Nepali Times
Chiri Bhai, superstar


There are very few people with the sparkling, alive eyes of Chiri Bhai, the 82-year-old six feet tall farmer extraordinaire. There are legends about his magic touch at the Leprosy Center Shanti Sewa Griha, how he grows cauliflowers as big as basketballs, and carrots as long as your forearm.

Once a gardener at the royal palace, he became a consultant at Shanti's eco-village, teaching his way through what others call 'organic farming'. He himself has never heard of the term.

"We don't need another engineer or doctor who will take away that knowledge to work abroad," says the shelter's founder Marianne Grosspietsch, "we need good, sound farmers, craftsmen, aware of their heritage."

Chiri Bhai looks at US factory farming poultry, the way 99 per cent of chicken are raised in that country: dark, immense halls with stacks to the ceiling, non-stop artificial light for the first weeks to induce overeating, bones unable to keep up with growth hormones, beaks cut off to stop the chicken tearing at each other in madness, no sunlight.

"This is wrong," he says, "if we sit in one place we get aches too. Back then our chicken used to jump high to peck at hanging pumpkins, range freely, eat insects."

The old way of farming meant replenishing the soil's nutrients. Chiri Bhai remembers keeping lots of animals and using their waste, as well as night soil, for the fields. They used to dig down through the clay layers to bring out the nutrient-rich 'kalimati' and apply the black earth to fertilise the crops. Chiri Bhai says there is an organic solution for everything, even against insect pests. Soot scraped from walls of the house are the best insecticide, he says.

As someone who can make anything grow and has lived his life planting food, Chiri Bhai is puzzled by today's Nepali youth. "They study, study, but they'll never find a job," he laughs wholeheartedly, "but if they farmed,they wouldn't need to wear fancy clothes they can't afford, and they'd be healthy and they'd earn money."

Chiri Bhai is ambivalent about foreigners coming to help Nepal. "They come, they help, but they stay a short time," he says, "they don't see the long-term, how could they? Like kings they live in their own world. Nepali people are just a bit too devoted to them."

I ask Chiri Bhai what he has learnt from nature. For the first time there is silence, then he says: "That in the cold season it is the turn of cauli, methi, tori and other oil plants, garlic, turnip..."

Chiri Bhai has heard of hybrid corn, and doesn't approve. "Corn only for eating, not for planting, is not corn," he says matter-of-factly, "we treat all things as our friends. We cannot just eat-eat-eat. Maybe this year you get good harvest but who knows, there may be a shortage, the company will be unable to supply seeds, then what do you do?"

Asked why food should not be grown in this way, Chiri Bhai's simplicity cuts through all the moralising: "It just doesn't taste good."

Here is an organic farmer who is now also looking after lepers because he loves them. He helps them hang up the washing, does tasks they can't do because of their gnarled fingers. With his feet firmly on the ground, earth under his fingernails, and the sun constantly in his eyes, Chiri Bhai's existence is an extension of nature itself.

Balzs Szsz

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1. Bbhatt
Truly a superstar. ...I hope he can leave his valuable legacy with someone. Kathmandu used to have lots of fertile lands farmed by people such as him who grew the tastiest vegetables. Now in the drive to be rich overnight the generations following him just do not see the need to toil the soil and would rather sell lands to plotters. I guess at the end we will have buildings everywhere built in 1-4 anna land and skyrocketing food price.

2. Anonymous
Let's not forget that it is through cultivation that culture evolved  in human society. I salute Chiri Bhai and many other local farmers like him for their honesty and passion in their occupation. These simple folks talk less, and are not even aware of the "imported cliches" or high sounding phrases such as 'organic farming'. Yet they are the true champions of the cause, they spend their precious time in producing what  is best for the local community and people. It is nature and mother earth that nurture their soul.Through the skillful art of practicing the age-old tradition of growing organic foods through use of 'golden manure' in the fertile valley of Kathmandu, these farmers have given beauty, aesthetics and life to the culture and tradition of the Valley. Can we, the so-called educated, often frustrated and alienated, learn from Chhiri Bhai?

3. Omar Dai

Superstar! not a slightest exaggeration.  A lively spirit, and a healthy body at 82, oh what an inspiring personality.  Chiri Bhai or should I say Dai, you are awesome!!

Omar Dai

4. President of Chiri Bhai Fan Club
Oh NT, sometime you just make me go weak in my knees...!

5. chandra baral
This is terrific. I always missed pahadko vegetable in abroad. It may be my flawed realization only but the cucumber I ate in New York never tasted like big cucumber of Tanahu, and it has be an eon since I got to taste banana as tasty as malbhog. I love New York, and love so many things about it, but it always makes me miss vegetable/fruit of our mountains. 

It is good that Chhiribhai enjoys his life.

6. Rashmi Manandhar

great....would love to meet him, the Superstar.....!

May I get his contact address ?

7. Deepak
he is just an extraordinary person ...real hero and an inspiring person to all the youths

8. Salil Pradhan
The real stars of the planet Earth are the farmers who toil hard to feed the rest of the mankind (and animals). All other professions come a distant second. I have always maintained, farming has always been the linchpin of survival. Superstar, Chiri Bhai !

9. Balazs
Dear Rashmi,Â
you may find him through his son, Babu Raja at Shanti Sewa Griha in Tilganga. They have an eco-village in Buddhanilkantha and an eco-farm in Sundarijal, and Babu Raja is now mainly taking care of these. Balazs

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)