Ms Madhurya Balan

Ms. Madhurya Balan addressed students of NPSI Chennai on her contribution and research on the areas of reforestation, educational outreach, community engagement and relationship building. Across separate sessions for middle and senior school students, she offered a deeper appreciation for nature and connect with the geology of terrains she worked at which included a village in Nepal and Tiruvannamalai.

Her lecture opened with the broad divisions – Farm, Forest and Mountains. Under the ‘Farm’ category, she threw a couple of open-ended questions to the audience including where the seeds we grew came from, what was the life cycle of the vegetables we ate everyday etc. We have a hundred variety of rice, but that was not the same case with corn. Corn, though once had a variety in its genetic expression, we can only see the regular one today. She said that grass was underrated in India. And one such essential grass, she said, was grains. A beautiful picture of barley was shared on screen, when she stated that Barley and Wheat were grown in higher altitudes. Then, she spoke about the life cycle of paddy rice which took 4 months or 130 days to harvest and how its saplings are planted five inches apart to ensure robust growth. She moved on to lifecycle of a sugarcane which took 271 days or nine months to mature. Luckily, the plant’s top portion is only harvested, as the plant can regenerate another corn within the next year, making the field sustainable for two years. Turmeric, known for its medicinal and healing properties, took 9 months. She emphasized that plants and insects evolved together and the process of pollination was not merely result of a random bet.

She stated that we need to make sure that there is food for us as well as food for other creatures on the planet, for the eco-system to not break away from its respective cycles. When asked about the people working in farms, she stated that young people are needed to harvest produce. The traditional knowledge carried forward through the ancestors of the farmers in Thiruvanamalai as well as in Nepal was irreplaceable. She also elaborated on three types of forests namely young forests, Old Growth and Plantation Forests (Trees that have the same height, type and size since they were grown at once at some period of time). In India, Old Growth trees, which are a minimum of 300 years old, still do not have their own reservation and legal rights to be protected against deforestation and exploitation.

During Q&A session, many students asked her about her experience interacting with different kinds of villagers, the book genres she’d like to recommend in order to know more about nature and much more. The session came to a sweet halt on a signature note stating that we are one with nature, and outward landscapes were in fact a reflection of our inner landscapes of body, mind and soul.