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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jan-July, 2014



The Buddha in the Fields

Rani Drew

10 Fulbrooke Road, Cambridge, CB3 9EE (UK)


Rithipol, the headman of the village, was greatly concerned with the failure of the last two harvests. In a country where people ate rice three times a day all through the year, shortage of rice was a disturbing fact. He could sense a general discontent  growing in the villagers. Two years in succession, the amount of crop harvested was not sufficient to feed everyone in the village. He had to seek help from the County Council.   Surprisingly enough, the next village was not in the same situation. So what was going wrong with them? When he put the question to Vithora, the headman of the next village, he laughed and said, ‘Because you don’t have a Guardian Spirit.’
Rithipol was defensive, ‘Of course, we do,’ he said, ‘You know we believe in many gods, and share a temple with our other neighbours. ’ 
Vithora laughed and said, ‘Many are too many, try just one this time.’
‘You don’t mean the Buddha?’
‘He is a good spirit, I’m told’ Vithora said.
The headman didn’t like Vithora praising the Buddha over their gods, but he couldn’t get the remark out of his head. Do the fields really need a Guardian Spirit? Yet he knew that another year of bad harvest would lead to the beginning of a famine. The farmers were looking thinner and the children not so lively. He felt responsible for his village and yet what could he do? What could a guardian spirit do? He thought a good harvest depended on three things: good seed, good earth and good rains - and of course, hard working people. But now Vithora was bringing the God dimension into the rice harvest. But if the village needed a figure that could protect the grain right up to harvest time, then the matter had to be given serious consideration.  
It was in the small hours of the following morning when in a state of semi-sleep, the headman saw a clear image of a Buddha among the paddy fields. He woke up stunned by the clarity of this figure. The fact that it happened at dawn and not in the pitch dark of the night, he took as a sign from the gods rather than the evil spirits.  He could hardly wait to tell someone about it. He thought of the Sarpanch, the Chief of the Panchayat. As the early flush of dawn began to take over the village, he threw a wrap over his shoulders and hurried to Sokun’s house, knocking rather urgently at the door. A sleepy voice replied, ‘The door  is open.’ The headman rushed in and taking the Sarpanch by his shoulders, blurted out, ‘Listen, Sokun, I have a solution to the problem.’  
‘What problem?’ Sokun asked sleepily.
‘The rice shortage, what else?’ and blurted out his experience. 
The Sarpanch was fully awake by now. The idea of installing a Buddha statue in the fields as the guardian spirit of the rice fields seemed perfect to him. He suggested he went round to the houses of Rithipol, Phalla, Bora and Dara right away and ask them to assemble immediately under the Banyan tree.
Within the hour all five members of the Panchayat, the Village Council, were listening to the headman’s dream. The Sarpanch, said that this was a clear indication of how they should resolve the grain problem of recent years. The others were impressed by what they heard and said they were in favour of new ways of solving old problems. The headman put his plan forward for their approval: install a statue of the Buddha as the guardian of their paddy fields. All panches agreed to it, and unanimously cast their vote for a Buddha. 
‘Now, to get a Buddha we need money,’ the headman said. ‘The Buddhas don’t come cheap, I know that.’  The volume of enthusiasm fell sharply.
‘We should appeal to the County Council for funds,’ the Sarpanch said, ‘after all we’ll be solving their problem of food supply for our village.’ He was always in  favour of going to  the top.
‘True, we can’t work without having enough rice in our stomachs. I have been feeling quite faint recently. It’s a circular problem. No food, no produce,’ Bora said.
‘By the way, what is it that a Buddha statue will do in the rice fields?’ Rithipol asked in his plodding slow way. 
‘What will Buddha do? Listen to him,’ the headman looked to the others, hardly believing the penny hadn’t dropped for Bora, and added rather emphatically, ‘He will bless our fields and make every ear of rice big and full. What else did you think?’
‘You couldn’t have said it better, Phalla,’ Dara seconded him, ‘I was thinking the same. Why didn’t we have a  Buddha all this time?’
‘Because the Buddha is always in temples, never in the open,’ Phalla said. 
They hadn’t thought of this. Everyone was casting their mind around trying to remember if they had seen a Buddha sitting in any of the surrounding fields, but not a single image stood out.
‘We believe in many gods,’ the headman said, ‘but now we are importing another one, only he is more a guardian spirit than a god.’
This eased the tension, and got everyone chatting about the next move.
‘So we’ll be the first village to make him sit in the fields.’
‘Quite, I say the Buddha should have been among us even before.’
‘If everyone agrees,’ the headman said, ‘shall we then go to the County today and put in for funds?’
‘While we are there, we can look at the Buddhas also,’ Dara said. ‘I know a factory where you can get any sort. We can choose one from a variety of Buddhas. They make him in every posture, sitting, standing, walking, an amazing variety.’
‘A good thought,’ the Sarpanch said, ‘we’ll cover all grounds.’
‘Right, we meet here in ten minutes.’ The headman stood up.  
By the time the sun had got up, all the Panchayat members were already on their way to the town. It was Springtime and the town was at least ten kilometers away. They walked in excitement, laughing and chatting at the thought of bringing a Buddha home. The headman was preparing his arguments to convince the County  Council that giving funds for installing a Buddha would be to their benefit. After all, good harvests mean better revenue for the County Council. He looked up to assess how high the sun had got up; it was important they reached the town by mid-day; there was a lot to do there.
