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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sal forests and driftwood collectors

My wife and I often simply run away together on the scooter to take a deep breath of fresh air whenever the life of the city begins to stifle us. We have been doing this unremittingly for the last 16 years. Once every two or three months, that is. There is a long tree-lined drive through the country that leads to the Ajoy river, and that is the route we invariably take. In all these years we haven’t tired of it. As the first picture shows, the Forest Department’s desultory efforts at conservation have managed to preserve only a thin line of sal trees bordering the road, but even that is enough for our thirsty eyes: the silence, disturbed only by the loud chirp of crickets even under the mid-day sun, the gentle breeze, the lush green of new and freshly-rain washed profusion of leaves, the absence of traffic (though it’s much worse now than 16 years ago) – the magic never fails to work. I took a few photos on my mobile phone (I keep forgetting to take my real camera along), and here are two of them, with apologies for the poor quality.

Where we stopped – I for a smoke and my wife for a drink of water – today, there was this villager struggling to tie up a huge bundle of dry twigs and driftwood that he had collected (fuel for the hearth) on to the carrier of his bicycle. He was huffing and puffing and making a bad job of it, and he let out a plaintive cry for help when he saw me. We fought with the bundle together until we had securely roped it up, then we paused to regain our breaths, and that is when I took the second photograph (he addressed me as ‘kakababu’: just imagine!)

I reflected that if the new government which has just assumed power can do something for this man, it will have achieved something praiseworthy indeed. And by something I don’t mean turning him into a drudge at a sponge-iron plant: he’s much better off as he is…


Nishant Kamath said...

Dear Sir,

Reading this article, I was reminded of the trip we once made in your car to the handicrafts place, where aunty bought a bag and you were outside the shop playing with a pup. I think we had taken the same route and had stopped once along it to stretch our limbs and take some snaps.

I do feel sad to see the trees with their leaves covered in red soil and dust blown onto them by traffic. The rains do a good job of cleaning them and allowing them to breathe, I suppose.

The incident you mentioned is quite amusing. I don't know what 'kakababu' means, but it still is funny.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Quite right, Nishant, it's the same road. And so sorry not to have translated - 'kakababu' is an honorific in Bengali, literally meaning uncle.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvro da

It is heartening to see that changes around you did not dampen Boudi’s and your spirits. I travelled on this road nearly 20 years back and was trying to picture it through your words and photographs.

It is sad reality that there are only fewer sal trees these days. As far as the state of the man you met, I too wish his life changes for better. I sincerely hope that new Government is progressive enough to think beyond populist war-of-words and speak through actions.

“Kakababu” is very earthy. Even I am now an “uncle” in our daily morning children library visits.



Rajdeep said...

Nice post. I liked the wonderful photographs. The road looks great. I think I have taken it once.
There is still some greenery left behind Arah.

Just as it was declared by some that India is fully literate, may be a few years hence we could be hearing that there is no poverty in India! Your photo could prove priceless.

I was saddenned by the sponge iron factories that have come up around Durgapur. The ash that covers the roof if left unwashed for one full day is proof enough what we breathe in throughout the day in Durgapur.

Doesn't seem to be bothering too many though as I saw that people were more excited about the huge KFC that has come up and the new shopping mall that is coming up nearby. Am talking of January this year.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
It was refreshing to read this post. These days, hanging out in Durgapur means going to the malls for shopping or the multiplex for movies. Yet, there remain such nooks around Durgapur, so green (though the greenery is dwindling) and fresh.
The post reminds me of those days when my parents took me to Durgapur Barrage or to Deul by the Ajoy river for a day out.
And it's sad to see the number of sal trees reducing and sponge iron factories increasing. Another thing that I have noticed when I go home is that the sky at night is never clear (I don't know whether it's the ash of sponge iron factories or some other pollutant). Around 15 years ago, summer evenings used to be spent on the roof of our house and my father used to explain the stars and constellations and other mysteries of the universe to me. These days, we can hardly see any of them.
And even if doomsday ever comes,
(whenever I think of stars, I remember the story Nine Million Names of God that you narrated in a class), we won't even know that the stars are blinking out!

Thanks and with regards,

Sunup said...

