. She owns a 2.5-acre farm in her village and in the past cultivated lentils such as horse gram and green gram. Now she mainly grows bananas. Over the years, she has worked closely with the Agricultural University of Tamil Nadu. She would go to their many farmer meetings on her own and implement everything she had learned. During one of these meetings, Pappammal heard for the first time the term “organic farming”. She came home and tried. “I learned that all the chemicals we use on our crops are harmful to the soil and to consumers,” she says. Her methods quickly gained popularity and the University began sending field-visiting students to her village to learn from her. “They visited him as part of the ‘Village Stay Program’,” explains Balasubramaniam. Pappammal also visited farms recommended by the University. “They sent her a letter a week in advance and she took a bus to the village or town,” Balasubramaniam says. In this way, Pappammal learned from the best in the field and also shared what she knew with them. “She went to several towns for farmers’ meetings,” Balasubramaniam recalls, adding that in most of them she was probably the only farmer.
Soon the lady in the firm-toned saree became a local celebrity. She had no fear. “She never thought twice before approaching an officer in the many meetings she attended,” Balasubramaniam said, adding, “She would walk straight ahead, inquire about her family and her hometown, and would do whatever she wanted. His family got used to his ways. For Balasubramaniam, 50, his travels often resulted in a steady supply of goodies when he was younger. “She would buy us Jalebis and ladoos of the city, ”he recalls. “She was severe but liked us very much. Another aspect that defined Pappammal was his eye for perfection; even if the task were something as mundane as weeding, she would insist on doing it perfectly. A common question that Pappammal endures is the secret of his long life. “I think that’s what I ate growing up,” she says. “I cooked millets such as ragi, Thinai, and samaï in a mud pot with water and mixed that with curd or buttermilk and drank with crunchy onions or green peppers, ”she says. It was his breakfast before heading to the fields at 4 a.m. “I brushed my teeth with neem twigs and didn’t use any other chemicals,” she adds. “Instead of soap, I rubbed it with stone.”She also never allowed age to slow her down. “Even today, I wake up before the sun, wash my face and walk around the village once,” she laughs. “I can’t sit still.”
Tags: R Pappammal | Coimbatore Grandma | Organic Farming | Padma Shri | Thekkampatti village