Book Review: A Contemporary Feminist, Marxist And Environmentalist

——————————————————————————————————————————-

FROM KERALA TO KESLA

By Loriette Benjamin “Lorry”

Qurate Books Pvt. Ltd, Panaji Goa. 2023, Pp 74, Rs. 300/-

Contact: Lorry: 82807 95523

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Lorry (Loriette Benjamin) was born in Kozhikode (Calicut for old timers), Kerala in 1954. Her father was an Army officer and the family moved to Pune in 1958. This very short autobiography (only 74 pages) covers some 70 years of her journey from a violent father through Marxist students’ circles, trade unions, feminism and ends in an organic farm in a tribal area near the exact centre of India!

This reviewer has had the privilege of knowing Lorry in mid 70s when she was active in the Marxist youth groups in Pune, and later has met her several times in FRC (Friends Rural Centre), Rasulia, Hoshangabad and oftener at Kesla in Madhya Pradesh. So I can say that I have had a ring side view of various phases of her life.

Pune

From Kerala to KesalaLorry had her first introduction to feminism at the age of four when her father flung the china off the dining table because he did not like the food. Her mother, weak and ill after a difficult fourth pregnancy, collected the broken china with tears rolling down her eyes. Four girls and a boy – her mother could not cope and she gave up cooking as a protest. Eventually they separated and the mother brought her children by teaching and tuitions. But that also changed her into a difficult person.

Eventually Lorry went to the Pune University and got mixed with Marxist youth groups and study circles. Engels’ ‘Origin of family…’ influenced her and opened her eyes not only to feminism but a wider world outlook of Marxists. She read a lot and mixed with the revolutionaries. She talks about her sex life in a straight and simple way throughout the book. So she married, had a girl child and separated – he to the bottle and she to social work!

Naina, another woman with a daughter, separated from one of these ‘revolutionaries’ joined her. At first they worked with the working class around Kamshet outside Pune. Later they heard about Friends’ Rural Centre, Rasulia, Hoshngabad and felt that would be an ideal place for them to go.

FRC, Rasulia (1984-1989)

Friends Rural Centre is a 45 acre Quaker farm set up in 1888. Quakers are a sect of Christians, who are anti authoritarians and do not believe in the Church. They have been compared to our Jains, but they are far more into the environment and nature. FRC Rasulia practiced organic farming, appropriate technology and collaborated with Fukuoka of Natural Farming fame. Lorry was involved in reprinting Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ in India and distributing it. During her stay she met and worked with Marjorie Sykes – a British Quaker who had worked with Tagore and Gandhi on education. So Lorry got a good education in the contemporary world of alternatives: organic farming, appropriate technology and education. Pratap Agrwal, the Director of FRC retired and the new Director was not popular with the people working there. So Lorry and many others decided to leave. One sad thing happened during her stay at FRC. Her close friend Naina committed suicide. That left a deep sorrow in her.

Kesla

Kesla is 20 Km. from Itarasi station. It is a block headquarters, but since it is in a tribal area, it is more of a big village. There were already some social workers, from Socialist background and a few maverick persons – good at heart and pro people but with quaint ideas.

In her travels in Madhya Pradesh, visiting various social organizations Lorry came to Kesla also and she enquired land prices. Because by then she and a couple of her friends had decided to buy land and do organic farming. To her surprise she was able to purchase 8 acres of land inside the forest village Banslapura for Rs. 10, 000/-

After initial attempts of growing grains that were frustrated by wild boars, they decided to stick to trees only. They lived in mud houses, without doors and electricity.

As the work increased and they needed some regular cash we (I was one of the Trustees) decided to create a Trust: Sir Albert Howard memorial Trust (SAHMET). SAHMET did several projects; the most important ones were, on Education and running a Girls’ Hostel (2000-2020). Like everywhere, the programme threatened the local elites and government officials and they tried to ‘wipe them out’; spread canards (they are converting to Christianity) etc. But Lorry stood by her principles to employ only SC/STs in the project, run libraries, have supplementary teachers in government schools, organize Bal Melas and run hostels for girls who could not commute to high school. ‘The bottom line is that over a period of 10 years we got 120 village schools functioning regularly. Primary schools were upgraded to middle schools and the number of girl children increased so much that the Government had to start hostels’. In all these efforts Lorry had the advantage of learning from M. V. Foundation Secunderabad (two of their ex employees came to Kesla to work) and the experience of Eklavya Bhopal.

Concluding Remarks

Altogether it is a remarkable story told in simple language in a straightforward manner. Her own background of Feminism, Marxism and Anarchism (the Quakers are considered anarchists), when applied in a concrete situation proved crucial. When our society will see structural changes, it is these hundreds of grass root works led by activists that have been going all over the country that will ensure the success. Who says theory doesn’t matter?

‘Ideas grasped by the masses become a material force’. (Mao tse Tung)

About the Author

T Vijayendra (1943 – ) was born in Mysore, grew up in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s.

Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left-wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left-wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last ten years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. In 2017 he spent a year celebrating the Bicentenary of the Bicycle. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving license nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel-based vehicle.

He divides his time between Hyderabad and organic farms at several places in India, watching birds and writing fiction. He has published a book dealing with resource depletion, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella, an autobiography and a children’s science fiction story on the history of the bicycle, apart from booklets on several topics. His booklet, Kabira Khada Bazar Mein: Call for Local Action in the Wake of Global Emergency (2019, https://archive.org/details/kabira-khada-bazaar-mein) has been translated into Kannada, Bengali and Marathi and is the basic text for the emerging Transition Networks in these language regions. His last book ‘Vijutopias’, which has 12 short stories, is an entertaining book full of hope and energy in these dismal times.

Email: [email protected]

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter

GET COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWSLETTER STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX

Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter


Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News