Thursday, November 25, 2010

Villgro Blog: Simply Fly Chapter 3

In my blog post on Chapter 2, I mentioned that Gopinath attributes his decision to leave the army to a spiritual-emotional crisis, but gives few details on what this crisis is. In this chapter, what spirituality means for Gopinath becomes clearer.

Throughout the book so far, the reader is aware of Gopinath’s love of nature. In Chapter 2, he narrates being awestruck at the mountains of the Indo-Tibetan border, that he saw on his long range patrols when in the army. He says that, “I saw the most spectacular scenes, of gushing waterfalls, snow-capped mountain peaks, and winding rivers. I was immersed in Tagore’s poetry at the time and the entire experience was deeply spiritual”. In Chapter 1 Gopinath describes the Western Ghats, and his village, with love, including the agriculture (coconut groves, areca plantations, betel-leaf creepers, paddy fields, mango orchards and coffee estates), and the dense, pristine rainforests. Yet, the bulk of his descriptions are reserved for the Hemavathy and Yagachi rivers, and in Chapter 3 he confirms that for him, rivers are sacred.

While by Chapter 2 the reader already suspects that there is a close tie between spirituality and nature for Gopinath, this is elaborated upon in Chapter 3. He states:

…My struggle with farming lent my life a spiritual dimension. I sensed within me a
sense of oneness with the environment. In one breath I took in the mystic aura of the
early morning sunrise; the sweet fragrance rising from freshly churned earth as I
walked across the fields. I was in search of a natural method of understanding the
crops, the seasons, and the soil.

For example, coconuts are central to Gopinath’s farm. Again drawing from a religious reference, he says that, “in the scriptures, the coconut tree is called kalpavriksha, the tree that lives a long, long time and grants all wishes”. Gopinath believes that if he nurses the saplings for seven or eight years they will keep him going for a hundred years, and therefore the success or failure of his farm will be decided in the time that it takes the coconut palms to grow.

Initially, when termites attack the coconut trees, he uses benzene hexachloride to get rid of them. When it rains this spray washes down into the soil and nearby stream, carrying the residual chemicals with it, and polluting the soil, the stream, the ponds, and the groundwater. Gopinath quickly realizes that by removing all the twigs, branches and dead organisms from the soil, the termites are left with no nourishment, and therefore attack the coconut trees. Once Gopinath instructs the workers not to remove anything from the coconut grove, the termites stop attacking the trees.

While the farm is the focus of Gopinath’s activities in this chapter, he also begins a silkworm business, stock-brokerage, a hotel business, a motor-cycle dealership, and an agricultural consultancy. The silkworm business is particularly worth mentioning, as Gopinath replaces bamboo stems and branches with paddy straw as the cocooning sites for silk worms. He does this to, “save millions of bamboos from felling, and simultaneously eliminate the repeated use of disinfectant on the generally reused bamboo montages”. In addition, he experiments with integrating rain-water harvesting and impounding in ponds, managing weeds, moisture retention in the soil, discreet ploughing, and selective biological pest control. Gopinath’s silkworm business wins the Rolex Award for Enterprise, which he sees as helping to spread environmental awareness and eco-friendly ways of farming.

However, in this chapter Gopinath also seems to be developing an interest in entrepreneurship for its own sake, regardless of the social benefits it does or does not bring. Some examples serve to illustrate this. In the first, Gopinath says that from farming he learnt that:

…If something is not ecologically sound, it is not economically viable. This is a
simple law that I think applies to every aspect of life. For a business to be viable,
entrepreneurs need to create the right ecology for business and for the interactions it
entails. That seed of my future low-cost airline and other businesses was sowed here.

However, in this quote, Gopinath is modifying the meaning of the world “ecology” drastically from its environmental context. In fact there is a contradiction between Gopinath’s love of nature and the environment, and his decision to start an airline business. Another example is of his future helicopter business that Gopinath also refers to in this chapter. While Gopinath refuses to accept dowry at his own wedding, again in a seeming contradiction, he acknowledges that it is dowry that enables his customers to hire helicopters for wedding celebrations.

At his motor-cycle leadership Gopinath decides to hire children, but here the issue is more complicated. He reasons that by hiring boys as young as 8-10 years old, he can train them to become mechanics and open their own garages. Gopinath also displays sensitivity in trying to ensure that the boys are not ill-treated.

One lesson from this chapter for entrepreneurs is that help can often come from unexpected sources, and therefore it is important not to alienate anyone, as far as possible. Even when his farm is ransacked by the previous farmers of the land allotted by the government to Gopinath, he offers to help them to receive title to the land remaining. It is perhaps due to this attitude that Manje Gowda, a neighboring farmer and friend, offers to guarantee Gopinath’s bank loan when none of his other friends and relatives would. Of course, Gopinath is at an advantage over other farmers in the first place because he was previously an army officer, and this seems to interest one bank manager, after several failed attempts, in his loan application.

Chapter 3 begins with the quote, “All that matters is Love and Work”, and ends with Gopinath lamenting that, “People do not love what they do, but do it nonetheless for the money it brings”. While it is clear that Gopinath has a love for agriculture, and perhaps a budding love for his other business interests, the reader hears little of his personal life in this autobiography so far. In this chapter he gets married, and some sections describe the marriage and his subsequent life with his wife. Gopinath’s wife evokes interest because she insists on marrying him although at the time he is a farmer in debt. However, in other respects the marriage seems quite traditional. Gopinath is attracted to her because she can sing, is pretty, and will cook for him, and after marriage she seems to unequivocally support him without voicing any opinions of her own. Gopinath also has two daughters, but they receive only passing mention in this chapter.

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