Peter Paul Ekka, s.j.

Born in Samtoli, Simdega in Jharkhand in a humble Tribal family, Rev. Fr. Peter Paul Ekka, s.j. had his early education in his village itself. In 1973, he joined the Society of Jesus. In 1978 he did his B.Sc. Honours in Chemistry from St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi. He was educated in Chennai, Pune, New Delhi and Marquette University, U.S.A. He did his Ph. D. from the University of Ranchi, Ranchi. Besides being a professor of Chemistry at St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, he has also carried out administrative responsibilities as Registrar and then as the Vice-Principal of the college.

Fr. Peter Paul has published a number of collections of his short stories and also four novels. His novels include Son Pahari, Maun Ghati, and Jungle ke Geet. His short story collections are Khula Aasman Bund Dishayen, Parti Jameen, Chhittiz ki Talash Mein and Rajkumaron ke Desh Mein. His stories and novels are sensitive portrayals of the struggle of the Tribal people of Jharkhand who have to migrate as cheap labourers to far-off places like Assam, the Andamans and other states of India. All his stories and novels display great authenticiy of experience since he himself belongs to the Tribal community.       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palas Blooms

[Original title: Palas ke Phool]

Peter Paul Ekka, s.j.

 

 

Hai ho hai! Hai ho hai! Ida ho!

 

The collective voices of men and women filled the earth from horizon to horizon; the sky seemed to be rinsed clean by it. The wind played with the tall and brown sakhua trees. A happy flight of birds crossed the vast, open sky. All around, there were lush and undulating valleys. It seemed to be a freshly bathed world, and also slightly intoxicated.

As you came out of your hurriedly erected shed, you saw men and woman constructing a road. They belonged to the same hilly region. Every morning the workers—men and women, boys and girls—assembled there, laughing and talking among themselves. The work on the road began a few months ago. Since then, a long stretch had already been constructed. Some of the workers carried earth and others boulders. Some were busy felling trees that stood in the path of the road. They were the ones who were shouting: hai ho hai.

Men, women, young boys and girls, who they work like machines. Dark-complexioned men and women – some the men are in  vest and trousers, some are bare-chested, some have just a loincloth around their waists. Bodies hard like rock, burnished like copper, strong like steel, used to sun and rain. A few have a gamchha wrapped around their heads, some are wearing necklaces of cowries or coral. Some have their handkerchiefs tied round their wrists. The sweat drenched bodies glow in the yellow light filtering through the leaves of the sakhua trees. And there are strong, slim, attractive women— dusky, wearing cheap cotton saris, or in coarse cloth wrapped around from the breast to just below the knees. On wrists, calves, cheeks there are beautiful tattoos, shining from a distance. Green and yellow glass bangles in slim, shapely wrists, hair bunched together with a red ribbon, stuck into which one, or two, colourful flowers, smiling and proud. The open, musical laughter of those forest girls often rings in that wooded region. How beautiful they look, walking in a line, carrying earth in baskets on their heads.

There the jawabdar (supervisor) is shouting, encouraging the workers. Hai-ho, hai-ho—the sound rises and falls in a set rhythm. The workers pause for a while to see the tree fall. During that time there is some bantering. Some bold young man quietly tosses a pebble towards the girls. Large, innocent and loving eyes then look back but the boy has disappeared. The young men shout Ida ho and laugh. The girls are embarrassed. Then comes the voice of jawabdar and work begins in its same mechanical manner.

By the time I completed my inspection of the site, it was already noon. People working since morning were looking tired. Who knows whether they had anything to eat in the morning? Perhaps they had a day old rise, some salt and one or two onions. When the numberdar (in charge) beats the metal plate, there is a wave of joy among the workers. In groups of twos or threes they begin to gather under the shade of the sakhua trees.

When I returned to my tent, the orderly was ready with my tiffin. From the gaps in the tent I saw—on the other side in clusters of two or four men, women and children were eating, as if they were a family. Some has brought rotis, some have brought vegetables. The jawabdar has sent the drinking water. People are laughing, they are talking, they are exchanging their food. On the other side some young men and women are bantering and laughing. The older people are conversing in a low voice. They notice what the young people are doing but pretend to overlook it.

After finishing my meal when I came out of the tent to wash my hands, I saw the jawabdar arguing with someone. A couple of workers have come near him and standing there, watching what is going on. In his broken Hindi the jawabdar is talking loudly. When they see me approaching them, they become a bit quieter.

“Look at this lazy girl. She does no work and is asking for her wages. You tell me Sahib, how can I pay him?” Jawabdar is incensed.

I saw: wearing a torn sari that hardly covers her well-built young body the girl stand there, her head bowed in fear, apprehension and embarrassment. She is lean and dusky, and wearing like the other hill girls a small necklace and a couple of bangles in her wrists. Her hair is dishevelled. She is an innocent face of nature’s courtyard. When one saw her anyone would have felt pity for her.

“Give her at least something to eat,” I tell the jawabdar.

“What can I give her, Sahib? How can I give her anything to eat when she does not work? The hill people of this area make such excuses all the time. You show some compassion and these hill people become all the more arrogant,” the jawabdar seems to get more angry.

“There is some food left in my tent; bring it here.”

Reluctantly the jawabdar leaves. I look at that hill girl. Like an untouched  stature of soft clay she stands silent.

An older man standing there seems to know some Hindi. He says, “Babu, you are a good man. How much you have cared for us since the day you came here. That babu before you did not remain here even for a month. These jawabdar oppresses everyone.”

“Oppresses you?”

“Yes Sahib. He pays us half our wages and asks us to put our thumb impression on our full wages. He makes us work hard, also asks us to do overtime duty. He gives work to his own men, and ignores us.”

“So this is the matter. Why does his not pay this girl’s wages?”

That hill girl looks at me with eyes wide open with surprise.

“He says she does not work properly. She has come out of illness just two days ago. How much can she work? When we fall ill and don’t report for work the jawabdar says—don’t ask me for your wages. He threatens to take our names off the list of workers.”

The numberdar sound the metal plate. One by one the workers leave for work. They pick up their tools of work. Once again the sound of ‘Hai ho’ begins to ring in the place. People begin to work like machines.

Spreading the map on the table I begin to examine it. The orderly come near and begins to help me. Ten miles of the road has already been made. And a great deal of work still remains to be done. Work progresses, but rather slowly. Even then it is not that bad. But it is going to take months. Lighting a cigarette, I begin to watch the hills in the distance. The orderly belongs to a village nearby. Since I came here, I don’t know how many stories has told me about his village. One by one countless memories cross my mind spontaneously.

Near the hills there are a number of villages and settlements scattered around like bushes. The houses have mud walls, straw roofs and there are a few with tiled roofs. A typical house has a small courtyard in a corner of which were tied cows and bullocks, in another corner there are goats and on another side some chickens. The rooms have no windows, and are dark and musty.  Just outside the house began an endless forest with tall trees. There are narrow footpaths to go from one house to another. Naked children played in the shade of trees raising clouds of dust. In their games the children made small mud houses, sometimes played hunting trying to shoot arrows at trees making a great deal of noise. The mothers asked them to play near the house only. Sometimes she spread paddy over nearby rocks and then pound it into rice. The entire forest region is generously open like a carefree and sentimental teenage girl.

My eyes span the scene and then focus on the map. I make a mark one or two points.

“Sahib, that girl is not eating. She not only shirks work but also acts important,” entering the tent the jawabdar says.

‘What did she say, she won’t eat. If she does not eat, she will starve.”

“She says how can we hill people eat the food of Sahib. These hill people will starve but will not accept charity.”

“All right. Give the food to me. I’ll myself give it to her,” Before the jawabdar could say anything I take the food from him and leave the tent.

At some distance her head bowed, she is sitting on the ground under a brown sakhua tree in the same position. She is sobbing.

“Eat this food and go to work. This is not charity, this is what you have earned. Eat and go to work, or else you will be removed permanently, do you understand?”

Slowly she looks up. Large, transparent and warm teardrops have filled her eyes. I had never seen such innocent and flawless natural beauty in a person. Gently I place the plate of food in her lap. She tries to say something but ignoring that I hurry away.

Like every day, that evening too I went towards the mountain river. I saw countless smooth boulders lying silent along the river. A rain-fed river has its own flow. At times I would think—these hill people too are like that rain-fed river. Moving ahead, flowing on is their life. When it rains the rivers fills with water and overflowing its banks begins to rush on like a carefree young girl. When the rains stop, the river dries up and there are just a few shallow, slow, listless and almost dead pools of water. Then the same kind of boring, lacklustre, smothered life, without excitement or sparkle.

Sitting alone on the bank of the river and gazing at the beauty of the entire hilly region and became emotional. Chirping happily clusters of birds flitted across the sky to their nests. The light yellow sunlight filtered through the leaves. All that looked very lovely to him. The thin, tender flow of the river seemed to be lost in itself. All around there was silence, unusual and intoxicated.

In the beginning how terrible all this appeared. It was very difficult to get even things of ordinary daily use. At first how difficult it was to follow the language of the people there! It was the jawabdar of that hill region that made things easy for him. He always had a strong desire to work among those hill people, and so when he received the government order Anand was delighted. Very soon he moved from the headquarters to that totally rural and hilly area. In the name of government quarters some makeshift houses had been built. There was a separate storeroom for materials. Most of the materials lay scattered in the compound. The cement bags were kept in the storeroom. Steel rods, stone chips, metal, tools and heaps of sand lay in the compound. There were separate huts for the munshi and the overseer. They could have lived in them with their families, it would not have been very inconvenient. But no one had considered that possibility.