The panches were now walking past the ploughed fields of the next village. Farmers were standing knee deep in water planting the rice saplings. Everyone hailed them cheerily, wishing them a good growing season, and then turned to each other wondering if they should tell them too to have a Buddha in their fields. This got them talking about what sort of Buddha would be suitable for their own purpose: sitting or reclining or even standing? Everyone had something to say on this.
‘A standing Buddha would be a bit risky. What if he was not able to stand our terrible winds and storms and lashing rains, and decided to leave? He might simply walk away one night when we were asleep. I have seen walking Buddhas too,’ Dara’s  voice shook with the thought of finding the Buddha gone one morning.
Bora had a dig at him. ‘In that case we should have a sitting Buddha.
‘After all, the way he sits, it looks as if he  would always remain there and never get up; that would be the safest, wouldn’t it?’ The suggestion raised some laughter. 
‘Why not then a reclining one?’ Phalla even went further, ‘that would make it more difficult for him to raise himself, even if he wanted to leave.’ This made them laugh even more, the thought of the Buddha lounging about amidst them.          
‘Better still, a sleeping Buddha,’ Phalla went on, enjoying the metaphor of posture, ‘you don’t go wandering if you are asleep,’
‘A sleeping posture can hardly inspire the rice to shoot up. They too might lie aslant, and you could hardly blame them!’ Bora said seriously. He found the prospect disturbing. 
Dara didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking. ‘Did you know that a sleeping Buddha means a Buddha gone - Paranirvana?’ He paused and looked steadily at Phalla, before adding, ‘And that wouldn’t be so good for our rice fields.’
‘How do you know so much about the Buddha?’ They asked in chorus. 
‘Because I am Buddhist.’
‘We never knew,’ they said amazed, as if not convinced by his proclamation.
The light-hearted chatter subsided to a sombre mood. The sun was getting hotter. They started to move faster as the town was still three kilometres away. It was midday when they reached the town. None of them knew where exactly was the Buddha street. They had to stop many people and ask the way to it. It wasn’t long before  they came upon a labyrinth of narrow lanes, and heard the unmistakable sound of stone hammering. The destination was at hand. A few steps and they found themselves standing at the beginning of a long street where Buddhas were being manufactured.  
There were Buddhas everywhere; rows and rows of stone shops stretched away. They saw craftsmen bending over blocks of stones, chiselling and shaping the Buddhas from head to foot: eyes, nose, mouth, hands, legs, feet. The villagers stood agog, bewildered by the sight.
But the headman was conscious of time ticking away. He hadn’t forgotten the purpose of their coming, and that a lot had to be accomplished before the evening was out. First of all, he had to go to the County Council Office and put in for funds. There could be no buying of a Buddha without money. So, without losing much time, he announced to the panches, that a Buddha statue should be chosen within three hours – the  amount of time he estimated would take him to come back with the money. He left the Sarpanch in charge, and said he must make sure they waited for him there and not wander out into the city. He said that by the time the sun began its journey downwards, they had to set out homewards, only then would they be sure to get back home before dark.
The headman was so confident of getting the funds from the Council that while walking to the building, he started to plan where in the fields would they install the Buddha. New vistas began to open up.  There should be some celebrations to mark the ceremony, he decided. After all it was auspicious for the village to have the blessings of the Buddha. It would cost some money no doubt, everything did, he shook his head, but certain things had to be done properly. He could ask the Council for a little extra, for the purpose. He would assure them that it will all get paid back when the harvest was good.
Well he couldn’t have been luckier, because when he got to the County office, he was taken straight to the councillor who was responsible for dealing with their village.
And not only that, the officer was greatly impressed by the thought of the Buddha being in the open fields. But he said that they would have to invite a monk to conduct the service. 
‘I couldn’t agree with you more, sir,’ the headman said, ‘we must do it properly, and for that we will need some extra funds. A ceremony is a costly affair.
I hope you understand.’
‘I do, I do,’ the Councillor could hardly contain his excitement. ‘Furthermore, you will need to pay something to the monk as well. You can’t expect monks to perform services without some donations.’
The headman could hardly believe his luck when the next minute the Councillor got some money out of the drawer, folded the notes and put them in his hand. ‘This should give you enough to do all the special things you want to do. And yes, I’ll get someone to take you to the Shining Buddha monastery; the Abbot will instruct you how to go about it.’
‘You must do us the honour of attending the function. Please,’ the headman genuinely wanted the Councillor to grace the occasion.
‘I would wish nothing more, but I can’t, you must forgive me. May the Buddha bless your village with good harvests.’ The Councillor raised his hands in salutation.  