Dear Sir,

You and I and maybe some others would sympathize with the man in your photograph. But unfortunately, our statisticians and politicians may not. That is, if he spends more than Rs 20 a year (or 578 per year). If he does, then he is above the poverty line and is privileged of some sorts. Someone who saw me reading this post today morning, paused at my cubicle and read through. And the comment passed was "At least he is fortunate enough to own a bicycle." Hope the various governments of the day, all over the globe, do not turn out into cold statisticians.



Suvro Chatterjee said...

I have written about this mindless heartlessness of most of our 'educated' class, Sunup. Having been trained as an economist myself, I can vouch for it from personal experience at close quarters. The 'highly educated' class by and large come from comfortable to affluent families, and they have no real understanding of what poverty means. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that even if our leaders come up from the bottom rungs of society, they would not quickly become clones of the privileged classes: look at Mayavati. I am waiting with bated breath to see what power does to Mamata Banerjee.

Krishanu Sadhu said...

I had taken the same road to the Ajoy river two years ago with my brother on the scooty , and it was a real memorable ride . The tree lined roads offered a welcome respite from the commotion of my current city. It was DurgaPuja time , and we stopped at a temple midway (near Ukhra I guess). A public feast was being organized ; we had khichri on saal leaves. The open expanse near the river was a real treat to the eyes. Your post brought back some fond memories.

Krishanu Sadhu

Shilpi said...

Suvro da,

The last bit is something I wasn't expecting by the time I slowly went through the first and second bit although that was what I had been expecting when the title and the pictures drifted by upon first glance (at which point I hadn't been expecting the first and second bit).

Yes, he's better off where he is than working in any factory....and it's too much, I know, to expect people to say intelligent or sensible or amusing things but do they have to open their mouths to say utterly cruel and moronic things...that's in relation to Sunup's colleague. Maybe one should give the colleague a cycle and make him earn a living, and live for a summer cycling up and down for a bit of driftwood among other things. Then such stupid things wouldn't come out every time such people speak.

They chopped down all the trees in that favourite spot of mine near the creek in Prophet's Town. The last time I visited with Guha in winter sometime, there was only a stretch of sad looking, piteous tree-stumps and one tiny bit where the old, tall and mighty trees were still standing only because they hadn't cleared out that space in that mile-long stretch. I want to go back but what do I think, really: that the trees will have miraculously grown back or what.

The second bit is amusing. The poor man must have been relieved to find kakababu to help him with his driftwood. Good thing that the driftwood didn't attack kakababu like needles or daggers or him...I used to wonder and marvel back then how men would ride their cycles with an assortment of stuff - sometimes unwieldy and sometimes heavy and sometimes both - strapped onto the humble carrier while I'd be lucky not to bang into a tree or a moving object or sometimes wobble for no clear reason with nothing on my carrier or just a half-empty school-bag.

The first bit is picturesque, informative, and fills the reader with a glow and good cheer. Never been up or down that road. Nishant's comment was nice to read. I could almost visualize the car ride and all.

This is a good read.

Anand Tiwari said...

This post and the photograph of the winding road remind me of the following lines:

"raah pe rehte hain
yaadon pe basar karte hain
khush raho ahle watan
hum to safar karte hain"

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,
I liked the part related to the villager the most. When we lived in M.T.P.S, Bankura we also had occasional trips to 'Amarkanan' or 'Susunia'- two nearby hills from the little place where we lived. We used to get delighted by the simplicity of such people. Having a chat with them, makes us realize that how often that section of society gets ignored. It pains to listen to their sorrows. By the way Sir, I don't know the route to Ajoy river which you have shown on the photos.Would you please give me the directions for that route? It was nice to read your post.

With regards,

Dipanwita Shome said...

You are right, Didi will indeed have achieved a good deal if she manages to reach out to the trinomool. But, the real takeaway of this piece is the parenthetical. Just imagine!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

The pictures are beautiful. When will people understand that Sal trees are so important to maintain the too-delicate ecological chain in our forests. Conservation is not possible unless there are steps taken not jut to displace villages from and around forest ares but also to educate them about the dangers of anti poaching or logging. If the animals go, the forests go and vice versa and eventually we go their way too.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Too many people, too much greed, too little appreciation of either the beauty or the practical worth of all things natural... that's a deadly combination, Vaishnavi. I seriously believe that if India continues to follow the kind of growth trajectory that it has traversed over the last two decades, our landscape will actually start looking like the vast bleak poisonous post-industrial ruins portrayed in movies like Blade Runner and Wall-E within our lifetimes.