The early nights in that hilly area looked very terrifying. In the night there would be large mosquitoes and insects. There was the terror of snakes, total rural silence, the weak and pale light of the lamps and in the rainy season there were terrible flashes of lightning and the pouring rain as if it were the doomsday. But gradually he became used to all that. He tried to change himself to fit in that world.

Gradually he began to like that world of workers and tribal people. The road building continued at a steady pace. How hard-working and honest the workers were! You could make them work as long as you wanted. They would never complain. After the day’s hard labour you could hear the sounds of their dancing, laughter and singing. Occasionally handia in leaf-cups would be distributed; at times there would also be some country liquor. People would sing and dance late into the night. They would dance with their arms around the waist of each other, the hill girls would move rhythmically and create magic. The booming sound of mandar and dhol would fill the place. Campfires would be lit, and all around there would be the yellow light of the lamps. Before dawn people would go in different directions in the forest. The golden rays of the morning sun would light up the place and as the numberdar rang his metal plate all the workers would be there, without exception. Good, honest, carefree, open people living in small settlements dotting green valleys.

Darkness deepens in the shadow of the horizon. Walking past those small settlements I saw children, old and young men and women sitting in the enclosure around a hut. I remembered what the jawabdar had said—in that village there is an innocent, beautiful hill girl named Salomi, who is twenty or twenty-two. When she was fifteen a religious preacher had come that way. For some years she had been with that guru. She cooked for him, washed his clothes, and arranged for his stay. In the language if her people she would help him in his religious preaching. For some five years she had been moving bout with that preacher. Whatever education she needed she had received there. She leant reading and writing with him. When he was about to leave for a place far away, he had sent Salomi to her village. Since then, Salomi has been living there. She teaches people and children. Everyone loves her, when she sings religious songs, people listen to her bewitched.

Today also she is teaching the alphabet to children in that enclosure. In the beginning no one came to her to learn. But gradually things began to change. Now children, grown up people and young women learn reading and writing with great zeal. Kept on a ramshackle table a transistor was playing.

When he reached near, leaving her teaching Salomi came to me.

“Namaste, Engineer Babu.”

“Namaste, Salomi ji,” I try to smile, “You are Salomi, aren’t you?”

“Yes sir.”

“My orderly Manhar was telling me about you.”

“It is good that this is how you came to know me.”

“How do you know me?”

“What do you say, Anand babu. How can it be that an engineer comes to our village and we don’t know about him? I had been wanting to see you. It is good that you yourself came here.” Bright red-pink lines of joy and enthusiasm appear in Salomi’s eyes.

Then for a long time she continued to tell me about the school. Nothing has happened till now. She does not know how many years it will take to get a school for her village. She does not know whether it will ever happen. Then Salomi herself had begun to teach the people the alphabet.  

“Come, Engineer sahib, let’s inspect the school,” before I could protest, Salomi held my hand and took me in front of the students.

“All of you, offer your pranam to Engineer sahib. And do not say ‘Pranam, teacher ji. Just say pranam.”

A collective voice chirps, “Pranam”, and hands are raised with joined palm in a practised manner. Salomi was smiling, I was finding it difficult to control my laugher.

Salomi draws an old looking chair towards me. I sit down. Every eye is looking at me with wonder.

Salomi asks an elderly person, “Your name?”

“Shibu.”

“Your village?”

“Kusumpur.”

“Your mother’s name?”

“Bharat Mata.”

“Your father’s name?”

“Mahatma Gandhi.”

All children begin to laugh. I too break into laughter. Salomi too begins to smile.

“So this is our school,” in the corners of Salomi’s large and black eyes an innocent, loving smile appears like the tender fragrance of maulsiri.

“Yes, yes. Wonderful. Soon we’ll need a college here.” When the students saw us laughing the students too broke into laughter.

“I’m so happy with what you are doing/with your studies. Soon I’ll get some books sent to you.”

“Thank Engineer babu, all of you.”

“Thank you,” all of them speak together.

The dulcet evening was deepening. Salomi had come some distance to see me off. In the tall, high trees of sakhua a dusty haziness had begun to grow. I saw two or three torches moving in the hills on the other side. Perhaps the young men and women of that village are going to the akhra. People came with all directions and rested in the houses built near the akhra and talk. Campfires were lit, people danced and sang, sounds of dohl and mander rose. Separate groups of well-decked young men and women were formed. Songs meant for every season would bloom in the air. People continued to dance late into the night, lost in the movement and song.

“Anand Babu, please visit us again next week. It is Sarhul that day. You will seem people dancing in the akhra. Have you ever seen the forest girls dancing?”

“Not yet. I’ll try to be there. Thanks for the invitation.”

“No trying, you will have to come Anand Babu.”

“All right, if you insist.”

“Thanks!” Salomi giggles happily like a child.

Taking my leave from Salomi I begin to walk fast. There Salomi will go back to teach people the alphabet.

All the while I was walking back to my site, Salomi kept revolving in my mind. How much was she influenced by that religious preacher? Now Salomi considers the service to her people her life’s work. How much are the innocent hill people exploited? She is trying to make her people conscious of the reality. She will be happy if she could help her village people be a little happier. I had never imagined I would run into a girl like Salomi in this far-off, hilly area. My sinking romantic imagination and my tender feelings were assuaged a little. Now there was someone there I could share my feelings with. The days that stood tall like mountains would now pass easily in the shade of her lashes.

As I reached the courtyard I saw a shy, nervous hill girl standing behind the jamb of the door. In her hand there was the same plate in which I had given her the meal. The same eyes, sweet, innocent and blackened by the kohl applied by nature, a petit nose, thin lips, a guileless chin like a child’s, and lithe arms and legs with beautiful tattoos on them. She had a short, coarse dhoti wrapped around her waist and covering to her extent her torso. I beckon to her to come into the courtyard. Hesitant and shy, she walks in.

‘What’s your name?”

Her lips stirred but she made no reply.

“Name?”

“Mine?”

“Yes, your name?” By then Manhar had come out of the house.

“Sahib, I tried to stop her but Parvati did not listen. Come and see, how she has cleaned and arranged the room.”

I went inside and saw—how neatly everything had been arranged. How things had been scattered here and there! Everything had been kept in its proper place. Table, chairs, bed, books. I was surprised by Parvati. How could a hill girl do all that? I came out and saw—Manhar had taken the plate from Parvati’s hands.

“She had come to return the plate, sahib. But when she saw that the room was so untidy, she picked up a broom and began to clean it.”

“Who are there in your family, Parvati?”

Instead of Parvati Manhar tells me, “Just a younger brother Sarju. Their parents died when they were very young. Some near relatives kept them in their house and brought them up. To earn a living they began to do odd jobs at a young age. Sarju occasionally works for others, ploughs land, does many other things. The life of brother and sister would have been happy, but since Lala Heera opened a country liquor shop in that corner of the market with his son Panna, the young and old of the locality have been spoiled. Falling in bad company, Sarju too is getting spoiled.  Now he does not buy rice and pulses with his earning as a worker, but liquor. Returning home, he shouts at Parvati, asks for food, and then intoxicated, goes to sleep. Here in this village, most of the men are like that. Parvati bears all this silently. When he is not drunk, he shows great affection for Parvati, swears that he will not touch liquor but as the evening falls, he turns to the liquor shop as always. He cannot stop himself.

I feel sympathy for Parvati when I learn about what happens in her home. I asked Manhar to tell Parvati to come to work every day. I also tell him that when I meet Sarju some time I would try to tell him to mend his ways. If she wants, she can come again to sweep the house like today. And yes, if she goes to the school in the locality where Salomi teaches people reading and writing, she will be able to talk to everyone properly.

When Manhar began to explain to Parvati what I had said to him, I saw that she smiled a little. I thought she had liked my advice a little. A very weak line of joy and hope appeared on her pale face. Before I left, she had not forgotten to express her gratitude by joining her palms together.

Soon Parvati is lost in the darkness. What a strange thing this life is! Such a young age, and a thousand problems of life! As if this is the destiny of these hill people—being born, working as a labourer, eating and drinking, marrying, being born, and dying. Working hard the whole day, cultivating a couple of small pieces of land. Occasionally wandering in the forest, picking up roots and fruits, when falling ill, taking some herbs as medicine, and sometimes praying to some deity, life being wasted in superstition, a world of poisonous insects. Is remaining ‘adi’ (primitive) the destiny of these adivasis (tribal people)?

As the evening thickened, the sound of mandar and dhol could be heard from the hamlets. In the dark corner of modest houses pitchers of handia were prepared. In the days when the mahua fell from the trees, one or two household would also distil liquour on the sly. On the market days, people return from the market drunk, shouting and screaming, spewing swear-words, getting into brawls for no reason, sometimes entering into fisticuffs. Their hard-earned money was wasted on liquour. Others use their mutual jealousy for their benefit. They never let them become one. People like Heera Lal and Jhamku Bania become rich at their expense. People collect char seeds, tamarind and mahua from the forest and exchange them for salt and oil in Jhamku’s shop. Jhamku buys all that dirt-cheap and then sends it to the cities. It is a very profitable business. These people know how to make money. These simple innocent tribal people will perhaps never learn how to bargain.

After my dinner I lie on my bed and go over the plan of the road in my mind. On the table Manhar has placed a cup of tea. The dull yellow light of the lamp fills the room. Thinking about the plan one by one the faces of those simple people float before my eyes like petals opening. Manhar has lowered the lamp’s wick. I think I should go to sleep now. Outside a deep darkness fills the world on all sides. The beautiful valleys of the morning lie curled up, fast asleep.

