The Padma awards announced every year on the eve of the Republic Day have acquired a new dimension ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.
One of the features of the awards has been to bring to limelight many a grassroots warrior who has been silently rendering yeoman services for the country.
This year, too, the awards came with such features with one of the stand-outs being Pappammal alias Rangammal from Thekkampatti village in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district.
In picking her for the Padma Shree Award, the Modi government has sent the message of how it has taken notice of such activities from media reports on developments.
Pappammal, probably the oldest living person in Tamil Nadu to get the award, has been conferred the award for the organic farming she does on the 2.5 acres she owns to cultivate millets, pulses, vegetables and corn on the banks of River Bhavani.
The 106-year-old organic farmer has expressed happiness on being conferred the award and called for honouring such farmers to encourage agriculture in the country.
Ironically, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M K Stalin has termed the conferring of the award as a “victory for DMK” as Pappammal, an ardent follower of the late M Karunanidhi, is a party member.
As soon as the award was announced, she left for Chennai to meet Stalin.
The Modi government's message, though, is that it recognises the deserving despite being at odds with their politics.
Interestingly, such grassroots work had never been recognised and honoured before by earlier governments, including the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in which DMK was an active member during 2004-2014.
This is despite Pappammal, who has visited capital Delhi a couple of times before, having been invited to have tea with the late R Venkataraman when he was the president.
Leaving politics aside, the centenarian has all these years been doing what she is good at — farming.
Born in 1914, Pappammal lost her husband a few decades ago. The couple did not have a child of their own and hence she brought up her sister’s three daughters.
Currently, she lives with five members of her family.
Pappammal has not studied beyond Class II but has attended the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) classes for farmers.
She was seen as a keen student, always having a question to be asked. The TNAU, too, took pride in her being its student and till today, all vice-chancellors term her as as “pioneer farmer”.
She told an interviewer that there were no formal schools when she grew up and hence whatever she learnt was through games such as pallanguzhi (the bean hole game).
Born at Devalapuram village, she was brought up at Thekkampatti by her paternal grandmother, who bequeathed a provision store for her after her death some five decades ago.
Being industrious and entrepreneurial, Pappammal launched an eatery. The earnings from both these helped her buy 10 acres of land in the village.
She bought the agricultural lands as she was interested in agriculture since she was young and spent a lot of time learning about various agricultural practices.
The purchase of the lands was possible since she believed in savings, which ultimately helped her.
Three-fourths of the land she bought were given away to the girls she brought up, leaving her with the rest 2.5 acres. One of the reasons was that she was unable to manage such a huge landholding.
She continues to run the provision store and eatery.
A crusader of organic farming, Pappammal goes to work on her farm every morning without fail. She says young people need time and patience to invest in organic farming.
One of her family members says that a great lesson to learn from the centenarian is that “do not waste time by sleeping”.
Pappammal, who is careful with her food, picking up local and fresh produce, is comfortable having porridge made from millets or mutton biryani.
The 106-year-old farmer goes for regular health check-up and her parameters, including blood pressure and sugar, are normal.
Pappammal has been active on the political and social front too. She was her village’s councillor in 1959.
She has been invited by TNAU for special debates too.
Pappammal, who still enjoys having mutton soup, says the secret of her long life is hard work and being free from any mental stress.
Tamil Nadu IAS official Supriya Sahu tweeted her congratulations, calling the centenarian as a "brave-hearted" woman and one who has seen many historical incidents.
Thekkampatti village is elated over Padma Shri being conferred on Pappammal as it has brought laurels to all of them. The village had earlier celebrated Pappammal’s centenary with 3,000 people attending it.
The village will now have another occasion to celebrate — that of Pappammal winning the Padma Shri.
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