I remember my grandmother teaching me the meaning of this word. HAATKHANDAA. This word in my native language Marathi means “Extreme expertise”. An authority. Brute-force talent. My grandmother taught me that if I had the expertise, people will talk my language. People will come to me. And I won’t have to go chase the world.

I had an opportunity to go to a conference held by American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. As a part of my Ph.D., I presented my research. Conferences are a good way to display your research to the other researchers in the community. As it was an agriculture conference, there were farmers from all over the world showing the advancements in farming technology.

I attended a session where some researchers discussed innovations in plant growth and irrigation. One group from eastern California particularly stood out. They were a team of four farmers who had brought down the total water consumption to irrigate wheat by sixty percent. They had used a completely different method of drip irrigation. One side of the root of every plant was surrounded by soil. The other half was submerged in water. They had created a plastic enclosure that ensured direct, uninterrupted water supply to the roots. The water jacket ensured that there was no water loss due to evaporation, or seepage in the ground or through any other means. The water went straight to where it was meant to be, to irrigate the plant. Brilliant, everyone thought. I was intrigued by the thought process and the ingenuity of the solution. These were the people with a clear vision of what needed to be accomplished. One aim. One focus. No Clutter.

Oh, and I missed a very vital information about the team. They were all hearing impaired. The group was involved in twenty years of agricultural research with no sound reaching their ear. The focus and objective of their way of life were crystal clear. As if they had cut noise and bullshit out of their life. They were all semi-literate farmers. (one of them later told me).  They had brought one of their friends to present their stuff. That person was the mouthpiece of the group and made a good attempt to explain everything in their drip irrigation project. He helped them with the presentation and the content of the slides.

Then came the question and answer session. The presenter tried to answer some common questions. There was one question, though, that he could not answer.

That was when he declared, “Sir! I do not know the answer to this question. Please give me two minutes. I will ask the team.” He took a couple of steps towards the research team. He had to touch their shoulders in order to get noticed. He then asked the question in their sign language. He spent two minutes making the hand gestures while the audience waited. At least fifty of us were mere spectators while the assistant explained the question to the research group and made sure that he could get it across. One of the researcher’s smiled and immediately got up. He answered the question to-the-point without embellishments.

This is when my grandmother’s words rang in my ears. I will not touch the fact that they did all this great work in spite of being hearing impaired and they did not let that bother them and so on. Although, it is true and commendable on its own. But the point is, their solution was so spot-on, it addressed the common water shortage problem so precisely and the whole method was so flawless that all the professors, PhDs and experts in the field actually spoke the language of four deaf farmers with no presentation and public-speaking skills. We needed to learn those hand motions to know what the invention was. Everyone in the audience waited for the question to be asked and the answer to be given because there was no other way of knowing. The content was superbly strong. We spoke their language. We went to them. They did not come chasing us.  HAATKHANDAA!