 

“Namaste, Salomi ji.”

“Namaste Anand Babu, you have come at the right time. I was doubting whether you will come or not, and so was about to leave.” She brings a small string-cot in the courtyard. “Please wait a little, I’ll get ready. Mother will go with us.”

Hearing our voices Mother had come out by then. She was wearing what all adivasis wear. Her whole body is covered in a simple handloom sari.

I joined my palms to greet her, and could feel her affection even from a distance.

“Ma, he is the engineer babu. He lives in that government quarters. He has come in this hilly area to get a road and bridges constructed.” Before going inside the room, Salomi paused for a moment and introduced me to her mother in her own language.

I sit down on the cot and glance vaguely around. It is a small and neat house with a tiled roof. On one side a small shaded area for the cows. There is a pile of firewood in one corner. Yes, the place looked slightly different from the cluttered houses of common adivasis. A bracing breeze blew. A few trees of sakhua, jamun and tendu stood near the house. A neat, large courtyard. The natural beauty of a  clean hut, sacred like a temple, is not easy to find anywhere.

I was watching all that when Ma ji came out of the room. She carried a brass plate, water in a lota, and mustard oil in a small cup.

By then Salomi too came out of the room. I watched her, transfixed. Like other hill girls she was lovely, dusky, lissom and well-dressed. She wore a coarse cotton sari and blouse, forest flowers in her hair, tinkling glass bangles in wrists, and a necklace of cowries. The lovely tattoos made her look different that day.

“Ma, we’ll get late. You could have left this tradition for some other day.”

“Do we ask the guest to come some other day so that we can welcome him properly? This won’t take long.”

The mother and daughter were talking in their native hill dialect.

Since Salomi insisted on it, I had to take off my shoes and place my feet in the brass plate. Applying oil on my feet, when Ma ji began to wash my feet, I felt a strange delight. After she had washed one of my feet, I was asked to place my other foot in the plate. After that was over, Ma ji raised her hands in greeting touching her forehead with them.

“This is how we welcome a guest who comes to our home. This has been our custom for years. How did you like it?”

“Very nice,” I cannot say more than that. A feeling of affection fills my heart. I had no words to describe it.

“We give some money to the person who washes our feet,” there was a mischievous twinkle in Salomi’s eyes.

“Then why didn’t you tell me before. What would Ma ji be thinking.”

“I was just joking. Very soon you will learn all this, Engineer Babu,” saying Salomi begins to smile at my innocent mistake.

“Now we should leave, Anand Babu, or we shall get late. You want to see the puja, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes. Let’s go.”

Ma comes out carrying a small pitcher covered with a piece of cloth on her head.

“This is handia for the festival. All of us bring something for the festival and then we share it with others and celebrate the festival together.”

“What a lovely custom it is, Salomi!”

Coming out of the house, we begin to walk on a small alleyway between trees. Salomi leads the way, I am in the middle, Ma ji walks behind me.

The hills girding the horizon look beautiful. The free fragrance of nameless forest flowers floats in the air. A strange peace spreads over those far hills. The faint sound of beating drums comes from that direction.

By the time we reached the akhra of the village the sound of drums has grown. It seemed as if the entire village was there. Boys and girls, young men and young women, elderly men and elderly women—on each face there bloomed joy and excitement. It was a special day for the young. It was on the days of such festivals that they could meet each other and lessened the longing of their hearts. The hill girls were bedecked like Salomi—well-built bodies, laughter blossoming like the gulnar flowers, their voices ringing like glass bangles—in the same kind of sari is trapped a treasure of beauty that unknowingly peeps out from the bondage of clothes. There is joy all around, and happiness on every face.

When we reach the headman get a chair for me. With great affection he offers the chair to me. He asks after my health and thanks me for joining the festival.

On one side the preparations for the puja are on. The pahan (priest) and his wife are married again as part of the ritual to show that like the marriage between the earth and the sky, they have been together in their many lives. Water from earthen pitchers was poured on the priest praying for good rains this year. Then the pahan offered a green twig of the sakhua tree to each one present there.

Sitting beside me, Salomi told me the story and the customs of Sarhul (the spring festival). For the puja the young people catch white chickens in the morning itself and then keep them folded in the dhoti. Before the puja begins, the pahanand his wife are seated on one side. Then the headman puts a vermillion mark on his forehead. The ritual of the symbolic marriage between the earth and sky is completed. Then people pour water from earthen pitchers on the pahan and his wife chanting ‘Barso-Ba-raso’. From the Sarna (the place where the puja takes place) people move forward amid the beating of drums. The pahan carries Sarma Sap (the seat of the Sarna goddess). The headman and young men carry the other parts of the seat. The pahan clears a puja-spot with a kudali. Things needed for the puja are placed carefully on the ground. The pahan washes the stone with his own hands. Chickens of the right colour are selected, vermillion powder is sprinkled on them. The heads of the chicken are cut and the blood is poured on the seat of the goddess. Incantations are chanted to please the spirit. The head of the chicken will go to the pahan, the other parts of it will be cooked with rice which then will be distributed among the devotees as parsadi.

When the parsadi is distributed, the pahan puts vermillion marks on the sakhua tree. A white thread is wrapped round the tree. Then the pahan distributes sakhua flowers, rice grains and the holy water. People begin to return.

As Salomi explains everything to me, I watch the people—when the parsadi has been distributed, people begin to dance and sing. The headman himself has picked up the pitcher of handia. There are cups made of leaves. As the custom is, he offers a cup of handia to me. Salomi has already warned me—even you do not want to drink, you must accept the handia. Later you can give it to someone else. Under a canopy made of tree branches and leaves, people sit down in a row. Cups of handia are being distributed. People are meeting one another and talking.

The young people begin to form into different groups. Carrying dhol, mandar and nagadas people are getting ready. People are going to dance around the sakhua tree under the canopy. I offer my cup of handia to an old woman. She is happy and blesses me.

“Anand Babu, come with me, today I’ll teach you how to dance.,” Salomi is almost pulling me up by the hand.

“I do not know how to dance. You are unnecessarily insisting on it.”

“I told you I’ll teach you. When you are among these hill dancers, your feet would begin to dance automatically.”

“As you wish,” I give up.

The boys and girls have been divided into separate groups. The dhol sounds loudly. Anyone, anywhere can place his arm around anyone’s waist and dance. Salomi makes me stand in a line of those hill girls. The rhythm of the dance is not very difficult to master. During my college days, I had seen this kind of dance once or twice. If I make a little mistake in stepping properly, the laughter of those hill girls rings. By the time I can master the steps of one kind of dance, there is time for another kind. Then they get ready for another dance.

By the time I am through with two or three dances, I begin to feel some fatigue. So leaving the line, I come back. The elderly are still sipping the remaining handia. I need some water to drink. The headman gestures to someone and I am given water. I quench my thirst and then continue to watch those simple adivasis dancing—how rhythmically those feet move on the beat of dhol and mandar! Leading that line Salomi is dancing, oblivious of everything else.

I glance at my watch, it’s going to be eight. There is only the light of that campfire in the darkness spreading into the far distance.

“Salomi, now we should go home,” I almost wake up Salomi from her dancing and she leaves the line of dancers.

“What’s the time?”

“Eight.”

“All right, now we should go,” Salomi arranges her dishevelled hair.

Her parents also had joined us. Saying goodbye to the headman we set out for home. Babuji has picked up a flaming piece of wood. This makeshift torch will show us the way in the dark.

“How did you find it all, Engineer Babu?” As we walk Salomi’s father asks me.

“Very beautiful. I saw all this for the first time. I had not imagined it even in my dreams.”

“You are going to be here for some time, aren’t you? You will come to know everything about the lives of adivasis. And yes, did you like this place? You are from the city, and here there is the forest, bushes and small hamlets. The babu who was here in your place could not stay even for a year.”

“I like this place very much. This open land, this beautiful world, the people of this place, how beautiful all this is. I feel like settling down here.”

“All right, then we will find a girl for you,” he says and breaks into laughter. Salomi and her mother too begin to smile. I don’t know why but inside me, there rose a feeling of a nameless joy.

Lost in conversation we reached home. The orderly was waiting for us in the courtyard. After drinking a cup or two of handia he had left earlier.

Saying goodbye Salomi is about to leave. I join my palms and offer pranam to Ma and Babuji.

In the distance the drums can still be heard. People will continue to dance late into the night. After all Sarhul does not come every day.

Memories of that hill area continue to flash across my mind as I lay in my bed waiting for sleep. Simple, happy, hardworking and carefree people live in the lap of Nature as Nature itself. Will all this remain like this, or will this hill region also become linked with the city? Roads will be constructed. Very dense sakhua forests will be given on contract. The forest will be denuded shamelessly. Who knows a colliery or some mine may be opened here? Or perhaps, there would be a plan to construct a dam and then these hamlets and villages will have to be vacated.

Then people will the city will come here. There will be the effect of the city. The heartless world of the city will spread ugliness all over this place. Is all this happening for the benefit of simple adivasis or is it a beginning of an endless vagrancy?

The night has begun to deepen. In that forest area the sound of the mandar still spreads in the distance, unrestrained.

 

By the time I finished inspecting the site the sun had climbed high. As some distance from the site there was a small mountain river. It was necessary to construct a small bridge across it. It was said that during the rainy season, it sometimes became difficult to cross that river. Though the villagers had constructed a temporary wooden bridge there, no one could say when that rain-fed river would sweep it away. Every year God knows how many people and animal lost their lives while crossing the river. With the road if that bridge is also constructed it will be a great convenience for the people of that area.

