Sunday, September 1, 2013

Who is Nikolai Vavilov ?

This weekend, I went to a salon.  I dread the time that I have to wait at a salon for the simple reason that I don't have anything to do and a salon with people cutting their hair and doing makeup and pedicures and manicures amuse me only for so much time.  Besides, the magazines available in a salon are those on fashion which do not interest me much.  So, the last time I accompanied Arun, I took along with me a novel.  This time however, I forgot to do that and when they asked me to wait for twenty minutes, I dreaded it.  

Sitting there, I turned to look for the magazine rack expecting to find the same pedagogy of magazines. However, one was different.  It was titled 'Geo'.  The issue looked at various customs connecting to religion. One article stood out.  It was about Nikolai Vavilov - a biologist, geneticist, geographer and above all, a man who thought of the future.  

Long ago, in the newspaper, I had read an article about a seed bank being created somewhere in the world. The objective is to keep the seeds being collected from all over the world for future use.  Made me wonder then about the brilliant brain who came up with such an ingenuous idea given the fast rate at which flora and fauna are disappearing from the world.  I left the matter at that and didn't pursue it.  

This weekend, I found the answer in Nikolai Vavilov's life.  He was a great traveller, but a traveller with a purpose.  He traveled to collect seeds from all over the world to create a seed bank in Leningrad, Russia for he believed in bio-diversity.  Given the Russia of the Czar's where famine and drought occurred once in eight years, his idea was to use bio-diversity to overcome this problem.  His work spanned from the period of the Czar's through Lenin's death to Stalin's arrival.  And from there it went down.  

Stalin imprisoned him believing him to be against Russia for he had no immediate solution to the food problem.  Besides, he had a dishonest opponent.  He died in prison impoverished - imagine, a man who thought up a solution to world's hunger problem died hungry and impoverished.  

The most admirable part was how his staff who continued to run his seed bank protected it.  The article speaks about one staff who was found dead on his desk with a handful of groundnuts which he was preparing to mark and sow.  They used to sow the seeds and keep replenishing the seed bank.  None of the staff used the seeds in the seed bank and ensured that it was well protected from the population outside who were starving because of the seige of Leningrad by Hitler.  The staff could have taken the tons of seeds and nuts available and lived off it for months - but no one did.  The self was minuscule to the larger purpose for them.  How and from where did they have so much integrity and selflessness ?

Today, seed banks are being set all over the world to preserve seeds for future use.  One is in Norway - the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. But the man who thought of this originally was Nikolai Vavilov in the 19th century - a man with a great vision.

Usually, the process of threading is a painful one for me.  My eyebrows - I curse myself for doing it the first time, grow unwieldy.  They told me that over a period of time, it will fall into place but no chance.  I have to stop my tears every time I go through it because of the pain.  However, this time, my mind was all on Nikolai Vavilov as they called me halfway through my reading.   All I could think off was the life of Nikolai Vavilov.  I got back to the reception and completed reading the article.  Time well spent in a salon. :)

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