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Address 27th shodhyatra, May 28 - June 3 2011, Silli to Hundru, Ranchi, Part - I
Category Shodhyatra27
Title Old trees, young learners: a walk through the forests on 'fire' in Ranchi
Abstract We try to harness, honour and horizontally link the local wisdom and creative spirit in shodhyatras undertaken every summer and winter. There are two shodhyatras, which generally begin every time, one within each yatri, whose end we do not know, and another is the external one, of which the end date is known. The shodhyatras are guided by community spirit of solidarity, sharing of costs and living frugally so that we experience some of the difficulties that local communities have been living with for ages. Voluntary suffering (if there is some at all) is intentional so that we remain humble and open to learn from within, each other, nature and common people we meet during our walk.
Details The actual shodhyatra began on May 27th, when we reached Ranchi. There were three young innovators who impressed us with their amazing creativity. Mohammad Sajid Ansari, a student of class seven, had seen his mother, Rubaiah Khatoon cleaning rice everyday. Generally, some rice gets broken while beating paddy in the manual husker and some impurities also get mixed. Most of us have observed similar sight at our home. But, majority of us have learned to live with problems unsolved indefinitely. This is a crime, which our generation has committed almost uniformly in the context of numerous problems faced by poor rural women. Sajid was different. He did not live with the problem unsolved. He innovated an electrical machine, which separated full grains and broken grains along with other impurities etc., in just about Rs 2000! He was awarded by our former President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam at the IGNITE children award function for creativity and innovation. Nowhere in the country, have we come across a small desktop machine for the purpose. His father, Kalim Ansari is a tailor and provides his services door to door through a mobile sewing machine mounted on a cart. Unfortunately, during the removal of encroachments in the Ranchi city, their house was demolished and they had to move to village Pirra, in Ratu block of Ranchi. We also met two sisters, Garima, class 12 and Hina, class 9, who had fitted a battery operated fan on the top of a pen. Given the erratic power supply, the fan would certainly comfort the writer. Next day, May 28th, we stayed at Kisan Bhavan, Silli and had a round of introductions. Participants from Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi, West Bengal, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, etc., shared their expectations from the shodhyatra. There were participants from UK and US, both students and faculty who wanted to explore the genius at grassroots. This shodhyatra was organized with the support of regional Honey Bee Network collaborator, Social Upliftment Trust, led by Rajeev Ranjan Pandey and members of the Literacy Mission. On the way to the next village, we met some labourers who enquired about the purpose of our walk. After some discussions, we gave a copy of Hindi version of Honey Bee newsletter, Soojh Boojh to each one of them. They returned all the copies except one saying that we should use them to give it to others. The frugality was in action. They planned to share the same copy with others. While going to Hajaam, not many fields were seen to have access to water. Even the drinking water well had a low water table. While most wells had counterpoise arrangement for lifting water with a long pole tied with weight, some had a cycle rim used as a pulley with weight on one end of the rope and the bucket on the other. A small improvement, but useful still. Nurturing the new born In Hajaam, we met several midwives who had been practicing child delivery for many years. One of them, Tula Devi was extremely articulate and assertive. She cited many examples where the practices of the modern doctors, according to her, were not in the interest of the new born or the mother. She mentioned particularly three aspects of child delivery where her suggestions were at variance from the practice in modern hospitals: (a) the umbilical cord should be cut after about ten minutes when it stops pulsating and the new born is at peace. It avoids a shock, (b) the delivery should be done in a darker environment rather than a well-lit one because moving from the dark womb to a bright-lit room can shock and sometimes, as she said, infuse fear in the mind of the child and affect eye sight as well and (c) the most convenient position for a pregnant mother is squatting or a reclining position instead of lying down as is the prevalent practice. She stressed that because of the delivery in a lit room, many urban kids have spectacles from their childhood. Tula devi also advised about when to bathe the mother and diet to be followed; she was much against the conventional local practice of not feeding the mother for two days, and not feeding milk to the child within two hours of delivery on the first day. Before entering Tetla, lots of Salaya (Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr.) trees were lined along the border of the fields. The wood of these trees is harvested every year as a good quality fuel wood. Thus we noticed that the branches were heavily pruned. The inner layer of the bark is used to cure kidney trouble. Generally these trees are planted on the border of poorer soils since they affect the yield of the crops adversely. On the other end of the village, there was a small ritual ground where Vishvakarma is worshiped by local communities. In most of the fields, which had access to water (there were very few), modern varieties of tomato, gourds, cucumber, etc., were grown. In Tetla, one could observe on the road side, only a few local varieties of tomato, chilli and some other leafy vegetables. The shodhyatris stayed at the house of Deenanath Koiri. He was one of the most reputed bone setters of the region. In many cases, where institutional doctors had not been of great help, Deenanath would help the matters even without an X-ray, he could sense the problem and suggest a solution. His approach to healing was quite at variance from the modern orthopaedic doctors. He showed us a wooden bookshelf made by his father in 1963. The engraving on the wooden panel first had the name of the teacher from whom he had learnt the art and then his name. The shodhyatris witnessed the process of preparing medicine, primarily done by his wife and the bandaging by him on some of the patients. Before leaving, he was asked as to why he did not transfer his skills to any of his four sons. He, of course, regretted that all of them had moved to Ranchi though one of his grandsons seemed quite keen to learn. But he is too young, hardly ten years of age. He