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“Harvest”: A Poem on Farmers

Shigraf Zahbi
Shigraf Zahbi
According to a report by National Crime Records Bureau of India, 296,438 farmers have committed suicide since 1995

What is the measure of a farmer’s life—his boundless love, his hard-work, or, perhaps, merely the rate of potatoes? 

Harvest is a poem written by Kedarnath Singh, an Indian poet whose poems, through simple imagery, conveyed complex themes. This poem also begins with a memory, which leads the reader to a series of images, all very poignant. Singh writes:

I knew him for years  

A middle-aged farmer 

A bit tired 

A little bent 

Not because of any burden 

But merely because of the customary gravitation of earth 

Which he loved so much 

He believed 

There place in this world for all — 

Dogs, cats, pigs 

This is why he had no hatred 

For mud, moss, or waste 

Thus, at the very beginning, Singh establishes what he remembers of the farmer. It is a picture everybody could relate to because our minds fetch the same details instinctively when the word ‘farmer’ is uttered. He is a middle-aged man, who, at the first would look tired and beaten. However, his stoop, his haggardness is not because of the burdens he carries — which are many — but because his connection to the soil.

A farmer cannot be separated from the land he cultivates; over the years he has become one with it. It gives him reason for celebration, and sometimes, for grief. It is his love for soil that he loves everything on it, it is his understanding of the cycle of seasons and of the lives of earthworms and other minute creatures that fills him with immense kindness and benevolence and with the belief that there is place on this earth for everyone.  

He liked sheep 

Wool is important — he believed 

But he used to say — 

Even more important is the warmth of their udders 

Which make even the stones in the fields come to life. 

 

His was a small world 

Filled with small dreams and pebbles 

In that world lives ancestors 

And even babies they who were not yet born 

Mahua was his friend 

Mango, his God 

Bamboo and gum tree, his folks, his parents 

And yes, also in that world was a small, dry river 

Which he sometimes wanted to pick on his shoulders 

And carry to Ganga 

So that he could merge the two again 

But thinking of Ganga 

He became powerless

A farmer values everything not just for the value they give him, but for the reason that they have an existence of their own. Animals and plants are not just beings that would help him earn a profit, but a part of his small world. In a greedy world which only seeks benefit and return, a farmer loves fruits and flowers and rivers for the sole reason that they present around him.  

Since some years 

When round potatoes broke the soil and peeked through roots 

Or when the crops were ripe and ready 

He became quiet for some reason 

For many days, his vehicle,  

Of the gigantic wheels of sunrise and sunset, 

Stopped at this juncture 

 

But they say  

That day was Sunday 

And that day he was happy 

He went to a neighbor 

And enquired about the rates of potatoes 

Laughingly, his wife asked him — 

How would be milk bush flowers for prayers? 

He said to a dog barking on the streets — 

‘Be happy, spotted one, 

Be happy!’ 

And he went out 

 

Where? 

Why?  

Where was he going — 

This is the only debate on media now 

What happened there 

As soon as he reached a turn in the road 

A honk sounded from behind 

And they say — because none of them saw — 

That it passed crushing him 

 

Was this a murder 

Or a suicide — I leave this on you 

He is now lying on the roadside 

Among the leaves of tora grass 

Suppressed on his lips 

Is a slight smile 

That day he was happy 

The poem suddenly turns, and his love, his kindness, his connection to the soil, all fail to save him. The rate of potatoes became the measure of his life in the end. The media, the world, unaware of a farmer’s existence, suddenly start asking questions after his life is reduced to the price of a season’s harvest.

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