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June 20, 2007

Tales from the Forest - Chada in Dindori

Wilderness is not all that wild. Maybe what has remained of wilderness today is just a lost memory of what was wild long back.
Sitting as I am in one of the supposedly most primitive villages of the nation, a village named chara, deep inside the sal forests of the central highlands, I feel I know why Verrier Elwin chose to spend a few decades of his life in this place.These are the verdant forests where nothing else but poetry flows and the march of development seems stalled. But fifty years hence sitting in the village square I see the progress right down to the centre of the village. People may have conflicting views on development, but for me it gets increasingly difficult to find the one man yet untouched by our progress.
Leaving aside the development issue, it is better if I look inward and feel its beauty and not its bane. Nestled in the maikal ranges, Baiga Chak is almost a thousand metres above the sea. The temperate climate all round the year has given rise to a wild outburst of fauna and flora, beyond one's wildest dreams. No wonder this area is known as the botanist's paradise. Outwardly silent, the village brims with life in its own way. The startlingly beautiful, well-tattooed Baiga women add to the charm. All similarities with an ordinary revenue village end at the word 'village' itself. Huge forests, calm people, a certain degree of laziness, this is for all I know, a model village.
To the uninitiated, the sarkar proclaims hat the village has four wells, two taps, one pond, one school and the list goes on and on. What purpose these signboards seem to serve is a matter of debate but the villagers use it as an effective place to smoke their morning bidis and the birds for their droppings. The village is crowded with one small hotel selling black tea and a little bhaji. The omnipresent 'pandukan' has made inroads here too, with its standard four-legged existence. A school here, a rest house close, 78 houses, that is it. And then the forests take over. They roll in from the hills on all sides ending only when the hills meet the levelled fields. These great trees catch your attention and hook you onto them. Even agriculture looks beautiful. Small fields in patches close to the forest gives one the impression of a grassy meadow in some virgin patch, the late bloom of rice adding to the colour.
Chara is a hill station where the march of progress takes a break but does have a presence, albeit less. The place may not be wild as the forests adjacent to it, but it still holds forth the hope that there is still wilderness left in the spirits of men here.
Landing here late at night for only one bus comes, and that too late at night, my first morning was as good as it gets. Mist had rolled down to the valley and hardly a living object seemed to be moving. Clouds were playing games with us. Slowly a few drops fell as if to test the mood of the people, and then the clouds burst unleashing the beauty of nature. The village as if on cue has gone quiet as if shrouded by the cloud of silence. Mornings at Baiga Chak are full of non-events, small affairs in the run of life.
Lazy is the word, lazy in its appearance, relaxed in its outlook, problems kept aside not being allowed to interfere in the joy of living life. And surely, it feels nice.