A Day Spent At Timbaktu Collective Is A Lesson In Seasonal Eating, Food Security & Farm Life

Timbaktu Collective


From 35 acres of absolute wasteland to 9000 acres of regenerated farmland, a trip to Timbuktu {the one just outside Bangalore} is like a dream come true in a world of pollution and global warming.

Saving Earth

When Molly’s parents Bablu and Mary decided to make this place their home in the early 1990s, Timbaktu { a patch of dry, barren land in Anantapur district, about 165 kilometres from Bangalore}, the idea, was to initiate an experiment in healing and regenerating it while creating an agro forest habitat. And the surrounding regions were little more than wasteland. But over 25 years of protection and regeneration, 9,000 acres of wasteland have been converted to healthy forest. Timbaktu’s work in sustainable agriculture, re-cultivating the landscapes with natural biodiversity, partnering with village communities to bring nature back to the deserted hills, has been documented extensively. To see the fruits of their labour, one need only look around. The hills are alive with 240 species of birds – a magnificent leap from the meagre 40 species documented when they arrived; over 320 species of plants now cover the hills, when only two decades ago there were 120; and perhaps most telling is the significant rise in the ground water table levels, in some places by as much as 60 ft in two years.

One With Nature

Between chatting with us, Molly, with Shashi Akka and RK from the Timbaktu Community Kitchen, get a fire going for lunch. In Molly and Sid’s three-room house {not counting an open kitchen and three sky-roofed toilets}, something is always cooking. A low-slung red hammock swings languidly in the twig-fenced yard. Under the shade of a tree, a large stone dining table stretches to accommodate a dozen; Molly and Sid are never short on house guests. Outside their bedroom is a large mud pot, traditional storage for grain. “The big ones, dhonthulu, go up to eight feet, and were typically built into the wall of the house. There is a hole at the bottom, and when you pull on this piece of string at the top, it elevates the stopper and releases the grain,” Molly demonstrates. “On top, the grain is covered with Neem leaves, ash and cow urine, packed tight, to keep safe from pests. Food security was built right into the planning of the home. But you don’t see these anymore.”

Food For Thought

Bheerekai gojju is a signature Andhra chutney made from ridge gourd. Molly heaps the ingredients onto a flat slab of stone, a traditional stone grinder her mother brought back from Kerala. We peer over her shoulder as she adds in a few extra green chillies. “I’m pseudo Mallu, pseudo Bong, true Andhra,” she grins, confirming an Andhra weakness for spice, cultivated over years in Anantpur, despite her Malayali-Bengali parentage. Much of Timbaktu’s work revolves around permaculture, a shared philosophy with the international Slow Food movement. Naturally then, when Slow Food set up their India chapter, The Timbaktu Collective played an instrumental role as one of the founding members. “Slow food is the default setting in India,” she says. “In that sense we are at an advantage – like the rest of the Global South. Western techniques in food and agriculture have not yet fully penetrated, and India is so large, its cuisine so diverse, that it will be a while before it is all overhauled.”

As if on cue, RK beckons us over to sit by him as he kneads the ragi dough. He flattens each ball in the palm of his hand, then moves adeptly into a rapid slap-and-swivel motion, thinning the disc to a roti. On the fire, he lets it blister before lifting into a terracotta plate, where it keeps warm.

The Simple Life

On the other side, under a bougainvillea creeper whose white blossoms carpet the floor, Sid mixes a bowl of rice for the two dogs, Boo and Munni. Boo, short for Soubhaghyavathi, is the baby of the family; a tall black and white puppy larger than most fully-grown dogs, she gets special attention as Sid hand-feeds her. We ask for a family picture, and the four of them come together – Boo is cradled on Sid’s lap, and Munni assumes a more dignified spot at Molly’s side. The shutter clicks, each of them smiling in different directions.  Then, under the white blossoms, we settle in for a homemade meal under the Rayalseema sun. Timbaktu Collective encourages visitors but not on a daily basis. The collective sets aside certain dates in the year when it invites visitors. The next dates are April 13, 14, 15. Write to info@timbaktu.org to book yourself a visit. This post first appeared on the Goya Journal. Read the full post here. Writer Anisha Rachel Oommen; Photographer Aysha Tanya.

Timbaktu Collective