Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kissan Konfessions

Pardon the Karanesque alliteration, but deep down inside all of us are kissans, aren’t we? Nope, I am not referring to the ketchup and jam company that HUL owns and Jammy’s father used to work for – and I am definitely not referring to Sohail's flick 'starring' Arbaaz (dudes please retire and spare us all) but to the noble agrarian profession that makes the most significant contribution to our Bharatiya GDP.

Let’s wind back the clock to about 3 million years ago when mankind has lived by carrying out two basic acitivities of hunting (or fishing) and gathering edible items of any kind (from fruit to insects). ‘Twas the glorious age of the Neanderthal hunter-gatherers that continued for the next 2.9 million years. Then, a mere 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic Revolution happened and mankind discovered how to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals. This was arguably the most significant single development in human history.

The earliest place known to have lived mainly from the cultivation of crops is Jericho. By around 8000 BC this community, occupying a naturally well-watered region, was growing selected forms of wheat, soon to be followed by barley. Another 4000 years, sheep became the first animals to be domesticated as a source of food in the Middle East. It was indeed one small step for man, one giant step for maah-nkind…

Fast forward to 1997 and the world saw the dawn of a new age - The Age of Empires (AOE). (Since then, seven titles and three spin-offs have been released and the series has been a commercial success, selling over 20 million copies!) The titles are historical real-time strategy games, and their gameplay basically revolves around the activities detailed above and man’s natural need for bloodshed and conquest.

Just over a decade later, riding on the wave of web-fuelled social networking, Zynga released Farmville (FV) in June 2009. For those who came in late, FV is a real-time farm simulation game developed by Zynga, available as an application on the social networking website Facebook (FB). The game allows members of FB to manage a virtual farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops and trees, and raising livestock. Little wonder that has become the most popular game application on FB, with over 82.4 million active users and over 23.1 million fans in March 2010. (Yours truly being both.)

So why is FV such a runaway success? Here is what I think:

1. It addresses man’s 2 basic wants – greed and the need to play AOE.

2. Man’s evolution is not linear as Charles Darwin suggests, but a cyclic phenomenon and FV lets us go back in time to our primal needs of being simple kissans / farmers.

3. It sure beats watching bovine contestants on inane reality shows on the idiot box – I would rather watch pumpkins grow on my farm.

4. It is a great way to learn about complex subjects such as biology and economics – for instance, I now know that grapes cost 85 coins / plot to plant and are ready to harvest in 1 day, to yield 285 coins! So I am ready if the world as we know it comes to an end and we have to go back to nature.

5. FV closely replicates real life – just as in life, in FV too you have all sorts of neighbours: those whom you have never met / never want to, those you know but wished you didn’t, your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, and whats-his-name? – FV teaches you how to prosper by co-existing with all of them.

6. It complies with our core Indian values – the most respected member of Indian polity is the son of the soil… the kissan child of Mother India. Without their tireless toil, we would not be able to feed a billion (ok half a billion – the remaining population are below the poverty line anyway) mouths. Sadly, some of us have to wear ties to work and turn our back to the noble profession. FV ensures that even if we can’t slog it out tilling our fields, we can at least click our farm plots and redeem our guilt.

7. Even in the most happening cities such as Mumbai, it is a common sight each morning to see devout Hindus feed gow-matas at street corners everyday… Sadly, being invariably late on most days, I can’t stop to participate in this holy activity – FV to the rescue and I can feed my cows whenever I log on!

8. FV promotes CSR – better than buying soap with the promise that the capitalist multinational will plant a tree on my behalf, I can plant as many trees of infinite varieties whenever I want!

9. George Orwell's Animal Farm has left a indelible imprint on the world.

10. As did Pink Floyd's classic Animals featuring tracks such as Pigs on the Wings and Sheep!

11. It is bloody addictive…

So play on… Jai Jawan! Jai Kissan! Jai Ho!