It all started when I realised that i had nothing constructive and interesting to do in my 3 months vacation after my first year at IIT Delhi. So i thought over my options. Staying at IIT itself and doing some project was out of question as it wouldn’t be either constructive or interesting. And over that Delhi’s hot temperature was a big no for me.The other option was to stay at home and spend time watching TV Shows and movies and partying with friends. It would have been interesting but not constructive. So i thought why not go for volunteering with some NGO. That way i could work on something closer to my heart and it would be constructive and interesting as well.
So i went off to Melghat Tiger Reserve to work with Satpuda Foundation . This was first time i was off to something like this as earlier whenever i volunteered, it was at some familiar place. Here i was , at unknown place, alone, and no idea about people i was going to meet and what to expect. My journey to Nagpur was no less interesting. I couldn’t get a Train Ticket so have to do with bus. I reached Bhopal after 18 hrs journey in Rajsthan Roadways Blue Line bus . I thought that Bhopal being a capital city, buses from here to Nagpur would be frequent. But it wasn't so. So i have to wait for a whole to catch a bus. And i couldnt' get a ticket in that too. I have to sit behind driver seat in cabin for full 12 hrs on way to Nagpur with “minor” hiccups like a punctured Tyre and a RTO Check.
So when i landed in Nagpur, I was exhausted to the hilt. Kishore Sir, President of SF briefed me about the work i have to do. In the initial first week i was supposed to work with Duda Education Van on Melghat education program. If you're wondering what "Duda" means, it's this charming little bird, the Forest Owlet. Duda is its name in the language of the Korkus, a tribe that live in Melghat Tiger Reserve and elsewhere in the Satpudas. As mentioned in previous post of Rajshree, Duda Van goes into tribal villages twice/thrice a year. They put up at forest rest house and cover nearby villages visiting a village a day. Children and adults are taken for nature walks around their village, and educated about the many treasures there. They are taken for forest safaris in the Duda Gadi. They play games specially designed for these workshops, including one called "Web of Life" . In the evening when the adults are free, they are shown films about wildlife and nature and its protection.
So next day i went to Harisal 300 kms away in a taxi. SF have a Community Resource Center there. Stayed overnight there. Duda "gaadi" was being prepared for its journey for next fortnight. On 3rd June, Wednesday in afternoon we started for chawrakund. 11 kms from Harisal. There were four of us. Ratan ji ( Driver ), Gajanan Shanware, Saurabh ( ICFAI Internee ) and me. We inquired for forest guard in the village as he had the keys for forest rest house who came after 1 hour. Rest House was amazingly well furnished with a solar panel. But I soon realised that i have to cook food on "Chuhla" and that too by myself. Saurabh had no clue about how to make rotis. So i went off with making Rotis. After seeing the pathetic cooking skills of mine for 2 days Ratan ji said “Sir please let me make the rotis. “
(below- forest rest house)
I then spent the evening enquiring about past Duda Van Programs in the villages with Gajanan and Ratan ji. Next day after having Lunch , we started for Tangda Village. It was a small village of around 80 families. I had heard beforehand that Duda Gadi was quite popular there so as soon as we reached there children were all around chasing our van. People came out of their home to see what’s happening. We decided that it would be better if we conduct activities with children in the evening as it was noon and schools were closed for summer holidays, So we went to house of Polis Patil to get some information regarding village. He was busy with some official work. So we inquired with villagers (gavkari) about the development work being carried out and problems of village . We also inquired about educated unemployed who wanted to learn something or do some work. Whole afternoon was spent in that. After that children gathered around our van. We played different games like “Web of Life” with them. Also sang some song like "Pahadi pe ped tha..", "Jungle to pyaar ka mangal hai" together. In the evening we set up our projector system and showed the movie "Lands Of Tiger" to the villagers. I was surprised that whole village was present. Someone from village brought as Tea and Man!!...It was tasty.
(below- interacting with Children )
Next day we went to Bhuturm . 25kms from chawrakund. This was an experience i wont forget. There is village where electrical lines were laid down 30 years back and there is no electricity in them and had never been, This is irony of development. As i enquired with villagers about development, they werent too bothered about it except a few. There was no telephone or mobile network in village. Forget about water pipeline. Suddenly my problems seemed very small. I was wondering how these people live without what we consider basic necessities of life. In the evening when we setting up our projector for movie screening someone protested saying that we want to pollute mind of their teenagers. Saying that we were part of Project Tiger. That we want to resettle their village. I was quite taken aback by this response. Those people were quite apprehensive of government activities. Somehow we managed to convince him with help from Local people. When we returned to Rest House there was no electricity and it wasn't there for next 24 hrs.
(above- villager arguing against movie screening)
(above- village girl )
Khokmar was next village in line . It was 20 kms from chawrakund , on way to Bhutrum. This village was same as Bhutrum except that there is a State Transport Bus Service till here and not to Bhutrum 5kms away and there were solar lamps provided under project tiger to each house. There was a public dispensary also. I could see the difference between two villages quite distinctly. When we were movie screening was going on in the evening, the projector screwed up due to extreme heat output. We tried to fix it but had to return Harisal very next day to get it fixed permanently and to get a TV .
(below- interacting with villagers)
(Above- Villagers with Duda Van )
Chawrakund was the last village. This was most developed village in all four. There was a primary school till 7th. There was a post office and people were quite educated and aware of their rights and duties. Next day i left for Harisal in the morning as i had to do socio economic surveys in the nearby villages .
(below- movie screening in village)
But after these four days i spent in these tribal villages , my perspective of how i see things changes. As I wrote earlie, Suddenly My Problems seemed very small . These villagers were content with what they had. Sure they had some issues, but they were trivial. I met people who doesnt even heard of nagpur forget about mumbai, delhi. I met people who dont know what the idea of India or Bharat is all about. Amravati was like final destination for them. Some of the Womenfolk over there haven’t ventured out of their village ever. As my driver Ratan ji put up the whole experience in few words "Sir, aap melghat ko kabhi nahi bhool paoge.Jo ek baar melghat mein rah liya wo kahi bhi rah sakta hai"