We descend onto the terraced hillside below Gene Campaign’s concrete balcony. The two-story seed bank overlooks a forested valley, where roads and homes only occasionally interrupt the green blanket of trees. Rolling up our kurta sleeves, we receive two hoes and a pick from the seed bank workers assigned to supervise us.
“Rosemary,” explains one of the workers, smiling as he holds up a handful of small plants. Carefully navigating down two terraces, we arrive at our plot. Josh and Stav, hoes in hand, begin to upturn grass. As our fearless leaders plow their way through the soft Himalayan topsoil, the rest of us follow behind, picking out bunches of grass from the chaotic landscape left in the hoes’ wake. The afternoon sun shines down as we, seven inexperienced farmers from afar, try our hand at the age-old agricultural process. After a few minutes of carefully trying to separate grass from dirt, I painstakingly collect a handful. Meanwhile, the seed bank worker beside me makes his way through the soil, swiftly picking out weeds at a pace far beyond my capacity. I wipe my brow. Eventually, everyone switches roles, and I take a turn hoeing. As I work, I tune into a particular exchange behind me.
“Barack Obama,” a seed bank worker declares.
“Yes, he was our president,” Josh replies.
“Our Prime Minister Modi gave Barack Obama a statue of Hanuman.” Recognizing the name of the Hindu monkey god, I furrow my brow. Josh seems to share my confusion.
“Because Hanuman in India is like Superman in America.”
We all share a laugh at the comparison.
“Here’s a question,” Josh poses to the group. “Are comics the mythology of America?”
“Definitely a mythology,” Sarah-ji replies. I smile and turn back to my work.