December 31, 2007

In Gist

2007 is moving on... joining the ranks of history, to be relegated to the dustbin and maybe be dusted once in a while for what it taught us.... That is what a whole year does to us. It rarely teaches one lesson but when it does, that single lesson transcends a lifetime and the learnings are there to stay.

This year for me has been... in a few words... satisfying.... Dunno whether using this word is politically correct but the year has shown the linkages between karma and the results that follow. It was a year wherein I was most involved with my work and having learnt that loving your work is not enough.. it is the ability to make things happen while doing things that you like is what matters. I woke up to the year with a slight pain, in the form of some misunderstanding that threatened to push me into drab moods. But luckily that passed and along with it, more incidents that - in passing - appears to be testing times. However, I am cool with those very people with whom I had an issue and realized that it really does not matter if you fight along... what you stand for is what matters and nothing else. However, the biggest learning during those turbulent few weeks in early 07 was the rather strange sermon from my father to go and say sorry to the opponent. That was startling for it was as unexpected from my father as any analogy possible. He insisted that I go and say sorry for an issue that was not fully my doing and I did so.. Whew... it was tough doing that but that single ride to his house and submitting a letter telling him to come back was like washing off several moments of dust from my body... My father in his age, taught me a new thing... that arguing is fine but one must use it as his strength and not his fault.. Adore him for that....

Anyways, I had much work to do and little time to fight over and so went back to good work. Those three months till early April was the most intense phase of catharsis in my little time on earth....working day and night, sometimes for up to 18 hours and continuing it for week upon week upon week... 14 Sundays on a stretch.... no leave... whew.... the output is there to be seen http://www.hindu.com/br/2007/11/20/stories/2007112050021400.htm , not exactly a monumental work but nevertheless, something I am deeply proud of... my first real piece of work that was achieved through some high end team work... the book titled Honey Trails taught me besides everything the virtue of purely creative hard work... and in that phase also co-wrote the annual report.

Months passed and I have learnt or rather still learning how to balance my work, but then came the surveys across forests of the Nilgiri where for a month I just roamed around and learnt a wealth from the trees and the people who live amongst those trees. Work wise, did a lot many more things including a lifting experience with students from Valley school where we tried out talking about nature to kids who absorbed most of what we had to say.

The year has continued and I have been still working on a hundred different things and trying my best to achieve a high quality of performance in whatever I do... High performance is not striving for perfection, i learnt but striving for excellence... a lesson that shall hold me in good stead over my rendezvous with mother earth.

In retrospect, I began contributing articles for the popular media, the written media...I went out of the nation for the first time and am going more in the coming months.... I learnt that good nurseries are build by delegating supreme power and responsibility to the hands of the doer, I went to the forest at least once in a month, I traveled a bit, especially remember Gokarna, I am still learning to adjust to people who may not be remotely interested in my way of life but rather prefer their own...... I don't know whether it is true but I felt that I have grown up a bit.... into a world where anger generation need not be the first impulse of man, where team work is essential, where creativity is not a pool to lift from but a talent that needs to be honed, where dong your own thing is the best way to doing everything else better..... A single year can teach a lot and not necessarily teach but show the way... which 07 did in a pretty good measure.... above all, it showed that the ancient wisdom of karm yog leading to results if you do not attach yourself to the karma is one of the ways, the lords operate up there.......

December 30, 2007

The happy go lucky CELL times

Not so long ago, in a land that is ours.... there was a world without the ubiquitous cell phones, around each corner and in every pocket... Statistics, especially at this time of the year come out with reports of Indians are overtaking just about everybody and have more cell phones than X country or more cells than land lines and so on.... Each day, we are bombed by this image and I have seen many die hard opponents falling to the lure of cell users, who had claimed that over their dead bodies will they use cells... Now you see them, and I happen to be joining those ranks even as I write, strutting around with the phones and raking up more talk time than regular users, perhaps to make up for the lost time.

