Soncoya, Ilama, Ugu, Olosapo, Kubal, Bignay, Araza and Yellow Jaboticaba—these are some rare, exotic fruits from across the world that most of us in India would have probably never seen or even heard of.
But if you happen to visit this orchard in the town of Kottarakara in Kerala, you’ll be astounded to find each of these foreign fruits being grown, just like the unassuming mangoes or bananas.
Not just these, you’d find over 560 varieties of foreign and exotic fruits at Green Grama, an agrarian endeavour, passionately pursued by Dr Hari Muraleedharan for the last eight years.
When we mention passion, it is no joke—the man has quite literally, gone to all lengths, to acquire every single fruit-bearing sapling from different parts of the world and successfully nurtured them to bear fruit at his orchard.
It all began when Hari left his job as a senior scientist at the Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre in Chennai and moved to his hometown to take care of his ailing mother.
During this time, his attention fell on his ancestral land, which had turned wild from years of neglect.
Having always been interested in farming, he decided to pursue it and got the land cleared. But here, he hit a roadblock as he wasn’t sure what to grow.
Interestingly, a fruit chart belonging to his child came to his notice. Curious, he decided to study it and realised that he didn’t know most of them.
And thus, the scientist in him began researching different fruits grown across the world and especially those that were grown in climatic zones akin to Kerala.
His intention—to grow these on his own land!
But when he spoke about this to people around for help and guidance, he was met with a lot of discouragement and ridicule.
There were a few farmers in Kerala who were already engaged in exotic fruit farming. Hari reached out to them for advice, but only found disappointment. He also found that a certain monopoly existed in the field.
All these factors would have normally deterred a person but not Hari.
On the contrary, these made him all the more determined to chase his newfound passion. But one thing Hari was adamant about was that he wouldn’t purchase any plants or saplings from local nurseries.
For the next five years, he worked really hard to source in fruit saplings and seeds through every possible channel from Brazil, Ecuador, Cameroon, Senegal, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
“Many of my close friends helped me in this pursuit. If they chanced upon any exotic fruit, they’d make sure to preserve the seeds and send these to me later. One of my friends ran a big fruit farm and compared to him, my initiative was probably nothing. But they believed in me and wished to lend support in every way possible. Their confidence in me kept me going,” Hari tells The Better India.
He adds, “I’ve spent many sleepless nights to hold Skype calls with people from different time zones to gain more knowledge and access seeds and plants. On a global level, people have been more welcoming in helping others share their passion. And I’ve been emulating this practice of sharing as well. My farm is open to people, where farmers, as well as students, can visit and seek saplings and seeds for sale.”
Taking his knowledge and field expertise further, Hari started a Facebook group named ‘Mannum Manasum’ in 2016, which today, has about 50,000 members, including the Chief Minister of Kerala and celebrity chef Lakshmi Nair.
“I share information about all the exotic fruits that I’ve been growing in my farm. People can also connect with others for not just information or guidance but also the exchange of seeds and saplings,” explains Hari.
Interestingly, five years along the way, Hari gained media attention, and before he knew it, his story was being covered by media portals from across the state.
Celebrities began to reach out to him and congratulated him on his efforts. However, it was a personal call from legendary singer Yesudas that made him feel like a star.
“For common people like us, a call from Yesudas Sir is like receiving an Oscar award. His words are etched in my memory forever. He had said that if a man can grow and nurture ten trees, his life is filled with piety,” shares Hari.
In this journey as a farmer, Hari has stuck to maintaining the natural equilibrium. Upon bringing more plants and trees in his orchard, he noticed that a lot of birds were also arriving. He decided to install water holes for these feathered beings so that they could quench their thirst during hot days.
One of his greatest achievements is his experimental research in making endemic varieties of cherries in Kerala sweeter. These are found in most houses in the state, and although they look appealing visually, they aren’t naturally sweet.
In the process, Hari the microbiologist identified similar cherry varieties from 12 countries and successfully developed a sweeter variety.
Switching his vocation to agriculture, Hari finds pride and satisfaction in his remarkable journey. In fact, he calls it a “life-changing experience”.
“Life would have gone on otherwise, but now, I feel I have a purpose. All the people who never really believed in me now call me an inspiration. Farming fruits, especially exotic ones, is something that I believe offers an opportunity for people to get a taste of the world without really travelling. We all wish to see the world, but our financial liabilities don’t let us do so. Through these fruits, the world is at an arm’s reach, and I urge everyone to try everything,” adds Hari.
Using only organic substitutes, including the self-prepared jeevamrutham, Hari has ventured even further by preparing a naturally growth-boosting concoction over a year ago. To continue his venture and his pursuits, he also sells exotic seeds and saplings at a small scale at his orchard.
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“I’d identified many components and kept blending the components to get the optimum result. After many hits and trials, I managed to hit the working combination, comprising 26 components. These saplings have showcased remarkable growing speed with this mixture,” shares a happy Hari.
Supporting him in his passion is his wife, Dr Vibha, and their three kids, who are equally passionate about Green Grama.
You can reach out to Dr Hari Muraleedharan at 7200707222 or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)