Cahitu has put up a sign post there. Looking through the telescope I can see Chaitu standing there. What a well-built man, strong body, powerful arms. He has a gamchha around his waist, his body is bare above that and there is a small turban on his head. A black talisman rests over his deep chest. He seemed to be the best among the workers so I had removed him from the road construction work and had brought him with me.

“Chaitu, move the post to the right.”

“Right now, Engineer Babu.”

“Move it a bit more to the right, yes, now it is all right.” Adjusting the telescope I again peer into it. I will have to enter the measurements in my note book and will have to calculate. By then Chaitu had come to me.

“Bade Babu, can you calculate by looking through this thing?”

“There will be a bridge across the river, I am taking measurements for it.”

“A bridge across the river?” Chaitu’s eyes open wide in surprise.

“Yes Chiatu, when the bridge is ready, you can easily go from this village to that.”

There is a sudden glimmer of joy in Chaitu’s eyes. For a moment he seems to be lost in some rainbow dreams.

I was busy with my calculation when Parvati came there. She had been carrying earth and was drenched in sweat. She is better dressed than she was that day. Sarju follows Parvati. He is a good-looking boy of fifteen or sixteen, tall, and has a hard body like the hills among which he lives. That day Manhar had told me a little about him.

“Engineer Babu, see, bhaiya (brother) has come to trouble me. He does not work and asks for money,” breathing heavily Parvati comes near me and says.

“So this is Sarju?” throwing a glance at him I say.

“Bade Babu, he does no work himself but wants me to give him money. I have not received my wages, how can I give him anything?”

“Why Sarju, why do you want money?”

“For what else, he wants it for drinking with his friends,” Parvati had said with some anger.

“Not for drinking, in that village there is going to be a cock-fight.”

“Shut up. I don’t have any money. Get lost. Let me work.”

“Sarju, why don’t you also come to work at this site?”

“If you ask me, I will surely come,” Sarju says with some excitement in his voice.

“All right, I will tell the munshi. He will give you work from tomorrow.”

I thought if he begins to work he would be safe from bad company. He would support his sister and that small family would be better off.

“Sarju, takes these two rupees. But go to watch the cock-fight. Don’t go to the liquor shop, understand.”

As he palms the two-rupee note he blooms like a child. He bowed before me and ran away.

“Will you deduct it from my wages. Babuji?” Parvati said, feeling grateful.             

   “No, Parvati. I gave it because I wanted to. All right, now get back to work.” When I say this she goes back to work.

I was busy in my calculations. The work went on. The munshi was speaking angrily to someone. These hill workers do not rest at all as long as the munshi is present there. The threat to remove someone’s name from the list of workers is the biggest strength of the munshi. If they do not earn their wages, how will they live? For one or two years, the rains have been failing. The forest on the other side had been given on contract. The trees were being felled. Then this project of road construction came up, and so the problem of livelihood was solved to some extent.

“Bade Babu, please tell me one thing.”

“Yes, what’s is it?” busy in my files I say.

“Today I want to leave an hour earlier.”

“Any particular reason?”

“Yes, Babu.”

“What’s that?”

“I have some personal work.”

“What personal work, why don’t you tell me the truth?”

“How can I say, Babu?”

“What do you want to say?” lifting my eyes from my files I look at Chaitu. There is an expression of great shyness on his face. He must be thinking that by asking me he has been trapped.

“That Mangli, who is working there...”

“Yes, what happened to Mangli?”

“Nothing, Bade Babu,” Chaitu is slightly embarrassed.

I had some idea of what he was saying. I knew it must be the reason.

“Why Chaitu, is there something between you and Mangli?”

Chaitu begins to look abashed. These hill boys and girl express their love with this kind of innocence.

“Why, has she called you?”

“Yes, Babu Sahib, today there is going to be dancing in her village.”

“All right, you can go early.” I did not think it was proper for me to ask him anything more. When he received the permission to go early, Chaitu bloomed like a red hibiscus flower. The pace of his work increased.

How soon the evening comes! Busy in one’s work, one does not realize when the day has ended. Now is the time to gather my things and leave for home. Manhar had come to accompany me. As the numberdar rang the bell, there is wave of joy among the workers. Very soon people will leave, taking paths going in different directions.

When I reach the courtyard, once again I occupy myself in the plan and files. Manhar has brought a hot cup of tea for me.

“Bade Babu,” I did not realize when Parvati came and stood near me.

“Who? Oh, Parvati! Yes, what’s it?”

“I have brought this.” The small basket was covered with leaves.

“What is it?”

“Please see it.”

When I removed the leaves I saw that in that basket there was some fresh fruit.

“What fruit is this?”

“Chaar and tendu.”

“Where did you get them?”

“I have collected from the forest. You eat and see, how delicious they are.”

“How are they?”

“Very good.”

By then Manhar had come into the courtyard. Although he tries to stop her, but Parvati begins to sweep the courtyard. Then she brings a pitcher of water from the pond.

“Can I go now, Babu.”

“Are you learning from Salomi how to read?”

“Yes, that’s why I am able to talk to you.”

In a short time Parvati has changed a great deal. Now she wears the sari much better. She has her hair tied in a neat bun. How fresh and fragrant she appears! The simplicity, the openness and the innocence in these hills can attract anyone. How attractive Parvati looks today!

“So, can I go now, Babu.”

Watching Parvati, I begin to smile. Thinking that I am asking her to go, she looks shy a little, and turning back she walks away swiftly.

“Parvati, wait a minute.”

“Yes?”

“I’ll see you off. Okay?”

Parvati makes no reply. She gives a small modest smile and lowers her head. Perhaps her silence is reply enough.

“Let’s go.”

We begin to walk slowly.

“Parvati, can I ask you something?”

“Yes, Bade Babu.”

“Why do you always call me ‘bade babu?”

“If I don’t call you bade babu, then what else?”

“Can’t you address me with my name? My name is Anand.”

“That it is, but...”

“But what?”

“You are a big engineer, we are illiterate villagers.”

“No one is big or small simply by education. People are big or small because of their heart.”

“That is true, but how can I address you by name?”

“Try.”

“All right, I’ll try, Anand Babu.”

“No, not Anand Babu, Only Anand. Anand.”

“All right.”

On the face of Parvati a natural blush of innocence spreads. She pauses and curls her toes inwards.

“I must be going. If the village people see us together, then?”

“Let them see.”

“Such friendship is not right, no?” Parvati walks ahead. I am filled with a completely new but extremely pleasant sensation. Standing there, I watch her go. She turns once, looks at me, and then smiling, is lost among the trees.

My innermost recesses of my heart is filled with the scent of the intoxicating fragrance of newly blossomed sakhua flowers. Returning to my courtyard, I begin to arrange neatly those memories once again.

Manhar must be busy in the kitchen. I stand alone in the courtyard, silent, trying to discover something on the far horizon. In front of me the entire range of hills stands quiet like a carefree young girl.

 

Today it is Saturday. Compared to other days, today there is greater joy and zeal among workers. Women, men, children and young people—all look happy. This is the payday. The weekly market too assembles today. At a distance of almost a kos, the thatches shops are set up. People buy and sell their things for the whole week. People meet one another. Joys and sorrows, stories of families are told and heard. Today people from different villages assemble here.

Today the work ends at noon. People collect their wages and laughing and talking, go to the market. I saw that as the numberdar sounded his metal plate, an expression of joy appears on every tired face. The jawabdar is sitting in the shade of a tree and is screaming at people to stand in a queue. After washing their faces and hands and wiping their sweat, people are gathering there, laughing and talking.

At some distance from here, a bridge will have to be constructed across the river. Holding the construction plan in my hand, I watch the people. Some of the workers have already collected their wages and are leaving.

“Anand Babu, will you go to the market?” I saw Parvati standing near me. She had collected her wages.

“Who, I?”

“Yes.”

“There is so much left to do.”

“You will have time to do your work. Sometimes you must see the villages too. You haven’t yet seen the market.”

It had been a long time since I came to that hill region. The munshi and the overseer occasionally visited the town. Busy in my work, I had not returned to the town since I came there. And there was no question of going into the villages or visiting anyone. Manhar did all my shopping.

“I haven’t seen it yet, Parvati.”

“Then come with me,” Parvati seems to be eager like a child.

“All right, let’s go,” when I said yes, I saw Parvati laugh like a kachnar flower.

I fold the map properly and put it away. Manhar will bring the telescope and other things.

“Parvati first let us go home. I want some water.”

The crowd of workers has already begun to move towards the market. After resting a while at home, we also set out for the market.

The market is some one mile and a half. With their families people from all the surrounding villages assemble there.

We cross the shop of Jhamku bania. There is a crowd of men and women. Large iron weights are lying beside a big weighing scale. People buy and sell before they reach the market. Chaar seeds, mahua, tamarind, and oil seeds gathered from the forest are sold to Jhamku in return for oil, salt, rice and paddy. Some need cash also, which Jhamku gives happily. But of course, the local people sell their things very cheap. Later Jhamku sends those things to the city and makes a huge profit on them.

As we approach the place, the din grows. Is there a clamour among the people to sell their things to Jhamku?

“Today you will have to pay back the loan. Bastard, you were whining when you needed the money, and when it comes to paying it back you avoid me,” Jhamku is boiling in rage.

“Seth ji, you have given the loan, but why this foul language?” tucking in the loose end of his turban the large hill man says. The bundle of money he has received on selling this land is tied around his waist. A woman, apparently his wife, is requesting him to pay the sahu. She says, when they have to live in this place, it is dangerous to make the sahuji their enemy. What if sahuji stops giving things on credit? Whether you want it or not, you have to go to sahuji’s door when you need something.

