The Last Methi Plot At Versova Beach

This farmer managed to hide his plot before the bulldozer came.

I've been photographing the methi farmers at Versova Beach for just over a couple years. What's always impressed me is the community which has grown around the practice, however fragile and endangered.

On the morning of February 1, 2020, I reached Versova Beach right around official sunrise, 7:15am. As I approached the usual place where the farmers' plots usually started from I noticed a strange thing: all the plots were gone. There wasn't a patch of green to be seen anywhere. Also missing were the tell-tale signs of beach farming here, the blue water barrels. I began conjuring up reasons as to why I wasn't seeing any farming. Maybe the recent cooler temperatures were to blame? That was the only thing which made any sense to me because I knew the crop was pretty hearty and capable of being grown and harvested even during the worst of monsoon conditions.

Curiously, there were a few fires with people sitting around them located sparsely across the expanse where the methi farming usually was, from the southern part of Versova Beach stretching south to northern Juhu Beach. After approaching a second group of men (above), I knew they were farmers. But they weren't working any plots. I could see some of the faded green methi in patches beneath my feet here and there. I wondered, could there have been some sort of pest wreaking havoc on the crop?

Near the end of the beach (pictured below), not far from where a creek flows into the Arabian Sea, I spotted the only methi plot on the Juhu side. The sun was coming up and I could see women and children too working the methi plot, a typical scene when business is as usual.

I approached them after taking a few shots and asked if I could take some pictures of them. The leader of the group gave me the okay. I asked in English, while motioning to the northern expanse of beach, where the methi was? I wasn't all that surprised when the man answered me in flawless English, informing me that for the past two weeks there have been efforts to drive the methi farmers off the beach. What was different about this threat compared to past incidents I had read in news stories, was that the offending party (a government committee of some kind) hired out a bulldozer to raze all the crops on a daily basis, beginning around 11am .

How did he avoid the same fate? He said he managed to cover the crop with branches before the bulldozer came each day. No small feat considering that it takes up to six days to grow and harvest the methi. I surmised that the barrel must have been moved elsewhere along with any supplies to help conceal the location.

The man, pictured in the upper right corner in the above image, worked in IT and was helping his family out. I'm unclear whether he was employed elsewhere full time or not. This marked the second or third encounter I've had with young methi farmers who were attending or had attended university.

I was happy to learn too, the answer I've had to a nagging question: how long have farmers been growing methi on this beach? The answer is 50-60 years, according to the un-named gentleman farmer (I introduced myself to him but he perhaps intentionally left his name out of the conversation).

What endears me to these farmers is that I'm usually warmly received or tolerated when I'm photographing them. In many parts of the world in similar situations I would expect disdain, distrust, and maybe hostility. These people have never displayed any of this behavior, despite the fact they don't know me and I'm photographing them farming illegally.

From what I can clearly observe, they are not disturbing anyone. There are no resorts or hotels, restaurants or cafe patrons being annoyed by the sight of farmers carving out a living in sand. Their farm plots are on the far perimeter of the local beat, and otherwise bordered by barren spaces, mangroves, a large creek, and the Arabian Sea. If people truly have been farming here for 50-60 years, I hope the practice will be tolerated and allowed to continue. At the end of the day, it's just people growing food.

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