Pearl farmer Sanjay Gandate (33) was waiting for my arrival at his house in Pardi Kupi in the Naxal-affected Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra. I had missed my early morning bus to Pardi Kupi and took an autorickshaw instead to reach the village. Sanjay greeted me and took me to Wainganga river. The river was in its natural state, providing a healthy life to every creature living in and around it like snakes, fishes and clams.
The fascination for oysters motivated Sanjay to start his own business of growing pearls. He produces pearls by following natural techniques and processes. He cultivates oysters under controlled conditions in the freshwater tank made by him adjacent to his house.
Most pearls are formed naturally, more or less by chance. But pearls can also be cultured. This is done through the surgical implementation of mantle grafts and appropriate nuclei in the internal organs of the recipient oyster, clam or mussel. It takes at least 18 months of implantation for the pearl to be formed in its body.
Sanjay hails from a very poor family and did not have any means for a better life. His parents used to work on others’ farms as labourers. He was an average student but he was curious about pearl farming.
Pearl farming changed his life. But it was not always a smooth ride. He faced financial loss three times in life but overcame all, thanks to his self-confidence."Most pearls we see today in the market are not pure. They are made of plastic and chemicals. Most fake pearls we see today in India come from China and Japan. They are not durable and are of inferior quality. That is the reason why we get pearls at Rs 20 to Rs 30. Sewage and other pollutants in the river have also affected the quality of the clams," says Sanjay.
The jewels of Pardi Kupi tells the success story of Sanjay--with the help of traditional knowledge and consistent efforts, he has become an inspiration to many other farmers. His story raises various concerns about the condition of our rivers that are home to many creatures like fish, clams, snakes, etc that play a key role in the ecosystem to sustain it.