“Give that money around your waist, or...” sahuji roars.

“If I do not give the money today, what can you do?” throwing his chest out the hill man stands erect.

“Bastard, you talk big, I’ll beat you into a pulp. When they beat you up in the police station, then you will understand.”

For these hill people the police station holds a terror that is even bigger than that of tigers and leopards. When his wife hears the police station being mentioned, she once pleaded with her husband to pay the loan. She knows the meaning of police station. If they get caught into the web of sub-inspector and constable, they will have to spend all their lives visiting the police station. And then, even if he does not pay the money, all that money he had will be squandered away in the liquor shop.

“What is the matter, sahuji. Namste.” Approaching him I say.

“Oh, Engineer babu, Namste, Namaste. What else? Look at this hill man. When he is hungry, he will pray to me to loan him money. I myself borrow to feed these people, and now this fellow is threatening me when I ask for my money.”

“What loan, what money, sahib?” The hill man comes close to me. “I took a loan from him and pawned my entire life to him. I had taken a hundred rupees, sahib, but till now it has not been repaid. Now for the last three months my young son and daughter are working for sahuji. Even then the loan does not get repaid. It is as if I have become his slave for ever.” In anger, he begins to raise his hand as if to strike the sahu.

“Why, sahuji? Is he telling the truth? Let me see your ledger.”

“O, you want to see the ledger, sahib? Please come to my shop in the market, I’ll show you the ledger and also offer you some sweets.”

“Sahuji, this is too much. Eventually the truth will come out. If all these people come together to you, you will have a difficult time, understand. Have you even seen a bow and arrow?” I whisper to lala. He seems to be scared.

“If I hear again about this, it will not be good for you, sahuji. And yes, let his son and daughter go, understand. If they go to the court, you will learn a lesson.”

“I have understood, sahib.”

I saw people whispering to one another. The hill woman tries to touch my feet, and I ask her not to. In her eyes there is an expression of gratitude. Her husband too joins his palm in gratitude.

We walk on. The market is close now.

“This happens every day, Anand Babu,” Parvati says, “Here even a loan of five or ten rupees can lead to giving up one entire landholding as security. Here if a poor man borrows money he becomes the moneylender’s slave for ever.”

Parvati begins to tell me about incidents she has heard or has herself seen. There was a man named Mangal who lived in that corner of the village. People called him Manglu kaka. Some seven years ago, when his wife died, he borrowed two hundred rupees from moneylender in the market for the funeral of his wife. The moneylender took his thumb impression on a blank paper.

In the month of aghan, Manglu somehow managed to give half a quintal of rice to the moneylender. He was too simple to understand that he could sell that rice and repay the loan. Two or three years passed like that, and in the moneylender’s books still showed a hundred rupees as the loan. Then that year the rains failed. Then the moneylender would continue to remind Manglu about his loan. He would threaten Manglu with that blank paper on which Manglu had put his thumb impression. With nowhere to go, Manglu had to transfer his land to the moneylender. The villagers knew the entire story, but they were silent. That happy family of five people left for God knows where. From then his dilapidated hut is in the same condition. Manglu kaka never returned.

Then that forest some five kos away was given away to a contractor. The Forest Guard had come with his men from the town. Very soon a small house was constructed for them. A temporary road too was constructed. In a month’s time, they began cutting down trees. The adivasis were prevented to take even twigs or leaves from the forest.

The entire forest rang with the sound of trees being felled. The workers from the village worked like machines. They were paid a pittance as wages. The innocent young men and women of the village were employed to cut down their own forest, their own home. All that for some wages. After all hunger is all powerful.

The forest was ruled by the Forest Guard. Two or three trucks were always busy carrying the timber. Late at night, the Forest Guard will have a party with his men. People would eat and drink, and enjoy themselves. They would play cards. Occasionally young, some young, well-built, and dusky girls of the village would be selected and with the power of money were forced to stay back with them. When Jeetu saw the same thing happening with his sister Ratia, one day he brought his bow and arrows. But no one supported him in this rebellion. Everyone is a coward and timid. The next day, the body of Jeetu was discovered in the forest. People say that he was killed by a wild beast during the night. But the truth was something else, which the men who did that on the orders of the Forest Guard knew, and which Ratia knew.

“This is what is to be explained to the people, Parvati. Once they understand how they are being exploited, they will know the truth and the reign of people like sahuji will end.”

“I don’t know when that day will come, Anand Babu,” Parvati’s eyes began to look for something beyond that winding footpath.

The market was full of people. People are scattered in small clusters. There is small hotel on one side of the market. People are eating there. They are eating pakauris. In front of the eatery, there are rows of many cloured sherbet poured into glasses. There is also a shop selling green, red, blue and yellow ribbons. Rows of mirrors, bindis and combs are arranged in makeshift shops. The dark-complexioned village girls stand in clusters in front of those shops. Once in a while they crouch on the ground and peer at their buxom beauty in the mirrors. A few are bargaining. Close to them stands a group of young men also. One or two of them are buying combs, ribbons and bindis for those hill girls. A few ask the price of something, and then feel satisfied only my touching them. There is a great deal of activity going on.

In the shade of the banyan tree a few couples are taking rest. Everywhere children are making a noise. A child wears a two-anna coloured glasses and finds that the whole world has become colourful. A few children have sweets in their hands and showing it to others, are eating them. A little farther, the women from the village are selling vegetables and fruits. There is a shop selling bamboo baskets and soops. Beyond that is the shop of the potter. Yellow earthen pitchers, earthen pans and surahis. People test them by ringing them and then bargain for the best price. If the price seems right to them, they buy them.

In front of a shop a little ahead there is a cluster of hill girls. That is the shop selling glass bangles. The single shopkeeper stands helpless before so many customers. There are bangles of many colours—red, yellow, green and blue. A few want to break the ones they are wearing and want new ones in their place. Some are selecting their bangles and trying to guess their price. They are calculating whether they have enough money to buy them. Some have kept the money received in wages very carefully. Some have secretly sold some paddy, others have managed some money from somewhere. Sometimes those glass bangles break while being worn in slim wrists. The women sigh in pain. Let there be some pain, it does not matter. After all, one does not get bangles every day.

“Oh, you too, Anand Babu, you have also come to the market,” Salomi says as she sees me.

“Perhaps I would not have come here on my own. It was Parvati who dragged me to the market.’ I saw Parvati sitting and selecting bangles.

“That is good. Today you will have to buy bangles for me. Engineer Babu must have a lot of money.”

“All right, first choose the one you want.”

“No, no, this will not do. Don’t you see, there is a whole of army of us here. Buy one or two pairs for each one of us...”

The hill girls began to giggle. Those dusky laughing girls carry earth and boulders for road making. I saw Mangli among them. Beside her stood Chaitu, who was trying not to meet my eyes.

“So, do you have that much money, or do we go back disappointed?” Salomi teasingly complained.

“Come, all of you wear new bangles. I’ll pay for them.”

“Come, let’s all take new bangles.” Salomi screams with joy. In every wrist a few glass bangles begin to tinkle and laugh. It is on such occasions that one can see such flower-like joy on the innocent faces of those hill girls.

Wearing bangles, the hill girls looked at me with gratitude. Then gradually the crowd began to thin. We also move forward.

“Did you have anything to buy?” Salomi asked me.

“Not anything particular. It was Parvati’s insistence that I came to the market. Parvati, do you have anything else to buy?”

“I have finished my shopping, Anand Babu.”

“Finished? When?”

“I did not have much to buy. A little salt, some oil, a matchbox, potatoes and some green vegetables.” Parvati shows me those things in her bag.

There is front of us an old woman sits selling some good water melons. Some other women are also sitting in the row with a few things they have brought to the market to sell.

“Salomi, what if we take a water melon each. I don’t know since when this old woman is sitting here.”

“As you wish.”

“We select a good one for Salomi and another for Parvati.”

“You have not bought a water melon for yourself.”

“I will come to your houses to eat it.” Both Salomi and Parvati break into laughter when I smile.

Thus about two hours pass. People have begun to leave the market. Now people are talking more about their families and villages than buying things.

“Salomi, Parvati, do you have to buy anything else? Shall we return now?”

“Let us go. See, how dust rises everywhere here.”

We come out of the market and begin to walk back home. Groups of people too are returning, laughing and talking.

We see a crowd gathered under a banyan tree in the distance. There is a great noise there, people seem to be excited about something.

“There is a fight going on there,” Salomi tells me.

“Fight?”

“Yes, cock fight. Knives are tied to their legs and then they are made to fight. The cock that dies or that runs away from the fight is handed over to the owner of the winning cock.”

“Anand Babu, have you seen a cockfight?” Parvati asks me.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Okay then, let us go and watch it for some time.”

A throng of people encircles the battlefield. There is joy and excitement on every face. Two experts are preparing two cocks for the fight. People have fallen into two opposite camps. The owner of the cock is stroking his cock. A sharp-edged knife is being tied to the legs of the cock. The guessing game is on. People are betting on the cocks: “Two rupees on the rangua (coloured cock), three rupees on the kabra (spotted cock), now five rupees on the rangua, come on, bet, come on.”

