Dear friends: While I sit to write this column the only thought that comes to me is the passing away of Nel Jayaraman in a city hospital after a prolonged battle with cancer, I am at loss as to where to begin writing about the great contributions of a simple man. Most media tributes say he is a seed saviour, an organic farmer, a crusader in protecting and popularising native paddy seeds etc. On Thursday, the day he died, I was seeing and reading all this and my mind was going back, back to those days when social media was yet to become popualar, back to those days when television channels were not so many like today. The mobile phone had just made its appearance and owning it was a luxury that journalists like me couldn’t afford. Nel Jayaraman did have one for a long time.
I was introduced to him by late G Nammalvar and my close friend Ranganathan of TEDE trust who introduced me to organic farming. I first met him in a room at Egmore near Don Bosco school. He was staying on the first floor. He greeed me warmly and we spoke about many things such organic agriculture, the need for its revival etc. I couldn’t but notice the unusual warmth and honesty in his voice. He genuinely cared for farmers. After that meeting, I used to call him as and when I was free. Jayaraman would visit me whenever he visited Chennai.
Thus blossomed our friendship which grew stronger over the years. At that time I was working as columnist in an English daily and I decided I should write about him. I called him over the landline and fixed a date to meet him for the interview. As usual we met in some obscure hotel in Egmore. The year was 2014. I said the interview will be for an hour but when I completed I noticed we had been speaking for more than four hours and I had not even jotted down points. That was Nel Jayaraman’s way of getting you interested into the topic. Like a screenplay writer he would take his interviewer into a long flashback about how he was brought into this line, how he struggled and so on.
His strength lay in his easy communication. Rustic and simple, he was popular among farmers and journalists alike — always accessible and ready for any interview at any point of time. Agriculture officers approached him to talk to farmers on government schemes and through him sought cooperation from farmers.
Jayaraman had a strong will. He opposed all anti-farmer schemes, joining hands with several organisations in the delta. If any scheme he thought would not benefit the farmers he was the first to raise his voice.
His seed bank in his native town in Thiruthuraipoondi is a delight to see and record. Several foreign visitors, government officials and school children have visited his bank to learn more about old paddy varieties which thanks to his efforts have been saved for posterity.
A farmer from a humble background, Jayaraman was inspired by late G Namalvar to undertake this gigantic mission of identifying, collecting and storing lost traditional paddy seeds and distributing it to farmers.
A farmer from a humble background, Jayaraman was inspired by late G Namalvar to undertake this gigantic mission of identifying, collecting and storing lost traditional paddy seeds and distributing it to farmers. This was the first of its kind in the state. This was followed by a paddy festival in Thiruthuraipoondi which was arranged, coordinated and executed by him personally.
I remember Nel Jayaraman cycling in the delta regions when I used to travel by car for news gathering. I used to stop and make enquiries and he used to say he has come to the place to hunt for some particular paddy variety. That was his passion, the fire ignited by Nammalwar.
If Nammalwar was responsible for the renaissance of organic farming in the state, Nel Jayaraman will be remembered for preserving and popularising native paddy varieties.
A simple man who never thought of making money got much fame and adulation just because of his hardwork and belief that our life is meant to do good to society in whatever way we can. And society gave it back. When he was hospitalised donations poured in from different quarters. From Rs 5 to Rs 50,000, they came from people from all walks of live from all over the world. The reason being all wanted to be a part of his epic journey.
I personally kept in touch with him since the day he was admitted in Chennai hospital in the last five months. Every time I met him he was in his usual high spirits. Last week we had spoken about the coming year’s paddy seed festival. He was telling me that this time we should do it more grand. I smiled and nodded.
Just a year back I was with him in establishing three seed banks through Green cause Foundation in Kanchipuram district which was very backward in any agriculture activity. He graciously attended both the inauguration and the annual function.
During his stay in hospital, many bureaucrats, technocrats, farmers and ministers visited him. Suddenly Nel Jayaram was in the use everywhere. People took selfies with him. Overnight an ignored humble farmer had become a celebrity. But that was not to last.
He often recounted his mentor Nammalvar’s words: “We all do not die. We become seeds to sprout again as trees.” I believe this is true. His ideas and dreams will be taken up by youngsters to take up his mission forward.
Friends the reason for me wanting to share this with all of you is while I write my personal experience with Nel Jayaraman I get inspired, inspired that one need not have money, position, nor power to achieve greatness. Just a good heart to do something for the society will suffice. Society will take care of us and stand behind us.
Will continue interacting . . .