Free Press Journal

Moong over Microchips: Adventures of a Techie-Turned-Farmer by Venkat Iyer- Review


Title: Moong Over Microchips

Author: Venkat Iyer

Publication: Penguin/Viking

Page: 237

Price: 499

Venkat Iyer has an incredible to story to tell us. Even as a one-liner, Venkat’s story of leaving an established career at IBM and settling for life of a farmer is stunning itself. However, you need a lot more than an impressive story to make a book work. You need a lot of content (which Venkat definitely has). You also need to have the ability to keep your reader engaged. You need style.

Let’s start with what is expected from Venkat: content. Venkat was leading a financially comfortable life in Mumbai. His lucrative job at IBM was enough to make most of the people in the city highly jealous of him. Yes, he had a lot of work-stress. But, that’s something we expect when we decide to lead a financially secure life.

Venkat found it disgusting that he would have to follow this strenuous routine for the rest of his life to settle for so-called stability. He is one of those people who prefer a peaceful life to an affluent one. Moreover, he belongs to a rare species that has the guts to abandon a life of comfort and luxury to pursue a passion that is “ordinary.” The financial benefits of what he plans to do are nothing noteworthy either.

Remember this is not a Bollywood version of chasing your dreams. This is the story of an extremely organized individual who considers every challenge in life as a project. He researches, plans and executes. Venkat gives rigorous details of the hardship of the transit: corrupt officials, spoilt crops and social stereotypes.

You need to be immensely courageous or incredibly stupid to quit a six-figure salary to be a farmer. The idea is crazy to start with. But, Venkat is not an impulsive person. He categorically made a list of pros and cons of the decision. He analyzed his financial backup. He studied the market potential before taking the final decision. He used all his experience at IBM to make the project work. Once he took the decision, there was no looking back.

Everyone had their share of doubt. Some thought he was foolish. For some, he was taking a sabbatical only to be back in a short while. Venkat never went back because he found the place he belonged to. He realized how empty a city life could be. He knows nothing can beat the happiness of seeing his crops dance with the wind. In the enormity of the dark silence of an evening in his village, he came to know that he had made the right decision.

Venkat’s story is charming and inspiring at the same time. But, he needed more than an astounding story to make his book work. He needed style. And, believe me, he’s got plenty of that. His transition from one chapter to another is creaseless. His narrative form is so smooth that even a seemingly mundane process of agriculture becomes engrossing. He tops it up with his occasional sarcasm and banter. On other occasions, it’s just smart witty humour.

Venkat Iyer’s Moong Over Microchips is an extraordinary book. That’s not only because it’s sheer good writing, but also because it is a sociopolitical statement on the present system. It’s a pure coincidence that this book comes to me weeks after thousands of farmers in Maharashtra walked 180 km to demand fair pay and debt relief. Venkat must have felt proud to be one of them, no matter if he walked with them or not.

Venkat’s bullheadedness on staying organic, his fight with a worn-out system and his willingness to reintroduce true India to his readers make him a hero. I’m half-expecting Akshay Kumar soon playing Venkat Iyer in a Bollywood biopic.

Would Venkat care if that happens? I guess not. He is too grounded to recognize the futility of it. He would be rather happier if more farmers are allowed to take advantage of existing government policies. He would be ecstatic if natural farming is promoted over pesticides. He’s sorted. He is a man who knows what he is doing.

Moong Over Microchips doesn’t end with the establishment of Venkat Iyer as a heroic figure. It rather ends with a “scary thought” that people like him are too few to prevent Indian agriculture from getting outdone by contract farming.

And, that’s where the book excels.