At the Shining Buddha monastery, the Abbot understood the predicament of the village, and was pleased that the village was embracing the Buddha as the guardian of their fields. He admitted he had not heard of this sort of recourse by farmers before, but he laughed good naturedly and said, ‘There’s always a first time,’ and then went on to suggest that they do the following things: one, to carefully choose the spot where they wanted the Buddha to stand; two, to decide on an auspicious day when they wanted the monk to raise the Buddha; three, on the day itself, to send one man to the monastery, nice and early, to hire a truck, then go to the factory with the monk, pick up the Buddha from the shop and head home in time for the investiture ceremony. ‘Make sure you have everything ready before coming here: flowers and ceremonial food for the Buddha and feast for the villagers. The monk will perform the ceremony to sanctify the Buddha, otherwise it will have no power.
‘Will you be able to help us hire a truck? We don’t know anyone in the city,’ the headman made a plea.
‘We can do that,’ the Abbot said, ‘I know a very good man. He runs trucks as his business. He’ll be happy to lend a truck.’
‘We can pay him for the hire,’ the headman had to offer. 
‘I’m sure he won’t take money. He’s a Buddhist, a compassionate soul. I’ll ask him.’
The headman thanked the Abbot for guiding him with precise details of how  to welcome the Buddha to their village. Everything sorted out, it was time for him to get back to the market and meet the villagers – hopefully they had chosen the Buddha by then – pay for the piece,  and set out on the return journey.
With the bundle of notes in his pocket – the headman had been feeling them every now and then to make sure they were there, and that nobody had picked his pocket - he hurried back to the market. He walked so fast that before he knew it he was at the shop where everyone was waiting for him, with a Buddha amidst them.   ‘Ah, you’ve chosen a sitting Buddha?
‘The shopkeeper suggested it is the best for farmers.’
‘We also think this one is appropriate, the hand is touching the earth/.
‘/and rice grows out of earth.’
‘Sounds right,’ said the headman. ‘Will it tell us how tall the rice will grow.’ he added. There was a burst of laughter.
The panches waited to hear the headman’s opinion. ‘I like your choice,’ he said, and added, ‘he is the right Buddha for us farmers.’ He then told them about his meeting with the Abbot. ‘We can’t take the Buddha home with us just like that. One, it’s too heavy to carry; two, we need some transport to carry him; three, a monk must install him with proper ceremonies.’
‘Do we leave him here then?’ they asked anxiously.
‘We’ll pay now, but leave him here to be collected later by the monastery. I have made arrangements with the Abbot.’ He heard a sigh of relief. He paid the shopkeeper, and gave him instructions to hold it in his safe-keeping, until someone from the monastery collected it.
The sun was already low on the horizon, and they were not too familiar with the first part of the journey. So, he told the panches to put speed into their walk, so they should be home before dark. Having accomplished the purpose of their trip, the villagers walked along by the fields, talking about the day’s happenings, especially the buying of the Buddha in the market. They laughed and chatted as they compared notes about the people they had seen and met in the market and the monastery.
It wasn’t long before they hit the road to their village. They saw the sun sliding down behind the horizon, and were not sure of  how well they’d cope with the dark journey ahead. The thought had hardly crossed their minds when they saw the moon in the sky. They had forgotten it. Although it was only a half moon, it was enough to light their path.
While everyone was laughing and chatting, the headman was deep in the questions the Abbot had left with him. What should be the day when the Buddha was to come home? Now looking at the moon, it struck him there would be the full moon in a few days time. That was it. The ceremony should take place on the full-moon night. He’ll call a meeting tomorrow and put his plan to everyone. They were bound to agree, he was confident. What could be a better time than the full moon in the sowing season?
On the day of the full moon, at the crack of dawn, there was a surge of activity in every house. Women started to prepare the condiments for special recipes. The sound of mortar and pestle resounded in the air. Fresh fruits and flowers were collected in baskets, ready to take to the field. The men went down to the field hours before to dig the ground for the lotus-shaped plinth on which the statue was to sit. The headman had asked them to consider the direction of the sun  when positioning the Buddha. 
By sunset, all preparations had been completed and the whole village was assembled in the field waiting for the arrival of the Buddha. The sun was still on the horizon when they saw a truck lumbering towards them. A surge of excitement went through the crowd. They couldn’t wait to see their Guardian Spirit. The truck had hardly come to a halt when Phalla and Mr Kosal jumped out and rushed to the back where the monk was sitting holding the statue firmly against jolts and bumps. Amidst much noise and curiosity the villagers pushed forward to have the first glimpse of the Buddha. The statue was heavy and needed a few hands to unload it. Phalla asked everyone not to push and shove, and to show the best of themselves before the guests.
The full moon was up now, cool and placid in a blue sky, watching the Buddha being hoisted up on to the plinth and secured with nails. The Buddha now sat luminous and serene in the moonlight, the jewels on his clothes shining in the silver light. The monk started the ceremony. A pin-drop silence fell and the villagers folded their hands. While chanting the sutras he placed the fruits at the Buddha’s feet and draped a silk scarf over his shoulder. The moon looked on. It was getting cooler. The monk asked the villages to repeat the mantras with him, and then the ceremony ended.
