08 Apr 2024  |   05:55am IST

More than just mail: Postman Rajan Kerkar delivers gigantic watermelons, wins hearts in Sangolda

More than just mail: Postman Rajan Kerkar delivers gigantic watermelons, wins hearts in Sangolda

ANISHA FRANCIS

SANGOLDA: Sangolda’s postman, 59-year-old Rajan Kerkar, is well-liked in his native village, for his punctuality, honesty and jovial nature. However, his year-round popularity spikes a few more points during the summer, as Rajan and his wife Jayanti Kerkar, are renowned for cultivating some of the largest watermelons in the State. “The whoppers usually come in weighing between 12 to 16 kilos, and we just harvested one weighing 18 kilos, the largest so far – and we managed it without using any chemicals,” says Rajan proudly. The Kerkars are known for their dedication to natural farming, cultivating a purely organic watermelon crop across an area of around 10,000 square metres. The couple rears several cows and bulls, and diligently collect their urine and dung to produce an all-natural fertiliser high in urea, which also works as an insecticide.

Hard-working and outdoorsy, Rajan and Jayanti go the extra mile to nourish their crops, everyday fetching large quantities of fish waste from the Calangute market, to process into fertiliser. “We also grow other vegetables like ladies fingers, chillies and brinjal, which thrive, thanks to the rich diet they receive,” he laughs.

Rajan’s passion for farming began at just five years old, when he used to follow his grandpa Sridhar to the fields, simply to spend time with their oxen. Rajan’s grandfather was a carpenter, and his father, a mason. “Their work was often seasonal, and the rest of the time, we lived off the land, eating the rice and vegetables we cultivated,” says Rajan, gleefully recounting the memories of his childhood. “As the eldest of my siblings, I had a lot of responsibilities –  I would rush to the fields at 5 am to put in a couple of hours of work before school. My mother Sunita would take over, growing pulses, groundnuts and paddy, processing the rice and later, selling it in the market. My siblings joined in once they were old enough, and we had many happy times cultivating acres and acres of land together as a family,” he says.

Despite agricultural advancements like mechanised farming, even today, Rajan prefers to plough his fields traditionally with his bullocks, as he believes it preserves soil health. The couple begin their day at 4 am, and with one farmhand to help them, carry out the weeding and watering of the fields manually. “It is a cumbersome process, but I believe it is essential to maintain a personal touch with plants, talk to them, and keep them happy, to help them reach their full potential,” says Rajan earnestly.

This year, the couple reaped a bumper harvest of watermelon, thanks to the advice of Goa’s ‘Plant Man’ Miguel Braganza and Zonal Agriculture Officer Sampathi Dhargalkar. “Braganza bab has vast stores of knowledge, both scientific and traditional, that he readily shares with farmers, and our lady ZAO Sampathi Dhargalkar is always approachable and supportive, eager to help in any way she can,” says Rajan, wishing that all farmers in Goa had access to support like him.

While watermelon cultivation proves lucrative, Rajan emphasises the challenges faced by Goan farmers, including the wanton destruction of agricultural land due to expanding highways and flyovers, which disrupt natural water channels and lead to water logging.

“It is very disheartening to see people in Sangolda abandoning their fields. But how can we blame them for selling or building on their fertile lands when circumstances make it difficult to eke out a living through agriculture?” he asks. “Apart from the destruction of fertile land, we are overrun by pests and birds. After planting seeds, farmers in Sangolda have to guard their fields round the clock, to ensure they are not attacked by swarms of pigeons and peacocks. This isn’t possible, with good labour being expensive and hard to come by,” he adds.

Rajan’s advice to the youth is to embrace agriculture, particularly organic farming, which yields healthy crops. However, he laments the reluctance of today’s youth to engage in physical labour in the fields under the sun. He advocates for government support and initiatives to encourage farming, especially community and collective farming, to combat the abandonment of fields by farmers.


Melons large and small- healthy fruit for every budget

Watermelon farming is a lucrative venture – it is a three-month crop, and when grown over an area of around two acres, a good harvest can usually make enough to sustain a family for even a year, says Rajan. The Kerkar couple grows three varieties of watermelons- Augusta, Sugar-baby and Black jumbo.

When asked why he grows so many varieties, Rajan explains that he wants his produce to be accessible to everyone, and the massive melons may be out of reach of the poor. “The large variety of watermelon fetches me Rs 500 to 600 per fruit - not everyone can afford them. So, I also cultivate the smaller kind, which can be picked up for Rs 25 -30, and tastes just as sweet,” he quips.

IDhar UDHAR

Idhar Udhar