Archive for Hurt Locker – Personal

Anatomy of loss

Underwater Art

Image courtesy


It’s that time of the year as we say goodbye to 2014, when most earmark their social calendar for the festive season, some think about what the future holds and a few retrospect. Within the good, the bad and the ugly that happened in the year gone by, what sticks out like a sore thumb is what’s lost. By loss, I simply don’t mean winning or losing as a function of parameters attributed to people or things. It’s the sense of loss that can become a sore wound if not healed in time.

It may be loss of an opportunity, physical or mental ability or a loved one which can leave a deep scar. Loss of will, adapt to change and experience new things is not always apparent. Sudden or unexpected loss may lead to despair and unwillingness to accept. Loss of identity and purpose can be paralytic. The process of loosing something or someone is one of the most complex human experiences. A sense of loss due to unmet expectations festers within as seeds to an eventuality which may not be a conscious choice. Losing sense of control over self, the environment in which we exist and resulting actions is somewhat similar to being on a boat in a midst of a maelstrom, with no compass or oars, to sail to safer shores.

The anatomy of loss can be described as follows, although its manifestation may vary depending on the individual, as is argued ahead. A lot has been written in Buddhist texts which helps understand the root of suffering to finally being at peace. The below are merely observations and not an attempt to understand or provide answers to address loss or sense of loss.

1. DABDA: The Kubler-Ross model helps us understand, pre-empt and counsel people in depression, suffering from an ailment or simply unable to accept their reality. The five stages of grief as they are known – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance are universally what everyone goes through while losing something or someone. It can act as a mirror in very confusing times to understand one’s actions to get to the root of the suffering to be able to identify and accept.

2. It’s personal, always: Most often than not, loss is a very personal experience. An individual’s ability to understand, deal with and move on from loss has a lot to do with their lived and known experiences along with outlook towards life. As a group, loss is experienced as a weighted average of all individuals and their relative correlation with the person or thing. Hence, most people advice sharing in grief or loss, as it has a higher probability of tending towards acceptance. In a group dynamic the tendency is always weighed towards normalcy. However, sense of loss and it’s manifestation as thoughts or actions are always personal.

3. Guilt and blame: At some point between the five stages, one experiences a high sense of guilt and self loathing, usually between denial and bargaining. As one evaluates his or her role, a strong sense of guilt, self pity and hopelessness sets in. This is enhanced especially in what is perceived as a personal loss or failure. The thought veers towards not meeting self imposed expectations and possibility of what could have been done to avoid the loss. The choices that we make lead us to how we eventually experience loss as an individual. Within those choices, the ones that we make that lead to eventual loss are the most hurtful in retrospect. Having said this, there is no right or wrong and loss is eminent.

4. On delusion: A crucial stage usually understood as denial. The delusion I refer to is the ignorance or unwillingness to accept while in the process of grieving, that you are grieving. A limbo of sorts which can continue for months, years or even decades if not dealt with. While denial is more specific towards something or someone, delusion is a state. The inability to understand that one is experiencing grief, simply defers the process of healing.

5. Time and time again: Time is not only a great healer but also can be a hindrance in addressing or pre-empting loss at the initial stages. It is with time, that one’s sense of discontent can become potent enough to lead to eventual loss. While in such a state one’s ability to think rationally or experience grief is greatly compromised. With timely intervention, it can be addressed by sharing with others or taking necessary actions to subdue the sense of loss.

6. No single rule: While the larger discourse on the process of healing is about acceptance, the means to be at peace with oneself may vary. No single path, rule or framework (including DADBA) necessarily applies while experiencing loss and grief. It may have multiple dimensions and is characterized by myriad nuances which are not just complex but unique to be understood in a generalized way of thinking.

7. Catharsis: While striving for acceptance and peace with oneself, the process itself can be cathartic and liberating. It is usually experienced while healing from anger and self loathing. This is quite critical to understand minutely, as the actions that lead to this stage cannot be looked at from the prism of propriety or indignation. However, it is important to acknowledge this while deeply sensing loss and grief as a moment of actual truth as it is usually characterized with one’s acceptance of reality, real and perceived.

8. Let there be light: A note on loss without the hope of healing seems incomplete. While healing itself has its own stages, the premise that one can heal is essential to dealing with loss. The acceptance of loss is closely linked with the ability to believe that there is more beyond. Although, this is understood mostly as a nebulous and intangible idea it is usually experienced in real thoughts, emotions and actions. The ability to heal is also about the ability to let one heal.

The process of writing this itself was cathartic to let the healing begin. While 2015 holds a lot of promise and hope, the ability to let go of 2014 will largely determine how much of that really matters.


Inner sanctum

The constant flow of thoughts in my conscious mind represents an existential paradox. The desire to detach from the external grows stronger with every shred of thought which necessitates one to align with it.

The conversations I have are my own. They are not required to be shared, deliberated, pondered upon, endure eventual judgment or require any justification. A world isolated from the vile realities that attempt to abrogate innate voices.