said, “I was not sure that my younger son would have provided this service to the needy selflessly. He would have tried to make money out of it.” This response shocked the shodhyatris. Before we were leaving, he said, “If you really want to pray, then pray that I should get at least one disciple before I die who will carry forward this healing tradition selflessly.” The ethics of knowledge transfer, concern for public good and objectivity in judging the suitability of his own ward could not have been communicated to us better. After taking lunch at Kolma, shodhyatris met extraordinary children at the High School at Domendih. We conducted a quiz - “redesign the match stick” (we normally throw it away after lighting). Since it is made of wood, which is quite scarce, the challenge was to find a way of extending the life of each stick. Within a minute or two, we could get similar answers as were given by the students at IIMA or in China, USA and Malaysia where such an exercise was done earlier. Once the children were convinced that they could become inventors themselves, they were asked to imagine products or services which had either never been delivered or required considerable improvement. A large number of ideas came out, few of which were awarded on the spot. The shodhyatris spent the night at the primary school at Rahe. On the evening of May 30th everybody was spiritually charged with the sounds of a local pooja in the air. We met Sunil Prajapati who had made several innovative devices including a Rs. 100 candle filter, a chilli sprayer for self-protection by girls, and a substitute for gutka (tobacco containing powder), which doubles up as a mouth freshener as well. He was supported for selling ten such filters so that he could assess the market and further support for scaling up this enterprise could be envisaged. While starting for Soso village, shodhyatris saw an interesting arrangement of carrying four pitchers on the sides of a central pitcher. After walking about ten kilometers, just outside Soso, we came across the first well being dug on the roadside. Five labourers had been hired to dig the well under MNREGA. Most of these labourers had small farms in the neighbourhood. We asked one of them, Dev Chahatar Mahato, as to why would he not dig the well on his own farm. Several reasons followed. There was a need for employment, not enough resources to pay the other labourers and nobody had ever thought about digging a well by themselves. Then, a story, which the shodhyatris had experienced during the Karnataka shodhyatra in 2004,was narrated. Chand Hussain was a farm labourer in Hariharpura. About ten years ago, his daughter had gone to fetch water from a neighbour’s well. For some reason, neighbour did not like it and scolded the girl. When she came back crying, her parents were very upset. That day, Chand Hussain and his wife Ayesha Bibi resolved to dig a well on their half acre plot. Every day when Chand Hussain would come back from work, he and his wife would work to dig the well from 6 pm till midnight. They had no rig or any major tool. With the help of spade, hammer and a pick axe, they dug about 38 ft but soon after came across a hard rock. They could not afford dynamite, so they continued to break the stone. Even after 70 feet, there was no water in sight. They went to a priest, offered some prayers and finally after struggling for an year, found success. Though they were denied water themselves, they never denied it to their neighbours. They were felicitated in a Hindu temple. When the labourer heard this story, he could not restrain himself any further. He decided that he will also dig a well without waiting for Government support. There were many problems still to overcome. The plot was jointly owned by four brothers. Except him, everybody worked outside. Their consent would be necessary. But he was willing to take the chance. He promised to let us know, as and when he would make some progress. When the shodhyatris were leaving, he mentioned that nobody had ever kindled this faith in him. Transition from a defiant ‘cannot do’ to ‘can do’ reinforced the faith of shodhyatris in their mission. At Soso, two outstanding herbal healers were honoured for sharing their knowledge. One of them, Rameshwar Ahir, was upset that the certificate we gave did not authorize him to practice his healing services. It took some time to explain that without validation, we could not even mention that his claims were valid. Even after validation, only the bodies authorized for the purpose could do so. In the recent past, IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) had taken steps to issue what they called as certificate of Prior Learning. Quality Council of India was taken on Board by IGNOU for developing certification standards. The incident brought into sharp focus the tension underlying our task of recognizing the herbal healers and other traditional knowledge holders for their contribution towards conservation of knowledge and resources without making any tangible difference in their life in the immediate future. The validation process, important as it is, takes long and there are no institutional arrangements to create a collegium of outstanding traditional knowledge experts to validate their claims empirically. Hopefully, IGNOU will take some steps in that regard. Shodhyatris moved for Jonha Fall via Kherbeda for night stay, where a very interesting cultural interaction followed with local farmers and the catering staff at the facility. None of the staff received any salary though they were allowed to charge for the services they offered to the tourists. It was an entrepreneurial arrangement, which ensured good service but not necessarily the best maintenance. There was a musical performance in which local farmers narrated religious stories interspersed with stories of their own life. It was a unique style that was both entertaining and informative. Three of the workers at Jonha fall viz., Birendarnath Mahato, Haridasnath Mahato and Surjan Lohra shared various strategies to deal with wildlife and also understand their behavior. While fighting a bear, the advice was that one should try to save his face and not let the bear spit on oneself, as the bear generally attacks the face and specifically the eyes. One should dive under to escape the attack. In the maize season, elephants normally attack the crop. There is a tradition of worshipping elephants around June 15. They also look at the misty ring around the moon. Thinner the ring, longer it may take for rain to set in. The sounds of different birds indicates various changes in the weather. Koth paka, normally was heard at the onset of jack fruit season until the maturity of the fruits. Likewise, they had associated the sounds of different birds with the onset, duration of the rain or its cessation. To be continued in the next issue ...
Volume No. Honey Bee 22(3) 4-7, 2011