- Ashutosh Kumar
Heart of Sea - A Travelogue
I met with a seed five years ago. It was not a usual seed. It was big. Way bigger than any other seed that I had ever seen in my life. It was a shiny brown, hard, spherical seed, but very beautiful. It was lying with other seeds when I met it; as if it was with its siblings. I picked it as it attracted my soul. Till today, I don't know whether I picked it. Or if it chose me. Since then, it has been my constant companion – in my countless journeys and my life. For me, it is the force of nature, encapsulated in a pod. Whenever I hold it in my palms, it makes me feel as if I am being embraced by mother nature herself.
In these five years, few lines have appeared on the seed’s shell. Sometimes these lines look like lines of fate that are there on our palms – deep and dark – hiding our destinies or, like the gradual graying of my hair. One strand at a time. Like a ticking clock that wants to leave its imprint on my body. Through these lines, we both are aging together. I know it will outlast me.
Photo of Heart of Sea
Seed diversity and its meaning
Since I have become part of a seed’s journey, I have become concerned with the life of seeds in general. There was a time when these seeds were kept in the houses of the farmers, preserved and stored for the next year’s cultivation. They had a room for themselves in the farmer's household and were treated and cared for like children. Farmers exchanged them due to their special qualities, for example in India paddy seeds were exchanged for their qualities like the aroma, shape, taste, and adaptability to grow in certain conditions. It is still part of some indigenous cultures in India where paddy seeds are sent along with the bride as a companion to her in-law’s house as a sign of wealth and fertility. It is said that human beings domesticated wild plants and started agriculture thousands of years ago. In this journey, they domesticated many varieties of plants that facilitated their living. I do not know if they domesticated these wild plants, but one thing that I know from my experience is that they certainly created a relationship with these plants and seeds.
However, in the past few decades, humankind has lost many varieties of seeds. It is documented that in the 1960s there were more than 140,000 local varieties of paddy in India. In less than 60 years India has lost most of the varieties. Today, less than 6000 local varieties are cultivated by farmers in India. This is the story of just one crop. In search of better production and commercialization of agriculture, the relationship of human beings with the seed has transformed. The local varieties have been replaced with many new varieties that are created in the laboratories of scientists. These varieties are usually known by the name of High Yielding Varieties Seeds (HYVs), Hybrid Seeds, and Genetically Modified Crops (GM). For some people loss of local varieties is an understandable transition to better seeds. For me, though, it is like losing a friend.
The interrelatedness between seeds and us
It is said that companionship changes us, transforming us into a near mirror image of the other. I have probably experienced this. A part of me has a very deep connection with seeds. My companion has deeply affected me as who I am as an individual. It has put me on the path of collecting stories of the farmers and their seeds or to put it rightly, seeds and their companion farmers. I think that the only way that I know how to save this relationship is to create a relationship with the seeds. It is important to make it visible. Sometimes, while eating a tomato we discover its seed. The seeds are already a part of tomatoes but for us, their existence happens at the time we discover it. This discovery is the first step of creating a relationship. Just looking at the seeds is like acknowledging their existence. Let’s start with acknowledging the seeds by seeing them, like making them appear from invisibility and giving birth to them and their existence.
It was very recently that I got to know the name of the seed – my companion. It is called ‘Heart of Sea’. It is known for its long voyages through rivers and seas. It goes off to far-off places. I too am on a journey with my companion. Sometimes I become the vessel and the seed a traveler, sometimes the seed becomes the vessel, and I, a traveler. We are uniquely (un)usual travelers, traveling far-off places. Our journey has made us one. I believe that we are connected by the most sacred of relations.
Ashutosh Kumar is a PhD scholar at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. He researches the connection between indigenous cultures and the preservation of local biodiversity among the shifting cultivators of the state of Odisha, in India.