The chaotic influx of random thoughts compels an individual to make a choice which is immediate and correlates with the external environment. At this juncture, the irreverent chaos does not subside but is actively subdued into oblivion. A selective cognizance of reality leads to skewed perceptions forming notions which may not be truly rooted in the universal reality as opposed to an individuals contained reality.

The instinct for survival in a dynamic universe necessitates that such decisions are deliberated upon and consciously taken to surmount any given situation in the smallest amount of time. In totality, a layer of such choices define an individual’s course of existence. The summation of momentary choices is the life that we live.

The chaotic voices still exist and will continue to do so ad infinitum. Also, the circumstantial subjugation of these free, unfettered voices proves restrictive in terms of original thought. The scope of an individual to interact with oneself is restricted to determinate choices and mostly underscores a gross falsification of perceived commonality with the external environment.

The sequential ignorance of the inner sanctum leaves a void within, widening the space between an individual and the perceptions that one holds as a result of external influences. A dialogue with oneself is necessary to align the basic cognitive processes responsible for a balanced understanding of the internal and the external.

These conversations laced with unbridled truth and ample influences expunged from interactions with the environment are the sole witnesses of a cognitive function on progression. To abandon it for an obsession with conformity in order to circumvent situational demands may deter the long term thought process that every individual is capable of.

The sanctum sanctorum exists as a premise to converse with life. A poignant reminder of intellectual existence.

Tales of a tumor IV – The final act

Part IV – The final act

Before surgery

It is the moment of truth. At this time tomorrow, I will be in an alien place, anticipating for the worst to happen. The closer it gets to the final stage, the more unreal it seems. I hope to wake up from this nightmare to a simpler reality. But I know I won’t.

I will be admitted today by eight in the evening. The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow, morning I presume. I could be the first person to be operated upon and the doctor might be a bit rusty, not “broken in” for the day which is not a pleasant thought. Then again, the idea of a spinal anesthesia followed by a two hour extraction, hardly ever is.

I have been warned by many well meaning persons, not to rush into anything. Consider alternatives to the surgery, if possible and to take my time if I still felt like going ahead with it. I feel I am ready. I need to put all my apprehensions behind me and do this. I can not wait anymore, it is very frustrating. Especially, when time drifts away slowly and I am compelled to be a mere spectator.

I shifted my focus from Biotechnology and Horticulture, the stream in which I am academically trained in, to journalism. I did not want to be a journalist. I just hoped to write and may be with a stroke of luck get published. I perceived myself as a fairly centered bloke who was immensely interested in making wines. I wanted to work on a farm, learning about the trade, right here in India and grow with the grapes. Write about the seasons, the people and the wine. It was a simple plan.

Certain events would change the course of my life. The Bombay train bomb blast was the turning point which convinced me to get trained in professional journalism. Hone my skills and contribute in my own little way. The focus was still on telling stories, but in a different context.

This excruciating wait before I can delve into my chosen and cherished field is what frustrates me the most. This situation prevents me from wetting my teeth in true reporting for months. Patience is a virtue, only with an end in sight.

It is a 2 hour surgery I am told. It will take 8 days before the sutures come off and 3 weeks before I can walk around normally. The total recovery period is about 6 weeks. This is assuming there are no complications. I am a big fan of Murphy’s Laws, at this moment they seem like an anathema. Being skeptical does not help, especially if hope is all you’ve got.

I am taking Thomas Hardy’s Jude the obscure and Zaidi’s Black Friday along with me. Che Guevara’s biography by Andersen and Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai are also in contention. This heady mix of tales of rebellion, emotional complexity, derision of society and a human experience with dollops of reality should keep me good company.

I stare at the next two weeks. As my mind gets clouded by apprehension and anxiety I can only ignore the reality that I may have to deal with after this ordeal. It gives me the much needed time to reflect to introspect. To read and write more than what I do now. To think and to live. But it does not come without the guilt.

P.S. Pardon me for rambling on and getting nowhere with this post. That’s kind of the point anyways.

Tales of a tumor III – Comfortably numb

Part III – Comfortably numb

“When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become, comfortably numb…”

Pink Floyd

The thought of impending surgery has taken over my consciousness for the past few days. Every aspect of my life as I know it is clouded by the influence exerted by this seemingly ephemeral event. The scar will be permanent, though.

It is this stagnation that bothers me. Solitude is chosen while isolation is imposed. My tumor has left me somewhere in the middle. Neither is this state chosen or unyielding. It can be altered by choice, by being “pro-active” as Covey would have offered, plugging his 7 habits. In my case it wouldn’t prove as effective as promised. The reason being I like it this way.

Woody in his infectious neurotic candour, in Annie Hall, categorizes life as being “divided into the horrible and the miserable. The – the horrible would be like, um, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me.

You know, and the miserable is everyone else. That’s – that’s – so – so – when you go through life – you should be thankful that you’re miserable because you’re very lucky to be miserable.”

This misery was and still is necessary. I need this misery to write, to think, to feel alive. I feel I am addicted to it. As I had written earlier it is important to be miserable at times.
Its bitterness lingers on my lips, on my tongue, till I ingest it.