What I am interested in and it is always easy to forget about the past is how the culture came up to signify what it is today and I have spent several weeks recalling those moments when these phones entered our world.

It happened in early 2002 when I was in the third year of college. it was during now, that people started talking these phones, bulky and more like the walkie my father uses in the mines. But this was immediately after the internet had arrived in our lives (that is another story worth writing another time) and we were all ready for massive changes in ous social lives. However, no one I know really came to own any of these phones, with the cost being a major deterrent and the sheer bulkiness being another. That year passed and in 2003, I found myself in IIFM, Bhopal with cell phones in the hands of the people in posh markets.

Prior to that, I had seen some people with these phones in Delhi way back in 2000 or so, where one gentleman in Priya Cinema was ostensibly speaking over a phone but then it RANG!!! leading to laughs amongst those who were gawking at him and he escaping somewhere...

Yes, at Bhopal which is not a big city in 2003, I started seeing these phones with amazing regularity - in markets, at workplaces and above all in educational institutions where no one seemed to know what was happening.

In my case, the first regular cell use came into view in late 2003 and early 2004, though she had the phone with her from the time she joined IIFM, in June 2003. She had a Motorola or a sony, can't remember which and to her credit, she never flaunted it in the classes. In fact, no one knew that she had a phone, gifted by her brother from Japan...

In December 2003, we went out for a two month long field trip and when all returned in January the next year, whoa, there were 6 phones int he batch and all were sleek and less bulky than the ones I had seen in Chandigarh. SIX phones... that was January.... By the time I left IIFM in April 2004, there were 35 phones in a batch of 45...

Now, it is 2007 and I do not live in a city, in fact, I live in an official Third grade village panchayat... where you wouldn't expect technology to prevail.... But as you guessed, everybody I see has a phone, almost all staff who are tribals have phones, some people whom I know to be not very well off financially still have a phone, I know of people who spend up to 30% of their salaries on phone bills, I see people who talk for up to 6 hours in a day, I see traditional non users now junkies. Man does have the wherewithal to declare a judgment and I am allowed the excuse, cells have come to pervade the way of life we live in, whether in Delhi or here at Kotagiri, it has supreme advantages... but what about being connected all the time.. I remember my childhood when my father used to receive all these calls in his PABX and he used to get fed up with being connected all the time, why then are people making a conscious choice to remain connected, is the consequent stress not visible.... Dont know the answers but it is worth your effort too.....

December 28, 2007

To write a book

To write a book...
one must dream,
& one must sing
& one must sleep
& one must sigh

To finish a book...
one must dream
& one must fly
& one must work
& one must cry

To dream a book
one must know
& one must sweat
& one must divide
his time to write and thread his thoughts to make all ideas unite

The Baiga - Medicine Men of Dindori

Of the few remaining tribes in the central highlands of India that still hold own to their ancient ways and exhibit primitiveness in the anthropological sense, the Baiga are among the last remaining inhabitants. Their culture, the association with the forest, low levels of literacy and close bonding with nature make them a special people. Though no longer associated with the term ‘hunting savage’ nevertheless they still follow many ancient traditions. The characteristics which made the Baiga special, namely the cult of magic, bewar or shifting cultivation, ancient customs of medicine, their formidable hunting prowess, their famed story telling abilities may have lessened in the new centuries but against all odds, the Baigas have still managed to retain all these characteristics even if to a little extent. The Baigas I came across were so simple, so frank, and so decent that I was transported to another time, another period when the world might have been a simpler place to stay in.

Most of the information we have on the Baigas come down from the Englishmen when in 1867, Captain Thomson briefly described them as a wild tribe. Then came Forsyth’s ‘Highlands of Central India’ who was also greatly influenced by the Baigas. But it was left to one of the greatest anthropologists of all times, Verrier Elwin to document in detail all facets of the Baiga life in his seminal contribution, ‘The Baiga’.

