My association started with Aroehan as a trustee. It is an NGO whose name is actually an acronym of ‘Action Related to the Organization of Education, Health And Nutrition.’ In 2005-06, malnutrition snuffed lives out of 169 children below the age of six died in Mokhada Taluka. Mokhada is not very far from Mumbai; it is just 164 Km away. The College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan sprung in action with a field-action project called AROEHAN. It is today an NGO, not connected with Nirmala Niketan.
I decided to visit their projects. Anita, their Project Manager, selected one for me. “Let us go to Karoli village” she said.
Early in the morning I had travelled from my home in Thane to Manor on Ahmedabad Highway. This part of journey was smooth, but it did not indicate what lied ahead going to Aroehan’s office in Jawhar. When you take a right turn at Manor and exit the Highway, and proceed toward Vikarmgadh, you hit a bumpy road. We reached Jawhar. Anita and her team joined us. We started for Mokhada. The road to Mokhada is surprisingly very smooth.
“Look there, that’s the check dam of Himbatpada.” We stopped our car. It was about two years since the dam was built. The dam had no water. The reality of scarcity of water hit me hard.
“Lakshmibai Tilak spent a few years in Mokhada. Their home is now dilapidated.” Anita said. Lakshmibai Tilak’s autobiography ‘SmritiChitre’ is considered a classic in Marathi literature. Buildings appear different when somebody explains the context of history.
Travelling with us was Hemanti. She knew the fauna and flora of this region well. We spotted the Moha [Mahua] tree. [Madhuca longifolia, also called Mahua longifolia]. I knew that adivasis make liquor from the flowers of Mahua tree. Hemanti explained many uses. They make chutney with dried flowers. The fruits and seeds are used to extract oil which villagers use for cooking. The bark is an antiseptic which they apply on wounds. Trifed, a website of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India reports: “Mahua oil has emollient properties and is used in skin disease, rheumatism and headache. It is also a laxative and considered useful in habitual constipation, piles and haemorrhoids and as an emetic. The residue in hand after extraction of oil is burnt to dispel mosquitoes, and repel snakes! Hemanti said villagers think of Mahua tree as ‘Kalpavriksha’, the ‘wish fulfilling divine’ tree. She is right, Wikipedia also confirms that tribal communities think of Mahua tree as Kalpavriksha
Hemanti pointed out to an Indian laburnum tree. It was in full bloom. “Farmers say that the monsoon arrives forty-five days after the blossoming of this tree” she said.
Knowledge is of two types: one which comes out of inferences and conclusions drawn from experiments, and the other from the experience over a long period of time. We have forgotten to listen to the wisdom of experience.
We had travelled a good distance toward the destination. We saw many small diggings. Anita pointed them out. “Adivasis have been cultivating this forest land for several years – for seven generations. The Forest department has now objected to it. They are going to plant trees here. Where will Adivasis go?”
We travelled in scorching sun and finally reached Karoli. The first house had a large veranda where four or five ladies were sitting. One of them was better dressed and wore some ornaments. She had just got married and arrived at her husband’s home. Anita informed us that she hailed from a bigger village. Karoli was actually a small hamlet of eight or ten houses. I wondered what she would have felt moving in there. “They have a tradition which is interesting. An elderly lady and one in the same age group as the bride travel along with her to her in-law’s house after marriage. They, along with bride, return to her parents’ home after staying there for a while, and come back to her in-law’s home. This is repeated five times to ensure that the bride is comfortable at her new home. And because she has the company of a girl of her age, and guidance of her trusted senior, she gets absorbed in the new home with greater ease!”
I think such practice in perhaps different form existed in all communities. In the cities it has been lost to time.
Anita and Hemanti decided to move to Kudva village. The place had become barren and the sun was parching the land. I saw a calf moving in search of water. The situation was terrible.
Surprisingly there was a well nearby which had enough water. An NGO had provided piped water to villagers by fitting a solar pump. We moved ahead. There were a few hamlets on the way, and the seven or eight houses in the hamlet had been given solar energy. “That’s the work of Pragati Pratishthan (https://www.pragati-pratishthan.org/)” they said. Established by Vasantrao Patwardhan (not related to me) about thirty years ago, they have done splendid work.
We reached Kudva village, and camped at the house of Narayan. Anita and her team were familiar with the Narayan’s family so they moved to kitchen. And they called me. “See this – the villagers’ way of preservation of corns to get seeds for the next crop” they said. There was no cooking gas in the village, and not at Narayan’s home too.
They had hung a few corns over the ‘chulha’ or stove. The smoke had deposited layers of black soot on the corns. Narayan said that the seeds remain unaffected by any fungus or insects as a result, and they can use it for sowing. I was discovering the local inventions!
Kudva village is placed in the valley between hills which cover all sides. They can not go to any bigger village or Mokhada (24 Kms away) unless they cross the hills. Roads have been built recently. ST (State Transport) buses have not been servicing this village. It is simply too far away and there are too few people staying here. There was no school till recently. No public health unit. If anybody fell ill, they had to carry the patient for fifteen Kms, and if the (s)he was a patient of snake-bite, fatality was certain.
Even today the village has no electricity, solar panels help. Narayan is a cheerful person, and is also respected for his talent to compose poems. My salute to him and his family, and to the NGOs which reach out to villagers in this remote and inaccessible place.
I saw a different India and I saw Indians who were different too!
(Read the Original Marathi Blog Here )
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”