Small daggers sharp as a blade have been tied to both the cocks. Carrying the cocks the two trainers face each other. Squatting on the ground they first touch the heads of the two cocks together. This custom is repeated three times. Then the two cocks are left to fight. Oh! How the two cocks are attacking each other. Suddenly the noise increases. It is a matter of life and death. Both the cocks are jumping at each other and attacking furiously. Suddenly the coloured cock hits the other so hard that the neck of the dagger cuts the neck of the spotted cock. The stream of blood soaks the earth. The victorious cock is held by its trainer. People are shouting. Those who have won the bet are demanding their money. The faces of those who have lost the bet have gone pale. The defeated cock is given to the trainer whose cock has won the fight. The owner of the winning cock is congratulating the trainer of his cock. Now other cocks will be prepared for the fight. With their cocks under their arms people are challenging one another; they are looking for a rival for their cocks. Very soon, another pair of cocks will be ready for the fight.

“Have you seen the cock fight?” coming near me Parvati says.

“Yes, it is good, no?”

“You men may like it. It is the cocks who die. You are enjoying yourselves. Now let’s go,” Salomi says in a dry voice.

“All right, let’s go.”

We begin to walk on the mud-track. Some people are walking ahead of us, going in different directions. It is their crude habit of talking loudly while walking.

In front of us there was another large banyan tree. There too people had gathered. A stall had been erected there by putting a small thatched roof on bamboos. In front of it lie some broken benches. Heeralal was sitting at the liquor shop with his son. The atmosphere there is something special. In the market there were simple adivasis, singing and laughing and happy. Intoxicated, there they are enjoying themselves. Such an extremely disgusting sight of a village can be seen everywhere in this hill region.

They would have stolen by the place but Parvati’s eyes fell on Sarju. With a bottle in hand he was lost in himself.

“Didn’t you promise to me that you will not drink?” shaking Sarju by the arm Parvati says to him in an angry voice.

Sarju is embarrassed to see us all there. Even in his intoxication he feels sheepish.

“Paro, I won the cock fight and so I came here with my friends.” The winner cock is there beside him.

“Shut up, don’t try to fool me. Let such friends be cursed. If I see you drinking again, I am not your sister,” before Sarju could say anything, Parvati had broken the bottle in anger.

“Now come home with me, or do you want me to beat you?” Parvati is acting bold only because we are with her.

When they see us there, some of his friends try to disappear quietly.

“Salam, lala ji. How is business?” I say to the lala sitting inside the hut.

“O, is this engineer babu? Salam. How come you are here?”

“I had come to the market. I was passing this way so I thought I would ask you how you are doing. You must be making a lot of money, lala ji”.

“I just make the ends meet, sahib. These adivasis hardly have any money. My son tells me that we should stop selling liquor and start some other business.”

“Are you telling the truth, lala ji?”

“Yes, sahib,” the lala manages to say but his face shows that he is not telling the truth.

“Then close this shop, lala. At least that will help these adivasis.”

“I have to close this shop, babu. Has anyone made any money out of this business?” There is a tremor in the lala’s voice, showing he is not telling the truth.

The adivasi labourers have begun to leave. I know that the lala will make a thousand promises but he will never close the liquour shop. If once someone gets hold of the weak point of the adivasis, will he let it go that easily? These adivasis will sell their homes and land but drink they surely will. I say in a loud voice so that everyone can hear, “If I see anyone drinking liquour, he will not get work at my site. Do you hear?”

One by one the people begin to leave quietly. The women are happy. Holding the hands of their men, they take them away.

Feeling guilty Sarju begins to walk with us. Here among these adivasis a child first asks for handia instead of mother’s milk. What is the harm to drink a cup or two of handia during festivals? But when someone begins to down bottle after bottle of liquour or consume pitchers of handia what will be the result? There is poverty, then illiteracy and on top of the stranglehold of sahuji, and the havoc caused by lalaji’s liquor! Everyone is bent on exploiting them. Then what is going to happen to the simple and illiterate adivasis? No one will allow them to come out of this. There will be plans for their uplift just to show that something is being done for them, work will also be done, great sums will be spent, but these adivasis will always remain adivasis. They will neither be united nor will they even raise slogans against exploitation. The leaders of these dumb adivasis will also be bought. The tyranny of the rich will continue unabated.

By the time we reached home the sun had set. On the horizon of the apprehensive sky and the earth shrinking into itself there stood the ever-virgin hills, silent and lost.

“Many thanks to both of you, Salomi, Parvati.”

‘Thanks for what?”

“You have shown me the market, that is why.”

“It is we who should thank you.”

“Why?”

“We got so many bangles all in one day!” Salomi and Parvati begin to smile. With the twinkle of bangles young laughter breaks out like kachnar blooms.

I watch them go home. Manhar has placed a chair in the courtyard. In the little, restricted lives of adivasis, it is only the market, festivals and marriages that bring a measure of newness and freshness. At such moments how happy they are, as if there were not even a trace of pain and poverty in their lives.

Birds have begun to chirp in those sakhua trees.

 

That day when I met Parvati on the river bank she looked very sad. The other day I had asked her to come there for a walk. The sad memories of days past seemed to knocking at the door of my heart. She stood there, as if lost in her dreams and looking tired. How can I express my feelings: as I came near her for some time I could not decide what to tell her.

“You are looking very sad.”

“Yes, so?”

“Why?”

‘I don’t know.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“Why don’t you tell me now? And yes, didn’t I tell you not to be so formal with me? I may be the engineer babu for others for you...”

“For me...”

“That you should know,” looking at the innocent loveliness of her face I sit down on the rock.

“I have a friend Etwari. Only the other day she has come back from home. Some seven years ago she had moved to a small town from three kos from here. Then a mine had just been opened there. Her job was to carry limestone, the salary was quite good. There was an open settlement for workers where she was to live,” Paro pauses, as if she were looking for something somewhere.

“Now you too want to go there, don’t you? I know a town has different attractions,” teasing her, I say.

She says nothing, only gazes at the flowing streams for some moments.

“There was some small-time contractor. What kind of things these people say? That Etwari got a job because of their kindness. And also that the hill girls are so innocent and lovely. Have you ever seen such girls?”

“Yes, I have seen them. One of them is right in front of me.”

“You know how to talk. That contractor was so enamoured of her that made Etwari agree by making thousands kind of promises. She agreed too, thinking that there would be someone in her life.”

“Then what happened?”

“Then what? The same that happens with these simple, innocent hill girls. After a few months he disappeared, taking everything that she had. Etwari was left entirely alone.” Paro is silent. I too do not know what to say to that.

“Etwari was pregnant. She had no courage to return to her village. Now when Munni became four she returned home.”

The ripples continue to rise in the river as before. I search for something in the sand dunes on the other side.

“Here in the village so many things are said.”

“Did anyone say anything to you?”

“Nor really. Yes, it would be better if I do not meet you too often.. I don’t know what people must be thinking about us.”

“What do they think?”

Parvati says nothing and falls silent.

I suddenly remember so many things I had heard in my town—so many incidents, so many innocent faces. Hill girls living their lives as maid in big houses, young women wandering in the lanes and by-lanes, workers in large buildings rising to the sky, simple innocent girls spreading coal tar on roads. Nowhere are their lives or their honour safe. Very simple, young girls who can be used by anyone, anywhere in whatever manner they like.

I cannot share all that with Parvati. I feel as if a stab had gone through my heart.

“Now when will I see you next?”

“I can’t say.”

There is an unwanted pause in our conversation. I think it is right to say anything else. But yes, before leaving, when I look at Parvati’s face I see two large eyes filled with love, innocence and simplicity saying something. Throwing pebbles in the calm water of the river I watch Parvati till she disappears behind those tall, brown sakhua trees.

 

 

The work on the bridge had started, the pillars had begun to rise. The work must be completed before the rains, or else what can on know about these rain-fed rivers. During the rainy season these rivers become uncontrollable, they begin to flow flooding the banks. The rivers are swollen during the rains, for just a month or two. Then they become so silent and quiet that even a marriage party of ants too can cross them. Even the bridges on these rain-fed rivers too do not last long. But it is necessary to have bridges over them, or else the people on this side of the river have no connection with people on the other side throughout the rainy season.

Sometimes it appears to me that these adivasis also are like these rain-fed rivers—simple, carefree, and flowing as the mood takes them. Till the month of agahan people are happy and doing well. Then people visit one another, spend without limit on marriages. In a matter of two or three months, there is again scarcity, and the unobserved, disorderly wandering through the forests in search of food and water begins.

Today when the numberdar sounded the brass plate fewer workers have reported. Is it because of the fear of the yesterday’s accident? Wherever there is construction work, there will surely be occasional small accidents. That is not very unusual. In any case, these adivasis are always playing with danger. When they are not afraid of the tigers, leopards and bison of the forest, what can these little accidents do to them?

It was good that no one was hurt seriously. Later when a proper enquiry was made no reason was found why the column had collapsed. Two pillars are almost ready. Work continued on the third. Coming down, workers were taking rest. It was then that the upper portion of the pillar collapsed. One or two workers were injured slightly. Every part of the pillar was carefully examined. The munshi and the overseer had also examined it but they could not find the reason for the collapse. Then we stopped work for that day. The next day we would look into it again.

“Today very few workers have turned up. What is the matter? Is there some festival today? These adivasis won’t work because of these festivals they have,” I ask the numberdar standing there quietly.

“It is not that, sahib.”

“Then what is the matter? Today we had to complete that pillar. If the rains come, the pillar won’t be ready in time. Then what will happen?”

“Yes, that’s true, sahib.”

“Then? If they do not come for work like this, they will all lose their jobs.”

“Tomorrow or the day after they will come?”

“But what about today?”

“Actually, babuji, the thing is that...”

“What’s that?”

“Yesterday, it collapsed.”

“Yes, the pillar. So that is why all are afraid?”

“Yes, sahib.”

