Yashodhara Lal’s How I Became a Farmer’s Wife is not just another story of MBAs quitting their high-paying jobs in pursuit of an alternative career. It is a story when they literally choose to soil their hands and face the difficulties of a farmer’s life. An Extract:

‘All right,’ Vijay murmured, unbuckling his seat belt. ‘This is it.’

I peered out through the car window at the large black gate. The kids opened the car door and scrambled out after Vijay. On the red brick wall hung a sign that said in small purple letters, ashram of bhagwan santosh. It was innocuous enough but for some reason, it creeped me out. I let myself out as Vijay pressed a small bell, half hidden by the ivy, on the left of the gate. If it worked and rang inside somewhere, we didn’t hear it. But within a few seconds, someone was peering out at us from the slight gap between the two gates. I caught a glimpse of suspicious grey eyes, and then the chain was unlocked and the gate swung open.

Now, he looked like a farmer. He was a son of the soil. He belonged here. And he clearly seemed to think we didn’t, judging by the challenging gaze he directed at Vijay, who was momentarily flabbergasted.

A tall, strong and rather unfriendly-looking man with grey, tightly cropped hair emerged. He stood there, looking quite majestic, despite the fact that he was in an old once-white collared shirt paired with an expertly tied, grey-checked dhoti, seemingly unaffected by the cold. Now, he looked like a farmer. He was a son of the soil. He belonged here. And he clearly seemed to think we didn’t, judging by the challenging gaze he directed at Vijay, who was momentarily flabbergasted.

‘Achu?’ was all that he could manage.

I thought about easing the tension with my usual ‘God bless you!’ joke but I figured this dhoti-clad dude wouldn’t appreciate it. Vijay went on hastily, ‘Mera matlab, Achu yahah hain?’

The fellow nodded curtly. ‘Dilli se, sahib?’

Haan, actually, waise toh, Gurgaon se, par haan.’ Vijay was being only mildly incoherent. The children looked fearfully up at this forbidding figure. He looked down at them and his face broke into a gap-toothed smile, ‘Aur aap log?

This got him three meek responses at the same time—‘Gurgaon’, ‘Dilli’ and ‘I have to do susu, Uncle. Is there a toilet?’

The last was Papad, of course, and I frowned at him. That kid couldn’t hold anything in.

‘Come,’ said the man in Hindi. ‘They are waiting for you inside—with Maa.’

He stood aside to let us in. I guessed he was referring to the famous Aunty. I wondered briefly that if the staff was so formidable, what on earth would the aunty herself be like?

We walked along an orange gravel path, lined with round stones and thick shrubs. On our right was a huge field where the soil looked freshly tilled. All around the field were tall trees lined up against the brick boundary wall of the property, their branches swaying and leaves fluttering gently in the cool breeze. Toward the left, there was another large open space with a path leading to a shaded grove of what looked like—‘Mango trees!’ Vijay and I whispered to each other at the same time. The kids oohed and aahed as they looked around. I realized that they hadn’t ever seen a place quite like this, being the city-bred kids that they were. This was a real farm-type place, I thought, my heart lifting. Most of Gurgaon was really a concrete jungle. Sure there were parks, but we didn’t see much greenery on a regular basis.

Most of Gurgaon was really a concrete jungle. Sure there were parks, but we didn’t see much greenery on a regular basis.

The gravel path ended and we walked through a sprawling series of two-storeyed buildings done up in a quaint combination of cobbled stone and grey brick. The children spotted a large, black jhoola and scrambled on to it boisterously, Papad clearly having forgotten all about his full bladder. I was about to tell them off, but realized it might just be better if they kept themselves busy on the jhoola for a while. Instead, I followed Vijay and the guy in the dhoti further inside.

We paused for a moment on a lawn in front of a singlestoreyed building. This was the ashram—I peered inside to see a long dark hall, silent and grim. On the outside, however, the ashram was covered by a thick creeper of bougainvillea with dark pink flowers. The man led us further past another, smaller, white swing, and a large stone table, which struck me as the perfect place to have a picnic lunch.

We reached another building, and the man called loudly through the half-open door. ‘Maa!’

Haan, Mobeen. Aa gaye? Aao, aao.’ An imperial female voice invited us in.

There was very little light inside, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. It looked like we had entered a dining room. At the centre was a large table, and I saw Achu and his wife, Varsha, sitting on one side. Varsha smiled tentatively, and Achu’s moustache twitched as he nodded at us in greeting. At the head of the table, sat a small but commanding figure—Aunty.

Her skin was glowing, and she didn’t look particularly weary or troubled as she cackled, ‘Had any trouble finding the place? Ha ha! It’s difficult, but only when you come the first time. Now you’ll know how to find it.’

I followed Vijay’s cue and touched her feet. I’d had a vision of a white-haired frail old woman, weary with her troubles, but this was a stocky lady with long, jet-black hair and small sharp eyes. She caught me by the shoulder and said, ‘Arre, bas bachhe! Khush raho.’ Her skin was glowing, and she didn’t look particularly weary or troubled as she cackled, ‘Had any trouble finding the place? Ha ha! It’s difficult, but only when you come the first time. Now you’ll know how to find it.’

‘No, no, Aunty! It wasn’t so bad’—Vijay paused and then added, warmth and admiration in his voice—‘This is really a brilliant place you’ve built, Aunty. Badiya!’ With this one simple compliment, Vijay seemed to have won Aunty over. She smiled broadly and swelled up like a proud peacock. ‘Isn’t it? But you haven’t even seen it yet. Mobeen! Mobeen! Kahan chale gaye?’

Excerpts from How I Became a Farmer’s Wife, copyrights 2018 (c) Yashodhara Lal, published by HarperCollins India. 

Picture Credit: HARPERCOLLINS INDIA

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