‘On this day of the full moon, in the month of Baisakh, the season of rice sowing,’ the headman addressed the villagers, ‘we have given sanctuary to the  Buddha in our fields. Today, we acknowledge him as the Guardian Spirit of our fields.’ Everyone clapped. ‘Let’s then mark this day by planting some rice saplings with the Buddha watching over us, and then have our feast.’  
The moon was on the slant when the villagers finished with sowing and headed back home, singing and feeling secure in the thought that the Buddha was in the fields keeping a watch over the infant rice.
As the sowing season came to an end, so did the excitement of having the Buddha in their midst. He became a fixture of the landscape. The farmers got on to tending the paddy without even looking at him, their eyes more on the rice saplings, anxiously assessing their growth. A month passed but the rice didn’t look any bigger. An anxiety set in among the farmers. Maybe, a few rains and all would be well, they said to each other. They watched the sky, but there was no sign of the rains. The heat grew severe. The Buddha remained calm. The village women  laid a rice sapling at his feet asking him to bless it and make it grow big and strong, so that they would have plenty to eat and feed their children. But nothing happened and the drought continued.
The harvest was worse than the year before. With the shortage of grain, the mood of the farmers took a turn. Fights broke out among them. They started to put the blame on the Buddha and accused the headman for making an alien as the guardian of the village. They said they were better off with their own gods. Now they were stuck with this one. They forbade the women to take fruit to him, some farmers even threatened to knock down the statue. It was a grim scene.   
The panches reported to the headman. At the meeting, much thought was given to finding a solution. What should they do? It was obvious the Buddha could no longer stay in the village. What about the loan from the County Council? Wasn’t that to be paid back with the good harvest?   What now? The headman said he would go to the Council and explain the situation to them, and also ask help with rice provision.
The Councillor was sympathetic and immediately agreed to waive the repayment of the loan but regretted he would not be able to provide help for the removal of the Buddha. He suggested the headman go to the Abbot. What about rice? Yes, he would certainly arrange a delivery of rice.
The Abbot proved to be a different person this time. He shook his head and said it would be inauspicious to bring the Buddha back; it would reflect badly on him for letting it happen in the first place. The Buddha out on his own in the fields! He wished he hadn’t done that. Once again, he said Mr Kosal might suggest a way out.
By the time the headman found Mr Kosal, he was in deep despair. But his spirits lifted to find Mr Kosal was ready to help. He said he would  take the Buddha away but couldn’t pay them any money for it. Instead, he could give them some new type of rice seeds that would yield better harvest.
‘Are they G.M.?’ the headman asked as he had heard about them.
‘Not completely,’ Mr Kosal said cautiously, ‘they are midway, improved to give you hardy rice that matures in moderate rain.’
‘One hears terrible things about G.M. grain,’ the headman said softly, he didn’t want to offend Mr Kosal.
‘Don’t listen to rumours, people exaggerate. They are not the ones who die of famine. Anyway,’ Mr Kosal came up with another suggestion, ‘you can go for potatoes instead.’
‘Potatoes instead of rice?’ the headman could hardly believe his ears.
‘It’s all a matter of habit, my dear fellow,’ Mr Kosal said. ‘The good thing about potatoes is they grow quickly and don’t need rain; and as they are good fillers, so you eat half the amount you would rice. Very economical.’ He added,  ‘You can even cook it to make it look and taste like gluttonous rice.’  
The headman didn’t want to reject Mr Kosal’s advice right away and said he would ask the villagers but didn’t hold out much hope. Meanwhile, he returned to the question of the Buddha. He said he was in great danger, sitting there unguarded against hungry angry farmers who did not want him in the fields. ‘I can take him away, if you like. I’m neither a monk nor an Abbot, just an ordinary Buddhist who is not answerable to anyone, except to his own conscience.’
‘What will you do with it? Will you give it to a monastery?’
Mr Kosal shook his head. ‘Monks are a funny lot, a bit sticky about such situations.’  He thought for a moment and then said. ‘I could put him in the wood above your village.’ The headman looked puzzled. ‘It would be the best place for him,’ Mr Kosal said, ‘it was in the forest that the Buddha attained Nirvana.’  He thought for a moment. ‘When is the full moon?’ and without waiting for the answer, added, ‘On the next full moon, I’ll bring my truck and take him away.’
Before the headman could show his gratitude, Mr Kosal said, ‘But we must do it appropriately, with a ceremony.’
‘But it’s a sad occasion, what ceremony can we perform?’  The headman couldn’t see the logic.
‘A ceremony that could cover up the shame of sending back the Buddha,’ Mr Kosal said bluntly, ‘we must turn it into a happy occasion, do it on a full moon night – as was the arrival so should be  the departure.’ He paused and then went on, ‘We will recreate the scene when on another full moon the Buddha quietly left his palace to seek enlightenment, to free living beings from the sorry state of death and suffering.’ He fell silent, as if he himself was dwelling on the same questions. The headman waited. ‘This will  save your village the disgrace of banishing the Buddha. Do you know the story of the Buddha?’ the headman shook his head. ‘Well, I have an idea, but first to a cafe for hot coffee. Come,’ Mr Kosal said getting up.