“But what is there to be afraid about? Accidents take place all the time. No one was hurt seriously, was he?”

“Even someone is hurt, the vaidyaraj will grind some herbs and give it to him and he will be all right. But sahib, they believe that...”

“What do they believe, why don’t you tell me the truth?”

“Sahib, that pillar collapsed because of the ghost of the river. That ghost requires human sacrifice. Without it, the bridge will never be ready.”

“Who has taught you this?”

“No one has taught me Sir. It is an old belief. They even say that day before yesterday, when the overseer had gone to the town for this purpose only.”

“All this is nonsense. I will prove that to all of you. The bridge will be made and it will be made without human sacrifice. Go and tell everyone in the village that whoever wants to come for work can come, or else he will lose his job for ever, understand?”

I put to work the few workers who have reported. What superstitions these forest people have! It seems you can frighten these adivasis by mentioning ghosts, gods and goddesses as much as you want.

I continued to inspect the site. By the end of the month the bridge will be ready. Then I will have to start work on the connecting road. For one or two months during the rains, the work would almost stop. But even then I will have to take care of the newly-constructed bridge and the road.

This is how the days pass. Tomorrow when everyone comes for work I will have to explain the situation to them. Illiteracy, poverty and superstition were those age-old diseases for which there was no cure.

After the workers had left, I stand before the rising bridge and regard it silently. Unaware of all that, the river continued to flow, the dunes on its bank were silent.

 

How lovely that Sunday morning looked! Sitting in a chair in the courtyard I gaze at the hills in the distance. Today I am relatively free. For these people of the hills Sunday is no less than a festival. Groups of boys will go into the forest to hunt birds and hare. Carrying their bows and arrows and making a great noise when they come out, the whole forest seems to share their joy. The girls set out in search of twigs for cleaning teeth, leaves, flowers and wild vegetables. At that time the whole hill region seems to dance to the tune of folk songs. In the distance the sweet sound of the flute melts in the air.

On those few palash trees, red flowers had begun to bloom. Those flower laden branches take on a different kind of beauty then. Beyond those trees, the whole forest is full of palash trees. The entire nature dresses up in a red chinri looking like a fairy in red. In the soft light of the sun I am lost, a book in my lap.

“A penny for your thoughts, Anand babu.” I don’t know when Salomi came there and stood before me.

“Just relaxing. Today it is a Sunday. I am resting a little. Where are you going?”

“I came to meet you.”

“To meet me? Come, sit down.”

“I have come to invite you, not to sit here.”

“Invite me? For what?”

“Will you like to take a walk?”

“Where?”

“There in those hills.”

“I hope it is not going to be a long walk.”

“It is going to be a long walk. But those hills are so beautiful that you will not feel tired. There you have a whole forest full of palash. You love palash, don’t you?”

“Yes, it is. But do I come like this?”

“What else, it will hardly take an hour or so. We’ll be back before noon.”

I go inside and tell Manhar that I am going out. Standing in the courtyard Salomi looks very happy.

“You will not be frightened there in the hills?”

“Frightened of what? I am not alone, there is a whole army of people with me.”

Some distance ahead, I found Parvati waiting with her friends. How well-dressed those jungle fairies were!

There was tumult on those jungle tracks. All around nature seems to be bedecked in a new dress. The soft fragrance of sakhua flowers floats in the air. Those girls gambol like young deer. Some are humming some folk song, some are bantering and some are whispering to one another.

“Anand babu, before you came here, did you ever visit a hilly area?” Salomi asks.

“A few times in my childhood. When I joined school and began to live in the monastery of Swami Shilanand, I have been living in a town. But I too come from a village.”

“A village? Just like us?” Salomi is surprised.

“Yes Parvati, from a village. And if I say I belong to your clan, then?”

“How is this possible? You are fair, you do not look like us adivasis.”

“And if I say I know your language, then?”

“Oh that. You must have learnt a few words and now you are showing off. Tell me, what is a forest called?”

“Parta.”

“And a fruit?”

“Poonp.”

“Water?”

“Amm.”

“And a house?”

“Edpa.”

“True, you know everything.” Salomi jumps with joy.

“I have answered all your questions. Don’t you believe me?”

“Then why did you hide it from me?”

“No particular reason.”

“It means that while working when we talked, you could understand all that we were saying,” Parvati cannot stop herself from asking.

“Yes, of course.”

“Now you are caught. We talk about all kinds of things,” Parvati blushes a little.

We have almost reached the top of the hill. We sit on the rocks. Some hill girls had plucked some wild fruit and were eating them with great relish. The whole hill was covered with red palash flowers. How lovely can nature be!

“Will you have some?”

“What?”

“Wild fruit.”

I taste one or two. I like it. When ask for a few more, they begin to giggle.

Salomi is telling her friends, “Do you know, engineer babu knows out language.”

“Really?” They seem very happy.

“Yes, it’s true. Now do not chatter while working. You will be understood.”

“These are for you, Anand babu.” That hill girl has brought a handful of palash flowers.

“You like it, don’t you?”

“Yes, I like it very much.”

“And Salomi, will you all not sing for me?”

“Why not? Phoolmati, you begin.”

“I don’t know how to sing.”

“If you act this shy, I will slap you.”

“All right, I will begin the song.”

Then the songs began, one after another. I don’t know how time passed. It was already noon. It was time to return.

In the distance, I could hear the noise made by the hunting boys.

“Now we must return, Anand babu,” Salomi wakes me up, as if from a dream.

“All right, let’s go.”

We begin to walk down the slope. Salomi leads the way, followed by Phoolmati, Radhia, and other girls. Parvati and I follow them.

“You all go into the forest every Sunday,” to being a conversation I say to Parvati walking by my side.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“For no particular reason.”

“We go to collect brushing twigs, flowers and fruit. It also means a walk for us.”

“Why didn’t you call me all these days?”

“I was afraid.”

“Afraid? Of whom?”

“You. Such a big engineer, I didn’t know how you’ll take it.”

“Now you are back to that.” When I say this, there is a pause in the conversation. Parvati makes no reply. For some moments, she looks at me, silent.

There was a small beehive in a sakhua tree in front.

All the girls tear small twigs from the tree, chew an end of it, and then begin to compete with each other trying to bring the beehive down. In a few minutes, the beehive is cleaned. I look at them with surprise.

“Take this, this is fresh honey.” Salomi offers me a small piece.

All of them share the honey. Then as they walk on, they are looking from another beehive in those tall sakhua trees.

Soon we come close to the village. A faint sound of people talking can still be heard from the far hills. Thanking them, I say goodbye to them.

Nature all around is looking beautiful, lost in itself. While making a bouquet of all those red palash flowers, my thoughts seem to float in the open courtyard of nature.

 

In the cool shade of the large banyan tree the panchayat sat to deliver judgement. The sarpanchs of both the villages were sitting on cots. There is arrangement for bidis, tobacco and hookah. One by one the village elders are arriving. After wishing and asking about each other they sit in a row. Some elderly women are also coming walking with slow steps. Under another tree, a group of children is lost in its games. Soon a large number of people assemble.

I saw Chaitu and Mangli sitting together on a mat there. The panchayat has come together only for them. One can see waves of self-confidence in the eyes of Chaitu. Mangli is somewhat apprehensive, she does not know what is going to happen. Yes, she has faith in Chaitu. Their families are sitting close to them.

Panchdhar, the sarpanch, gets up and announces the purpose for which the panchayat has assembled. How can such matters be remain hidden. All have come to know about the issue. The sarpanch had only made it formal. Everyone could see that Mangli was pregnant.

Panchdhar begins the formal cross-examination. “Now both of you have to get married, are you two ready for it?”

“I am,” Chaitu had said.

Mangli nodded in agreement.

“Do your families have any objection to it?” Pancdhar asked Chaitu’s father.

“We have no objection. We will do what my son wants.”

“When you are saying this in front of the whole panchayat, you will have to keep your word. It can’t be that after you take your daughter-in-law home, you begin to torture her.”

“Believe me, she will be treated like a daughter-in-law,” trying to convince him Chaitu’s father said.

“You don’t have to say anything, you agree?” Panchdhar asks Mangli’s father.

“We only want our daughter to be happy.” It is as if Mangli’s father says everything in those few words.

“Then the parents of the bride and the bridegroom should get up, shake hands and embrace each other.” When Panchdhar says that, the two get up and embrace each other. The eyes of Chaitu and Mangli shine with joy. The assembled crowd also is happy that everything turned out well. Chaitu and Mangli also get up and touch the feet of each other’s father-in-law and mother-in-law.

“The social laws are the same for everyone. Therefore Chaitu and Mangli will have to observe this custom.” Getting up the sarpanch announces, “In such cases, both the parties will have to pay a fine of Rs. 100 each, make arrangements for drinks for the whole panchayat and within a week will have to get the marriage solemnised by the priest.”

Who can go against the laws of society? The money could not managed then, but sarpanch had certainly arranged for two pitchers of handia. People bring the pitchers of handia. The elderly women of the village have already made cups of leaves. Talking, the people sit in rows.

Handia begins to be distributed in leaf-cups. The bride and the bridegroom are offered the first cups. Everyone begins to drink in a spirit of celebration. A few begin to sing. When a couple of drums are brought, people also begin to dance.

In the shade of the banyan tree people begin to sing and dance. A festival is celebrated with the money received as fine. After they have done something wrong they are accepted happily by the people. The babus of the town leave after they have got what they wanted. If these Laila and Majnu were turned out of the village, what would have happened to them? Chaitu and Mangli are happy. When the dancing comes to an end, people go home happily. Chaitu takes Mangli to his house.  