The Baigas are spread all over the central highlands though their main concentration lies in the Mandla, Dindori and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh. These districts encompass the impenetrable Maikal extension of the Satpura ranges and cover the watershed of many an important river like the famed Narmada. Though they are known by different names by many people such as the Bhumia, Bhuiya, Narotia, Binjwar, Bharotia, Narotia, Raibhaina, Kathbhaina, Kondwan and Gonwaina, essentially they share similar characteristics.

Their appearance is what differentiates them from the other tribal groups in the area. Their wild and unkempt looks, tattoos among the women, piece of cloth covering the head that serves as a turban and similar dressing pattern all help in making them easily recognizable to even the most unobservant outsider. They are of a delicate and fine physique not generally associated with the other tribal groups in the area. Long face, elegant features, small hands and rarely a trace of body hair, the Baigas are an object of envy for the other tribals in the area. Above all, it is their hair that sets them apart. They have magnificent, wavy hair that they so painstakingly take care of. The Baiga allows his hair to grow very long and ties it in a bum or a jura. Though they have normally very dark skin albeit a few have been known to possess light and golden brown appearances.

In the earlier days, they did not wear many clothes but partly due to coaxing from government officials and partly due to the tribal tendency to adopt new things, they started wearing clothes that cover most of their body. However, there are still to be found many such members who show an utter disdain for clothes and prefer just a langoti or a lugra (women’s garment). The Baigas never wear any nose ornament which was surprising because tribal groups are known to adorn ornaments. The Baigan women use tattoos for ornamental significance and many an elaborate design can be found on the baigan that they feel make them look beautiful.

They live in simple houses not much decorated and surrounded by the meager collection of livestock and poultry that they own. Their house tough small is however kept clean with regular mud dressings and constant brooming.

In having discussed the assets that these people own, it was found that they hardly have any assets. The hut may have a simple bed made usually of bamboo, some utensils, a pharsa ”battle axes”, tangia ”axe for normal usage”, hassia or the sickle and not much.
But it is a matter of pride for these people that they keep and make several bamboo-based objects. Infact they make innumerable objects out of bamboo that serve a lot of purpose. Baskets are often made of varying sizes. I could find almost ten pieces of bamboo based articles. They rear livestock but only for subsistence reasons. Pigs are a favourite, while cows and goats are also found. Poultry are also reared.

They are avid smokers. Often while speaking with them, one of them would start rolling a sal patta and fill tobacco from his pouch and begin smoking. Of mahua, they are legendary drinkers. They have strong religious and cultural affinities with mahua and use it to drown their sorrow or enjoy a feast. Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion mahua is an utmost necessity. In Dindori region, it is bought from across the border in Bilaspur district and the people pay around Rs. 10-15 for a litre of the intoxicant. There are also evidences of usage of ganja, though hardly widespread. In choosing between food and drink, the baiga might invariably go for the drink.

The baiga takes coarse food and shows no extravagance in this aspect. They eat coarse grain, kodo, and kutki, drink pej, eat little flour and are normally content with what little that they get. One of the prime foods is pej that can be made from grounding macca or from the water left from boiling rice. Local people gave testimony that this food is much more better and healthier than many other food that they eat. Also, beyond doubt they eat several items from the forest that includes primarily Chirota Bhaji, Gular leaves such as Chirota, chinch, chakora, sarroota, peepal etc. They also eat BirarKand, Kadukand and other rhizomes. Mushroom is also a delicacy. Numerous fruits such as mango, char, jamun, tendu are also eaten. They hunt as well, primarily fish and small mammals

The baigas are not strict adherents of religion. From what was obvious during the festive season, it appears that the tribe has now been almost completely assimilated into the Hindu religion. There is no visible influence of Christianity. Yet the old timers and a few of the youngsters rattled off names of local deities such as bura deo, thakur deo, nanga baiga and baigin, dharti mata, bhimsen and a few other local deities. They celebrate Hindu festivals with as much vigour as their Hindu neighbours do and the researcher had an opportunity of being treated to their way of celebrating deepawali. For days preceding the festival, the people started bursting crackers. On the night of the festival however, it was a completely different spectacle. Beginning at around ten in the night, a large number of villagers gathered at the Village Square in the village ‘chadha’ and started playing the dholaks. All night long they played the dholaks at intervals and sang in the chattisgarhi dialect. All the time the members of the various troupes drank whatever mahua that came along their way. They went from house to house and the various householders gave some little mahua or some other gift to the troupes. All night long these events went on. It was only around six in the morning that the festivities gave way to silence but not before a final outburst of dance and song.

