Two and half years ago, my life looked very different from what it does now. My marriage, my relationships, my career, my finances were all falling apart and I was floundering for answers.
At that time, and I’ve noticed - at most other times - my anchor and my only real source of inspiration was my farm. It is the ultimate back-up. If all else fails; I have a place to go to where I can live in happiness for the rest of my days.
And all else had failed.
With the last of my money, I decided to go for my first PDC (Permaculture Design Course). If I was going to go live on my farm, I had better know how to take care of it. I signed up at The Panya Project (http://www.panyaproject.org/) a beautiful self-sustainable community in Northern Thailand. It shared the same climate as my land did and was the closest, cheapest option. It was bang in the middle of (a torriential) monsoon, but I was determined. It was my way out.
Permaculture Design Principle No. 1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
By taking time.
I guess the best way to get out of your own little problems is to distract yourself with bigger ones…and coming back to Bombay city presented me with plenty of them! I came back with new eyes and a head full of ideas. I had successfully ‘engaged with nature’ and was now seeing solutions everywhere.
Compost Bombay’s garbage. Grow more green to improve air quality. Use balconies and terraces to make the city prettier. Grow food gardens to connect people with their food. The list was endless…
Like in nature and all things permaculture, the change didn’t happen overnight. A friend offered his terrace for me to work on, and I literally learnt on it. Learnt that even though a mechanic has no use for an old tire, if I ask - he will charge me 10 bucks for it. Learnt that it requires a lot of labour to carry soil up 4 flights of stairs (and that it is expensive). Gardening in the city is a whole different ballgame.
Permaculture Design Principle No. 2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
So I got myself a gardener that worked for me on a permanent basis (cheaper than daily labour). I used more sugarcane waste from the gannawalla (sugarcane juice man) which was much lighter than actual soil (and free) and I found the dump where the old tires went.
I had my systems in place after having completed my first garden. But made no money off it. I was in need. It was time to put them to use and apply…
Permaculture Design Principle No. 3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
I started my own permaculture design consultancy (https://www.facebook.com/permaseed). It was Bombay’s first and I was soon making urban terrace gardens and plant installations for the who’s who of Bombay. I had used the permaculture principles to design my business plan (thats another blog post) and it was working! I was able to do what I believed in, create a difference in the city and make good money.
I loved it. It was grounding to be working with my hands, interacting with nature and at the same time inspiring to have to be creative, always creative, with the limited space and time in the city. I was getting featured in magazines and campaigns; I even received an award for being a female entrepreneur and became a brand ambassador for a company (http://womanforsociety.com/simrit-malhi/).
My marriage ended and I rented a house in Goa which I would run away to every time I finished a job in the city. The work I was doing in Bombay was important and sustainable; but the lifestyle it required from me wasn’t. I would be working long days on site and then come home and work out accounts and bills on the computer.
Permaculture Design Principle No. 3.Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
For me, this is one of the most important permaculture principles. Always take stock; notice what is and isn’t working. Accept what isn’t. Then fix it.
I was still living in the city. In an apartment high above the ground. And I was stressed out and overworked.
Something needed to change.
Something important permaculture had taught me was, if you observe, interact and plan well enough - you can continuously obtain a yield with half the effort. For me, this meant letting go of the notion that it takes hard work to make money :) Being overworked means I was doing something wrong.
I had an employee that was fully trained in all my methods.Soon, he was doing jobs that I was getting paid for while sitting on the beach in Goa!
Permaculture is a very practical, hands on approach - like all farming techniques have to be. But its effects run so much deeper. I have studied several organic farming traditions and techniques from Bio-dynamic farming to Agnihotra and the One Straw Method. They are all amazing and I continue to use them in my work. The thing with permaculture is that you can apply it to your life.
It’s first principle is to Observe and Interact.
Which taught me reverence.
Reverence for the sheer intelligence/beauty of nature. Watch how nature does it, and then replicate. Don’t try to fix something that took millennia to evolve.
It has taught me responsibility
If something isn’t working, it’s because you got it wrong; not nature. And, sure, you will make mistakes. But mistakes don’t come cheap in a garden- you are working with Life. Living Beings. So take the time to sit down and think things through.
There is enormous scope and potential for permaculture in the city. But it isn’t for me. I know it sounds pretentious to say it, but I can’t help but be aware of how much permaculture has affected my life..how much more abundant, more fertile my life has been since.
So, here I am. I now live permanently in Goa in a beautiful home surrounded by rice fields. I share this home with a partner I thought I could only dream of; who has the same reverence for nature and is the father of the child I am carrying inside me. I’m working on setting up an organic soap and cosmetics company, designing it according to permaculture again, but this time taking in the mistakes I made last time round. I finally have my own garden that I can grow at the pace nature intended (and not according to a clients schedule).
I walk the earth every day and it makes me want to banish concrete. No matter what time I sleep at night, the bird that lives on the tree outside my window wakes me up at 7 every morning.
I am more in tune with nature than I have ever been before; and happier and healthier and more aware. And when I look back to where it all started, all arrows point to those two months in Thailand in 2011.