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Hope’s Edge

Nearly two decades ago, I stood on a train platform in the city of Bhatinda in the north Indian state of Punjab at sunrise. Flies buzzed. Young men dozed nearby with legs curled up for warmth. Next to me stood Afsar Jafri, an organic farming advocate who had been with us for days, taking my mother and me on a tour of nearby farmlands devastated by decades of chemical agriculture and communities thrown into crippling debt as a result. It had been a bleak journey. Yet, there in that train station, as the sun rose, I couldn’t help but notice our guide wasn’t exuding hopelessness. In fact, quite the opposite.

Curious, we asked how – in light of all we had seen and all he and his colleagues were up against – he seemed so hopeful. Jafri answered with a clarity that surprised me at first: His source of hope, he explained, came from being engaged, from working every day to change the fate of all those farmers we had met, and the many more beyond them. Action itself, he said, was his wellspring of hope, not any sure promise that the dire conditions we witnessed would lift anytime soon.

Until th