The baiga religion is simple and does not appear to be too highly affected by Hinduism though major structural changes have indeed occurred that seems to have distanced the average baiga from his traditional leanings.

The baigas were earlier excellent hunters but have been forced by the administration to reject this practice. When asked, a great many of them seemed embarrassed by the questioning and professed no knowledge of hunting or any incidence of hunting in the area. It was another matter that I found bows in a number of houses still occupying a place of pride amongst the meager households assets that they have.

The baigas residing in the forest villages practice subsistence agriculture on the small pattas that they have received. There is no evidence of bewar or shifting cultivation that was the normal practice till not very long ago. In reality there are a few baigas who now solely depend on the forest. Most practice agriculture or are employed as labour. However the forest still continues to be the major source of livelihood for the people as they sell a number of forest based products in the local markets and to the government.

Bamboo based handicraft is also practiced but hardly are these products sold. Thus the baiga has very limited sources of livelihood and most of them, if existing are often at the subsistence level.

The baiga is a strong believer in magic and pointed out numerous herbs that they use to eliminate the use of magic and its illeffects. The old timers informed that in the earlier days they were regarded as the best magicians in the whole of the land. They used their magic for a number of occasions such as growth of crops, marriage, death, and injury from wild animals, venereal diseases and protection from ill omens. The gunia or the medicine man is one of the most respected people in the village. He is adept in the knowledge of wild herbs and many medicinal plants. In these remote mountainous tracts the gunia and the vaidha are the first succour for the poor tribals who have otherwise few other means to cure themselves of diseases. The area is highly prone and endemic to malaria, venereal diseases and diseases arising from poor water quality. This vulnerability and almost fatal acceptance to the annual ravages of malaria makes the population prone to death very monsoon.

The Baiga is among the last remaining tribes that dot the central highland which are still not entirely a part of the mainstream. Today, after years of deforestation and explosive growth of population it is difficult to imagine the beauty of the place, as it must have been not long ago. The great forests that still exist are a reminder of what was once paradise and what could soon be lost. According to the locals, The 1998 sal borer attack led to the loss of millions of huge and beautiful sal tress that has changed the landscape to an extent that it has become unrecognizable to the old timers. The people in this region are simple and honest to a fault, such that they are perhaps not properly understood by their neighbours in small towns or in places like Dindori. They are often the symbol of mockery and treated with disdain when interacting with townwallas. Under heavy debt and constant penury, many of these poor tribals seem to have lost their lust for life and take recourse in addiction. Incidences of crime, a word nonexistent in the dictionary of people here, have now slowly begun to raise its ugly head.
Though there have been efforts to raise the standards of living, yet the general feeling is the government policy of ‘disadvantaged locations and top-down interventions’ have pushed further into penury. Today however, the powers to be seems to have realised the faults of this exclusionist policy and the winds of participatory approaches appears to have arrived in these backward places too. Today, what these people want is respect and some very basic amenities of life such as freedom from disease and food stability. They do not ask for so many hitech stuff that the city brethren are so obsessed with. For them, it is still the basic desire for roti, kapada and makaan, enough to live one’s life out.

December 18, 2007


For the wings to soar,
for the blood to boil.
For the sea to part,
and the mind to dream.

Walk on


I am writing with a desperation today, that I haven't felt for long. A lot of work in the past month, several places visited, several project responsibilities handled, I have been a busy man, uhh boy.... whatever.

