My name is Sangita Ariane Wilk-Sanatani and, as you can see from my name, I embody an indo-european spirit. There is a story to the origin of my family name, but I prefer to interpret it as my mission to serve the all pervading “Sanatan Dharma”.
My mother is German, father Bengali and I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. Aged around 50, I look back on a history of a rising Indian expatriate community, my father being amongst the first Bengalis to settle there. Today you will find the UN quarters and a colourful diversity of nations in Vienna. My love for music has also been well nourished in this city that was a home for great spirits like Bethoven and his admirer Smt. Mira Behn, companion of Gandhiji.
It is a great pleasure and honour to be asked to write some lines for a magazine like “Business Economics” which I consider a positive example of how spirit matters along with economic and social action.
The stories I have to tell are stories of every day life in Bengal.This is the stage for our play called “Humanity in development”. The actors in this play are mothers, children, fathers and students… they are millionaires or beggars, businessmen and housewives, newly born and nearly 100 years old. They are bus drivers in Kolkata and baul musicians in Santiniketan, organic farmers in the Sundarbans and Europeans who love Kolkata.
I started my extensive journeys (5- 7 months in Bengal) in 2016 as a journey down to my roots. I followed my heart’s desire to learn the language, hear the music and find the places and people my father loved and was unable to share while living in the West. Apart from meeting old and new family members, I increasingly devoted time to what I called my “heart family” or “Bengali brothers and sisters”. By meeting them, I meet unknown parts of myself and every interaction with others has been a learning process for my own development. I come to understand that life is waiting with a new challenge for me now that I have completed the chapter of mothering and housekeeping. I am married and our two children are grown up and independent.
My interest in organic farming started as a simple call and need from within my body. I found shops and places to buy organic food in Kolkata and felt the richness it contained, the love and happiness connected to it. Meeting people and organi-sations working with organic farmers and practising organic farming methods brought passion into my journey, a passion for joyful and meaningful cooperation. My recent journey began with a six week course on agroecology (a cooperation between the University of Calcutta and the Norwegian University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences). This led me on to the fields and into the hearts of organic farmers living in a remote village named Purba Chintamonipur in the Sundarbans. As 2019 began, my decision was as clear as it was surprising: I was ready to shift my luggage and my full attention to this village and thereby take a sincere step towards simplicity.
Food for growth
What makes us grow towards our true potential as human beings? What nourishes us in our full dimension? Can we define growth as both physical and spiritual maturing and can we accept that food also has a subtle spiritual quality? Reduction and separation from the context of our living essence (unity, nature, wholeness, spirituality… whatever you may call it) has produced suffering, deterioration and finally crises like economic and agricultural crisis.
I would like to illustrate my point with a few examples from my personal observations and you might be surprised to see how seemingly different areas of our life have a common problem.
Pressure cookers, tuition classes and broiler chicken – three faces of the same disease
Early mornings are peaceful in Bengal… I like to wake up in a meditative mood and enjoy the singing of birds as the day rises with the sun. I have stayed as a guest in many homes and nearly everywhere people in Bengal get up with tea and biscuits which gives our bodies a kick, a burst of energy rather than a smooth and gradual rise. This tendency continues as housewives or helpers enter the kitchen and begin cooking for the day’s meals. Pressure cookers steam and whistle. A hectic business rather than peacefully concentrated work creates noise and unpleasant vibrations.
7 o’clock morning in the tuition centre of Purba Chintamonipur. Students have arrived and sit down on their mats. They may reply to “Good morning!” but “How are you?” or “What is your name?” already seems difficult. As these students get out their English books, I am most surprised to find they are reading stories with complex grammar and sophisticated vocabulary. I listen to them reading or I read and they repeat. After a short while, it becomes clear to me: They have no idea of what they are actually reading! When I go through the story with them, word by word, we exchange our knowledge translating English to Bengali, we get interested in the story, in the characters and situations described and we can laugh or discuss the meaning. This way, students suddenly become eager and lively.
When I cook my own meals, I soak the lentils to reduce cooking time, I cook less with more attention and peace. I do not need a pressure cooker, because my lentils may take the time they need to become soft (usually no longer than 15-20 minutes).
Travelling out of Kolkata towards the Sundarbans, I find my mind busy along the way with various ideas, worries and concerns. I may be judging the present, planning the future or reflecting the past. And then I arrive at the great river. My eyes see water, as far as they look. Suddenly, my breath has become deep and my lungs are filled with fresh air. My ears listen to peace. Everything slows down and I become witness of my own transformation. My body softens as the heart opens and brings a smile on to my face. My mind is suddenly empty and all my worries appear vane and distant. I feel grounded and lovingly connected to people and nature around me.
When I arrive in the village, I walk on hand laid brick roads and after a few metres I feel the need to take off my shoes. Walking bare foot allows me to feel how deeply connected I am to Earth. Wherever I look, my eyes meet beauty in shape and colour. Birds are singing along my way and their tunes are fascinating as also the colours of their feathers. The world appears to be in perfect harmony on this island.
And then, suddenly, a pungent smell hits my nose. I am passing the cage of boiler chicken being raised. Its fodder stinks…
Sometimes I like to walk at night so as to enjoy the starlit sky above me. Here in the village, I can actually tell the different phases of the moon, because my path is lit accordingly. Natural cycles, natural light and living with the natural rhythms of a day (or night) is beneficial to health… traditional medicines know of it.
But boiler chicken doesn’t get to rest at night. The stress caused by white light bulbs forces them to continuously eat. “I can sell them after a few weeks” the farmer proudly and ignorantly explains. “I used to earn Rs. 15,000 a month working in a biscuit factory in Kolkata. Now I can make Rs. 20,000 a month plus I am at home.” I look at his chicken with shattered feathers showing soar red skin beneath and I recall images of boiler chicken being sold on city markets – their misery only gets worse and they never had a stage in their life where they were considered animals. They are market products from the beginning, a source of income and food to be processed in kitchens… possibly cooked under pressure by women working under pressure. And so the cycle of performance under pressure continues, the cycle of suffering increases in amplitude. We act in ignorance, we eat in ignorance and we teach ignorantly.