The next day when Chaitu asks me for two hundred rupees to pay the fine I cannot say no to him. He can be my slave for life for that. If he borrows that amount from the moneylender he will truly become his bonded labour for life.

“It is not that, Chaitu. It is only a man who helps another,” placing my hand on Chaitu’s shoulder I say, as if I am giving him my good wishes and blessings.

“I am greatly obliged to you, babuji. I will never forget it. Please deduct this amount from my wages in small instalments,” obliged, Chaitu’s voice quivers.

I see centuries old romantic images taking shape in Chaitu’s eyes—the priest utters a few words to the bridegroom and the bride seating them in a mandwa made of the green branches of the sakhua tree. As is customary in a marriage, the groom and the bride have to make a promise to live together for their whole life. This promise is made before an assembly of village people. Standing on a piece of stone, the groom and the bride put vermillion marks on each other’s forehead. The elder brother of the bride conducts the ceremony of giving the bride hand into the groom’s hand. The groom’s family becomes the protector of the bride at that moment. Along with the groom and the bride, the two family are bound in a relationship of love.

All that did not happen in his life. The ceremony of lota-pani had not been performed. The mandwa had not been erected in the traditional manner. Even then he was happy, and was faithful to his love.

I experience a tender feeling for those adivasis. If Chaitu had borrowed money from the lala it would have taken him a whole lifetime to repay the loan. His house and his land would have to be sold.

Chaitu leaves for work. The workers are busy like machines. The work on the road was nearing completion. There is a pleasant silence in the air.

 

A long time passed. The road was almost ready. The thought of leaving that place made me sad. How much love and affection I had received in that hill region. I have developed a close relationship with those adivasis. Whenever I remember Parvati, my thoughts begin to soar freely in the blue sky.

When I had come to that place for the first time, my mind was full of all kind of doubts. People had frightened me, “You are going among those adivasis. In that God-forsaken place, in those villages, you will have to live on leaves and flowers. There would be forests, poisonous insects, the fear of the dark as the night falls, rains like disaster, no roads, a place far away from the town. It would be a punishment like exile to a far-off place. Those adivasis have their own wild world, they would shoot their arrows at you and you will die. It is no joke to get a road constructed in that area. Why are you taking this risk like a volunteer? Why are you willing to waste your talent in those forests and those forest-dwellers?”

That is what my friends had said. Swani Shilanand who had brought me up was also worried. But soon he blessed me at the altar and gave me the permission to go and serve those people. Setting aside the doubts and fears of his friends, he had come to that hill region. One by one the days became better and better. One by one the unseen aspects of the forest began to reveal themselves leaf by leaf.

How many summers, rainy seasons and winters have passed! Last year too, the rains were not good. This year too it was the same story. Once or twice there were hailstorms too. There was no possibility of a good crop of mango, mahua and char. The jungle leaves and flowers too were not enough that year. How long could people survive on the roots from the forest? The little help that people got from the wages from road making too was coming to an end.

As the day of returning from the place approached, I began to feel sad. Those open hills and lovely valleys had always given me joy. The adivasis have their own colourful world. Their inner life had so much beauty in it. When the boundless beauty of their lives began to reveal itself bit by bit, I found myself losing in it. The adivasis also have a dark ugly world but that destiny is not of their making; it is what others have created for them.

“Anand babu!”

I turned and found Salomi standing there.

“From where are you coming in such hurry? Why are you looking so disturbed?”

“Anand babu, I am going.”

“Going? Where?”

“I don’t know where. I’ll go where destiny takes me. Father has already decided.”

“I do not understand.”

“People are leaving the village in search of work. They are scared of the imminent famine. Some agent has arrived in the village. He says that he will get us some work in a tea garden or in a brick kiln. Father has decided to leave. Tomorrow we are leaving the village.”

I felt a stab go through my heart when I heard that. What can I say? Even after a great deal of thinking I am not able to reach a decision.

“Then you will go away?”

“I have to go, Anand babu. There is no option. You too are leaving, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I too am going. I was thinking of getting myself transferred to this region again. But now I think it’s of no use. Everyone I know here is leaving.”

Salomi looks very sad. That short period of silence looks heavy like a mountain.

“What can we do, Anand babu. This is the lot of us adivasis. The landlord, the seth, the moneylender and educated people from the towns, all of them create problems for us. Who allows us to live? If we are here today, tomorrow we’ll be somewhere else. We have to wander through forests, valleys and mountains. Everyone is wandering. Who dreams to going to tea gardens and brick-kilns located a thousand miles from here? There too they will be exploited and wrung dry. But they go there in the hope of two square meals. This is our dharma and and out destiny.” Salomi’s eyes moisten and on the pretext of looking at the far hills, she wipes the tears with the corner of her aanchal.

But can a single man change all that? Most of the government plans are buried in files. Money will be spent but only to show that something is being done. But these adivasis will remain where they are. Countless mines and collieries will be opened. Bridges will be constructed over rivers, dams will be built. Land that was nurtured for years will be submerged. A little money will be paid to the people as compensation. They will have to leave their homes. They will be displaced. People from far-off places will come to rule here. The local adivasis will have to move to tea gardens and brick-kilns.

“Salomi, tell your father to come back when things are better. Let him not be perpetually displaced.”

“We’ll try to come back, Anand babu. We are not leaving forever. We will come back after earning a little.”

“Do come back, Salomi. After all one’s own home the real home. These valleys and hills, these forests, these flowers...” there is an involuntary pause in out conversation.

“Now I am leaving, Anand babu. Please forgive me for any wrong I have done.”

“What are you saying, Salomi,” I say and look into her eyes deep as a blue lake.

Resting her head against my chest, Salomi had stood there for some time and then saying goodbye had left.

I stood there silent, looking into the far horizon. I felt very sad. What kind of joke does fate play on these people! People who were meant to walk on the roads I had been constructing for so many years were leaving for unknown places. Is that the destiny of these adivasis? The dams that are built, the canals that are dug, the roads that are made, the mines that are started are not for them, but for others. For them it is always the back-breaking work, the labour without payment and a helpless, sobbing life like the animals of the forest.

The next day I see—on the roads made by me, bullock-carts are trudging slowly. The adivasis are going away, leaving the hills and the forest. The lovely hills and valleys are saying, “Goodbye, we could not retain you in our lap”.

From every corner, my sad thoughts return to me, disappointed. In that caravan moving away, Salomi must be sitting in the last bullock-cart and wetting the corner of her sari to see the lovely hills, beautiful valleys, her village, her home, her courtyard, and those countless smiling, blooming, laughing red plash flowers being left behind.

 

When it was time for me to leave that hill region, I don’t know why a strange sorrow overpowered me. Very few people were left in the village. They too will leave in God knows which directions. Will this endless cycle of migration ever end?

It was a March morning. The sakhua trees were laden with flowers and their fragrance hung in the air. My luggage has been kept in the jeep. The time to leave has come.

“Manhar, very many thanks.”

“Anand babu, so you are going away,” Manhar’s eyes are brimming with tears.

“I have to go, Manhar. If possible, I will come back. Take care of yourself.”

Before leaving, I push into his unwilling hand a hundred-rupee note.

When the jeep moved, Manhar and a couple of adivasis stand there watching it. I wave as I leave.

The jeep begins to run on the road. The green, pleasant valleys are slowly left behind.

At some distance I see someone standing by a palash tree laden with flowers and stop the jeep.

Her sari crumpled, she is a village girl, young and shy. She looked just as she had when I had seen her for the first time.

“What have you done to yourself, Parvati?”

“You are going, Anand babu.”

“Yes, Paro.”

“Please take these flowers as my gift. You like palash flowers, don’t you? What else can I give you? Please remember me. I cannot give you anything to remind you of me.”

“You can give me a great deal, if you want,” I look into her eyes. She does not understand.

“I don’t know what you mean, Anand babu.”

“Will you come with me, for the whole life?” I say placing before her my desire of years.

“What are you saying, Anand babu? We are born in this land, we grow up here and die here. We have a very loving relationship with it.”

“Can’t you break this relationship for another for the whole life? Please say yes if you want to.”

“Are you serious, Anand babu, I am an unlettered forest girl.”

“You don’t believe me? Look into my eyes and find the truth for yourself.”

“Really, Anand babu?” I didn’t know when Paro had come into my arms, driven by an impulse of ecstatic love. The pleasant valleys all around us had begun to smile.

Now after receiving the blessing of Swani Shilanand, I will have to get myself transferred to this area. I will have to locate Sarju, and make a man of him. With Paro it will be easier to wait for the villagers to come back home.

Swami Shilanand has his own dreams. Soon in these far-off valleys mission stations will come up. A small school will be started. There will be a crowd of laughing, singing, learning, reading boys and girls. There will be a small dispensary. People will share each other’s joys and sorrows. In these unseen hamlets, encircled by hills, the music of the dhol, mandar and the flute played by these independent, carefree and honest adivasis will ring in these blue mountains. Then everywhere there will be the dancing nature, singing forests, and a sleepy sky.

Driving the jeep I see—all around me deep red palash flowers are laughing. The beautiful valleys all around us are laden with fragrance. In the lap of Paro sitting close to me countless palash flowers are smiling.      

                

Adivasi: the tribal people.     

Handia: rice beer.  

Kos: equal to about two miles.

Kudali: an implement for digging.

Lota: a round metal jug with no handle.

Mandwa: a canopy under which a marriage is solemnised.

Panchayat: a group of respectable and elderly men of the village that delivers judgement on the cases brought before it.

Sarpanch: the head of the panchayat.