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Meeting Dr. Vandana Shiva

sarada's passage to navdanya part IV

July 27, 2010 by saradagrace

This summer, Lightwaves is posting a monthly theme week on sustainability, featuring the reflections of inspired yogis who are integrating spiritual practice and critical thought into their work at a global and or local sphere.

We begin this second thematic week with Sarada Eastham, a Canadian intern in India, devoted to international development and drawing awareness to social, environmental, and agricultural injustice.

Taking a moment in the sweltering heat of the midday afternoon to reflect. I have completely lost track of time and reality feels sometimes to be a distant haze beyond the heat, new language and shifts in body, place and food.

I remember before I traveled the first time I thought that culture shock was something that would feel ‘different’ – perhaps like an illness, or something tangible and understandable. I recognize today that culture shock can be a slow moving haze, covering me in overwhelm and confusion. When I am not tired, newness is exciting, adventurous, a learning opportunity.

Today I am hot, tired and overwhelmed, and I desperately wish I could have something cold to drink. At lunch time one of the men on the farm asked me to ring the lunch bell to beckon the other workers to their meal. It took us five minutes of hand gestures, laughing, sighing and finally him rolling his eyes for me to understand what he wanted. Thank the universe for his patience!

Watering Navdanya Farm herbs

This afternoon I hide on the quiet side of the building, out of the sun and away from eyes. I revel in the moment to myself – fully expecting the space to be shattered by any manner of the unexpected magic that permeates India.

I am covered in cuts, bites and bruises, and I think the day spent weeding in the sweltering heat yesterday has finally taken its toll. I am almost out of rehydration salts – and although I am aware of the complaints that I am submitting you to – I am tired of rice and dahl three meals a day! How conditioned I am to choice – to getting what I want, to being able to communicate when and how I would like to. One part of my mind fights with the mosquito bites, the cuts, the bruises and another part of my mind looks down at my body and celebrates its labor in the hot sun and its yield of food to nourish myself and others. How grateful I am for the choice that I have had in my life, and the preciousness of each and every warm, wonderful clean-water shower!

I am reading An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth by M. K Gandhi. It is fitting to read his original words in this place which has been based on his life and work. He writes of simple things, asking, ‘what is truth’ and ‘what is humanity’?

Farmer behind the plow

I love his words. Today I wrote in large letters in bold ink down my arm, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as ancient as the hills”. These words offer me the reality of life and body, and remind me of gratitude and appreciation for the depth of those who have gone before.

Yesterday I met with Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, and imminent Indian scholar and activist. I remember the first time I saw her, a tiny head above thousands of people at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in November of 1999. It was a moment of birth for me, perhaps even one in which I discovered another way of being and the spark of true critical thought. It was a moment when worlds came together, and I began to understand how the global could be connected to the local and the local to the global.

Volunteers and locals cleaning rice

Vandana is a robust woman, who speaks in a lilt of rolling ‘rrrr’s’ in clear English. Her eyes dart around the room as she speaks to me, and I think that she may be carrying on 4 or 5 different conversations, only one of them with me. Another has to do with her blackberry, into which she is loudly declaring that she “must be in Frankfurt, no matter what!”

For a moment she fixes me with her stare, and nods her head. “Yes?” I tell her that I want to take the work that Navdanya is doing back to Canada, by preparing writing and presentations that I can offer back to Canadian communities.  When I pause for breath, she returns to a conversation she is having with a man who stands behind her; “just sign the papers, Jeeka, just sign them!” she shouts.

My interview over, I emerge into the sunlight dazed. A brilliant mind, a busy woman. I am confronted with the reality that what I can offer Navdanya is really very small in relation to the work that is needed, and Dr. Shiva recognizes this. This time requires humility and patience.

Work and the Seed Bank

Perhaps Navdanya’s true gift to me will be the cultivation of my own seed of practice, the seed of the work that I can take from this place. In many ways, I am lost in India. It is not my place, my culture or my language. When in India I must hold firmly to my suitcase packed with laughter, patience, humility, digestive enzymes and a healthy dose of expecting the unexpected.

In Canada, I know my way around. I can express, reach audiences, speak and act in a way that opens up (at least somewhat) expected avenues of change. In the distance I begin to understand the value of home, and of the change that I can affect in my own community.

International Development has become not about working in another place, or being in another culture. It has become about linking the local to the global, and bringing the global to the local. We live in an interconnected world of self and other, and it is a wild, wonderful magical place, with knowledge as old as the hills.


Dr. Vandana Shiva, a former nuclear physicist turned agriculture activist and founder of Navdanya, speaks of her vision for Earth Democracy.

Yogini, activist, and humanitarian, Sarada Eastham, is a former YDC graduate and Youth Coordinator at RYYO, living an inspired life as a student of International and Community Development. Her internship with Navdanya; a biodiversity conservation and organic farm in Northern India, and her cultural immersion have been unfolding before us on Lightwaves. This article has been featured as part of our July 2010 sustainability week.

Guest photographer Edwin Toone provided all photographs for this article: http://etoone.photoshelter.com/

1 Comment »

  1. I think that your thoughts are very insightful, and ways of knowing are complex and do not unfold in any one way in particular. The key message I gather is the need to bring Vandana Shiva’s vision to rural areas of Canada, to average persons and to bring about the knowledge that is needed to develop more sound agrarian policies. Thank you for the nice thoughts.

    Comment by Jaime — July 29, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

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