As R. K. Narayan once wrote about his table top concept of writing, I believe in the same.. Writing on random stories but lucid they are neverthless.

The past month seems to have flown past... First, I had to complete the preparation for the visit by children at Valley School. Thereafter, they were here for ten days and then I went to Araku Valley... for Madhu Duniya... Another five days... Finally, there was a mid term evaluation of a major project... gut wrenching yet totally relevant to the present times and how we should conduct a research project. It was an oppurtunity of the highest blessing, to say the least.

Thereafter, after so many days and so many discussions, a lot of which are not suitable to be written here, I am sitting in front of the modern gizmo and pouring out my thoughts.

I plan to write more, especially on the children and the good times, we had with them and then about the Madhu Duniya karyakarm at Araku Valley, but that may take some time.

Till then, O online diary... keep well

December 2, 2007

To Munnar and back

It was a whirlwind trip to Munnar, three days including the travelling... But it was an excellent oppurtunity for a social travel that I am not so adept in doing. The entire office and their families and small kids, just about everyone connected with Keystone awaits this eventonce a year splurge. Infact this annual trip has several connotations for different people. For some, it is the reaffirmation of the need to bring everyone together, for others, it is a chance to visit places expensive and difficult, but for most it is a chance to travel and have fun, with "padh" and all that.

This year to Munnar was a good choice, for the tendency of man to avoid visiting those places that are most nearby is universal and I stand testimony to not having visited either Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan or the Sunderbans, though many say that I am a half Bengali.

Munnar is a small town that possesess the virtue of being a major planter zone. One advantage was the lack of huge populations, primarily because the huge plantations prevented small landholdings from touching these lands (atleast this is what I think). There are few villages and though tea dominates, there are neverthless large stretches of forests. Much as I think, I liked the place.

We left from Kotagiri on the 12th of November in a decent bus which took the trouble to pick us all up from Kotagiri. There was a smaller bus which kept us company all the while as our staff has increased beyond the capacity of a single bus.
Reaching somewhere before Udmalpet, we had lunch and then moved into the Chinar wildlife sanctuary. A startling landscape, Chinar is magnificient with the Anamalai National Park casting a wide shadow over Chinar, most-though working in forests most of the time- felt an awe worth a thrill. Huge hills, deep forests, a single lane... that ride was an eye opener that as many forest one sees, there are still many more to soak in.

Tea and then Munnar and then Autumn Trees resort and then sleep after a heavy dose of confusion in seating arrangements.

Next morning though, we had agood start and after breakfast, went to the long cherished Ervaikulam or precisely Rajamalai Wildlife Sanctuary. Sheer cliffs and witness to so many Tahr made the day for almost all the staff members and for me too. Inbetween, we went to most of the popular tourist spots in the town, including this and that view point. At one place, all of us went for a boat ride and four of us went for a speed boat trip that was what it promised to be. A TRIP. Jumping over the lake, it feels fine to doo these things once in a while.

Night time dance in the so called dormitory and next morning, we were ready to leave. Driving down, we reached the Trimurti falls where the gods had arranged a super charged shower forthose who wished to take a bath and this is what we did. Took bath amidst a heavy water outflow and almost gasped for breath several times.

This done, this fast forwarded trip came to a rushing end with the return to Kotagiri late at night with us tired and cheerful with a a good insight into Munnar.
This trip was more of a whirlwind we associate with a lonley plant style of travel, but without those discomforts. But in the short time that we had, I felt that there are enourmous differences between Kotagiri and Munnar. Population is obviously one, but so is cleanliness. Also is the fact that there are so many more rivers in Munnar as compared to virtually none in large parts of the Nilgiri Hills. Where have the rivers gone or were there no rivers from earlier times.

It is easier to find fault with one's home but neverthless Kotagiri is a lovely place, in much need for its citizens to conserve the beauty of the place in the coming years as well as to promote more measures to increase tree cover and the assorted list of things that need to be done.. Who will do it...