Once again, on a full moon night, the villagers assembled round the Buddha. The mood of the occasion was tense, different to the time when he had arrived to be with them. The headman was on tenterhooks, and wished it would be over soon. To make sure villagers understood what was happening, he had called a meeting to explain the procedure for the removal of the Buddha.
‘Mr Kosal’, he told them, ‘will be taking the Buddha away, and putting him in the woods in a way that he can see us working in the fields. This way it will seem we are not banishing him, just distancing him. The Council is happy with this method.  As you know, they are giving us some rice to help us against the drought. Mr Kosal is also bringing us a new type of seeds for the next sowing. The most important thing, he says, is to make sure we send the Buddha with as much good feeling and festivities as were made at the time when we received him among us. Hence, we must put on a play of how this Prince, the son of the King of Lumbhini, came to leave his palace, in search of how to reduce human suffering, Phalla’ he addressed the headpanch, ‘Please, make arrangements for the drama and make sure everyone knows the story.’
This sounded good to the villagers. A mood of optimism prevailed that all would be well after the ill-omened Buddha left their fields.
The  Buddha sat serene and detached in the moonlight, unbothered by what awaited him. The headman went to see him for the last time. Looking at him now, he remembered how he had seen the Buddha, the night he had gone to bed with the foreboding of a famine. In his dream, the headman was standing in the fields when out of nowhere the Buddha appeared, pointing to the drying-up rice shoots, as if he was allaying his misgivings. And it seemed he had, but not for long. The headman wiped his tears. We are banishing the sage, he sighed, who found the answer to human suffering.
Phalla was told to organise the final operation. Khan, the village carpenter, was to put up a small stage in the field next to the Buddha; Sarit, the mason, to unhook the Buddha’s statue and be carried to Kosal’s truck at the appropriate moment; the musicians to find lads to act in the drama, with some sort of make-do costumes; women to prepare garlands to dress up Mr Kosal’s truck as Buddha’s horse, to take him out of the village to the hill. According to the legend Gautama had left the palace in the quiet of the night, on a horse.
As the evening fell, the moon rose full in the sky. The villagers were already seated on the ground in front of the stage, waiting for the play to begin. They were curious to see how the Buddha looked. A certain excitement was in the air. Soon the roar of a truck was heard. Mr Kosal had arrived. The panches helped him unload the sacks of rice from the Council, and the bag with new rice seeds Mr Kosal handed  to the headman. He had also brought  trays of sweets and fruit for the feast, which he now placed in front of the Buddha. He performed a short ceremony, recited a string of sutras, made offerings to the Buddha from each tray, and then distributed them among the villagers, who ate them hungrily. When all the food was consumed, Mr Kosal sat down and the play started.
On stage, the young Gautama Siddharta stood looking up at the moon. Sleeping on the bed was Yashoda, his wife, and his baby son, Rahul. The musicians started to sing the story of Gautama – Buddha’s real name.

