I first saw him as he was striding across the concourse at Schiphol airport in January 2006. I was alert and looking around because he was late and I was wondering if I’d made a mistake to put myself into the hands of a person I’d never actually met. I had no physical image of him and no mutual friend to give me any reassurance of his bona fides. Perhaps people who thought homeopathy could help plants were mad and it was poor judgement to turn up in Amsterdam in January with no plan B. But 50 yards away from where I was sitting trying to trust the universe, was a man covering ground quickly. His baggy trousers and jumper were red, his cap white, and he was clearly in a very different space from the business men and tourists through which he carved a path. I hustled to catch him up and ask him if he was the email correspondent who had done some work with homeopathic remedies on plants. The hunch was right. This was Kaviraj.
I was following curiosity to find out if homeopathy (and, by extension, biodynamic agriculture) could attain greater scientific credibility by demonstrating efficacy on subjects less likely to show the placebo effect than people. Simultaneously I was hoping to put extra and useful tools in the toolbag of the ecologically-minded agriculturalist. I tried a few terms in the search engines and found Ben Rozendal in a permaculture gathering in Australia with his Similicure work. I found another reference to a homeopath called Rozendal in the blog of a US soldier who had had his pains dramatically reduced by Silicea and an email to this veteran gave me Kaviraj’s phone number. A couple of calls and an invitation to Holland to test if I were serious and here I was, in the back of his wife’s old car heading into town and taking stock of this gravel-voiced bald lithe smiling man who was somewhere between 60 and 120. His face smoothed out into a big grin but in relaxed mode was full of texture.
It turned out that his wife was doing him a favour and she moved on to where she was living leaving us in the sparsely appointed Amsterdam flat of one of the Monty Python stars who was also connected to Kavi’s spiritual teacher in India – the guru who gave him the Vaikunthanath part of his name. (Kaviraj means king of the healers.)
We talked for hours. I’ll correct that and I’m sure no one who has met Kavi will be that surprised: Kavi talked for hours. Perhaps his booming voice and great confidence in his subject dictated that, or maybe it is because he was a little hard of hearing that he directed the flow of conversation. He was warm whilst probing to see if I could spar with him in knowledge of materia medica and lesser works of the great masters of our discipline. I like to think giving up on that at an early stage and letting him make the running was a good decision.
He smoked his cigarettes and talked, and it was hours before he could be prompted by his polite UK-raised guest to consider food and drink. He clearly thrived off something less common than such fare, whilst I was starving. When my blood sugar came back up we talked on about homeopathy, Australia, his novels based around homeopathy, the Merry Pranksters and the Magic Bus, Anne Frank, India, the many times he had made and lost fortunes, the death of his child in India, his surviving children, biodynamics, B Jain, the homeopathic masters, rare remedies and indications, and with some prompting a little about forging his experiences into a publishable form. I fell asleep wondering about whether he was actually larger than life or just seemed that way.
We got straight back to it all in the morning before my return flight: conspiracies, his first exposure to homoeopathy in India, the rural clinics, marijuana, his first agro-homeopathic experiments, the authorities who hassled him, his early triumph over prostate cancer, working the festivals in Australia with drug psychoses and dysentery … and so forth. He was funny and did good impressions. I questioned him on how much of what he had written was surmise from the human materia medica and how much was experience. (I had hoped that in Amsterdam he would take me to a research station with beautifully marked trial plots, but I don’t imagine that was ever really his style.) My cartoon-influenced memory insists he was talking until they closed the aeroplane hatch.
If I had anything to offer him it was news of the others I had found around the world who were doing similar work, most of whom, like Kaviraj, thought they were ploughing that furrow alone. Perhaps this helped me convince him about my vision of an online open-access materia medica and repertory to which everyone could add their experiences. Later I used my more ordered approach to hone his repertory so it was consistent with his materia medica, and vice versa.
That meeting lead to the production of the first edition of “Homeopathy for Farm and Garden” – I still have a few copies available. Over the seven years between then and his death we argued, with conviction and occasionally even with real anger at each other. But we have since collaborated in trials and courses and seminars. I watched in astonishment as he set off to Haiti with absolute confidence that he could help and seemingly without doubt that he could get there and organise a clinic. What must one have lived through to be that undaunted by the scale of the task and the practical difficulties? I suspect he didn’t even entertain doubts for long. The fetters and norms that I experience did not appear to be there for Kaviraj.
Something timeless remains. It felt like he would always wade in insisting passionately on one remedy at a time, condemning ‘mixopaths’ and GM brokers with equal contempt. I have asked my wife what her impressions of Kavi are: smoke, twinkly eyes, a light and abundant energy, something like obsession in relation to homeopathy – it was the filter through which he saw the world. He wanted to help people. Even when he was intense, his turning circle back to humourous was pretty nifty. That’s a good summary.
It was no surprise that he was ordering people about as he was dying, forbidding this and insisting on that. I bet even now he’s on the next stage of his journey, cutting a swathe through the others on the way to some goal that is clear to him and few others, standing out because of some innate quality. Travel well and see you later Ben Rozendal, Vaikunthanath Das Kaviraj.
The Plant Doctor Column
Alan has asked me to take on Kaviraj’s ‘Ask the plant Doctor’ column. I agreed on the condition that I didn’t have to pretend to be like Kaviraj. If you have agricultural questions I will try and move them on and put the questions to the other agrohomeopaths I know, and bounce questions back to you and try and persuade you to experiment and report back. I don’t have the experience and cocksureness of Kavi but I think I can honour his work by being as true to my limits and knowledge as he was. If you want a collegiate discussion and don’t expect immediate confident answers, I will take this on and hope it will meet with Kaviraj’s approval. I hope he doesn’t mind if I bring in biodynamics because that’s my way of looking at the world. I like to think that this can complement Hahnemann’s discipline.
By the way, the second international conference on homeopathy for plants and soils will be September 7th and 8th 2013, Universidade Estadual de Maringá in Brazil. For details Dr Carlos Bonato – [email protected]. It may hit me then that we no longer have Kaviraj.