                We sing the story of Gautama, the royal son of
                the King of Lumbhini, born long long ago. 
                Sad in childhood, you remained sad in youth.
                Now we know, Gautama, what ailed you. 
               You saw disease, old age and death everywhere.
               Why is there suffering?
   Why are living beings afflicted?
               What is there to death?
                Nothing could make you laugh.
                A princess! a princess! All cried.
    Musicians and singers strummed the strings,
    Drums resounded in the palace. 
    You were married to a beautiful princess.
   All will be well now, rejoiced the people.
   A year passed, Yashodra gave birth to your son,
  Still you didn’t smile, it made you even sadder.

The musicians and singers went into a frenzied raga:

                          One night when the moon was full,
                          Gautama sat up in bed looking at
                          Yashodhara and Rahul asleep in the moonlight.

At this moment, the actor who was playing the Buddha walked up to the front of the stage and looked up at the moon.

                            See, tears rolling down his face. Must he stay
                           and live the life like everyone beset by suffering?
                           No, you decided to leave everything, and look for the answer.

The actor moves, the musicians and singers stand up.

                           Watch the crown prince become a mendicant,
                           A wanderer in search of  the answer to human suffering.
                           Channa, the charioteer, drives him to the gates,
                           From where he sets out on foot into the wider world.

At this moment Sarit and his group moved to the Buddha, lifted him and the plinth and followed Mr Kosal to his truck dressed as the chariot on which Buddha rode out of his royal life. Mr Kosal sat at the wheel, just as Channa, Buddha’s charioteer, must have done. The Buddha was put in the back, Sarit hopped in and held it against falling. Mr Kosal started the engine, the truck moved, the musicians followed it singing, the women wept holding the children even closer. The young lads ran after the truck as it speeded up. Soon they saw it disappearing up the path to the wood.

That was a good five years ago. Since then the village harvests have steadily improved. Mr Kosal has become a regular visitor to the village, advising the farmers on modern techniques. On these trips, he never forgets to drive up to the wood to stand before the Buddha, suspended in prayer with folded hands. On auspicious days, the village women also make trips up there, taking offerings of rice and sweetmeats to the Buddha. They sweep the area around him and clean dust and damp from the statue, especially his hand pointing to the earth and his face, so that he can see the rice growing in the fields.     


© Rani Drew
10 Fulbrooke Road, Cambridge CB3 9EE