Now, the line between the two is quickly blurring. The line is a 10cm incision in my left calf. It will determine my classification. It separates the morose from the morbid.

Fear of the unknown is like no other. Even in the most insipid moments, it excites, paralyses and often than not makes one think. Mind roams free. Transcending walls of rationality it conspires with dreams to sabotage thought. In the grip of fear I seek solace. It is this fear that facilitates expression of innate desires which otherwise remain suppressed under the burden of reality. When cornered, clarity prevails.

I can be fairly anally retentive, especially when it comes to analyzing life situations, poring over the minutia of everyday existence. In one of these many moments I realize that I could have done nothing to avert this or change anything if I could or wanted to, for the better. Shit Happens.

What is more disturbing or comforting, depends how you choose to look at it, is my perception of life is just the same. Nothing has changed. This may sound absurd, but I always felt that when I have a tumor (yes not if but when, had the feeling long back!) things would change. I would have some sort of vision or insight into life, the kind emanating from extreme despair. I have none yet.

This stillness gets to me. My plans for the future are on a hold. I am asphyxiated by my own ambitions which refuse to stand down and have to be coerced into submission. There are times when I want to take the hit and roll with it. I have begun to become accustomed to my current state of being. May be I always was. This familiarity, in the face of turmoil makes me feel like I have become comfortably numb.

It restricts me and also sets me free.

Go on…tumor me!

A tirade necessitated by the discovery of a tumor. These are my musings.

Part I

My knuckles are sore. The intensity of the scarlet bruise changes in tandem with the needle in my wrist watch. I look away to try and distract myself. It has been 20 minutes since I sat here, waiting for my turn.

There was an uncanny calm. Not the kind one would expect, especially outside a clinic. Seems like a slow day, I thought, or was the little child wailing not loud enough. A constant throbbing grasps my attention. No it is not my head, neither is it the right hand bearing the above mentioned battered knuckles. It was my left leg, the left calf muscle to be precise. An obtrusive bulge wherein nestled the tumor.

I have a tumor. It’s benign. It is called ‘intramuscular lipoma’ not to be confused with the infamous and at times fatal lymphoma. A lipoma is docile. A recluse of sorts, I guess that’s keeping in line with its bearer. Its more illustrious, hence undesirable cousins which are malignant and which often undergo metastasis will strike the fear of God. At the mention of their name compulsive mortals quiver, dreading the worst, assuming one believes in it of course, God, cancer or either.

As the condition seldom is fatal, the anxiety I felt that day seems to be misplaced, yet justified. With the baggage that I carry genetics or otherwise, I felt the impending catastrophe would be in accordance with my errors. But, alas, it is but a mere deposition of adipose tissue, namely fat, that ails me!

My penchant for drama aside, I was truly wrecked at the thought of surgery, however routine or safe it may be. Anything that requires a sharp, pointed object to be thrust in order to penetrate any body part cannot be termed as ‘a routine’ not for someone at the receiving end, at the very least.

The decision to taste steel, not in course of a dinner mind you, hangs in balance due to self-anointed enthusiastic doctors, healers, messiahs of God…well what ever that may suit their taste. It is interesting how a medical situation triggers the latent talents in almost everybody except the doctor himself. He will ask you to get tests done and encourage you to go for a second opinion. The rest surrounding you, however, are ready with their brand of cure, from massages to leeches and more.

That is the reason why we do not insist on universal Medicare in India because apparently everyone here is a doctor, capable of treating everyone else but himself, as suggested by several excursions to neigbourhood clinics. Healer, heal thyself!

My family physician, an ex-military corps surgeon, whom I was waiting to see, now a general practitioner, has advised against convention, not to remove the tumor. As it causes little hindrance in my movement now and will possibly remain uneventful if left alone. While the other doctors, whomever that I have consulted offer the opposite.

To be or not to be under the surgeon’s blade, that is the question.

As I stared at my bruised hand that morning, it became clear that I have not quite dealt with how I felt about the tumor, the surgery, the lay-off from work and an indefinite wait before I roam free again. A wooden door bore the brunt of my suppressed angst. I write to heal. I write, therefore I am.

Raigad Dairies III – Culture conflict

Raigad Dairies III – Culture conflicts

I apologize for the latitude in posting this third part in this series. This piece is dedicated to Ronald Rebello (5 May 198223 Feb 2007), without whom I would not have these myriad experiences and decide where I want to be. Thank you.

Part III – In retrospect

I stood there, staring at the grand bungalow with a beautiful flowing garden. And to think this area is mired by water scarcity. A chill runs through my spine, I can feel its iciness licking my feet. A little pup looks up at me with innocent eyes, as if to convey the painful memories this place has evoked in his sullen soul. I was in front of the Zamindar’s (Landlord’s) house.

He is quite a powerful man with political clout is this hinterland. The CM, they tell me and other state dignitaries, visit him when they are in these parts. It was disturbing, as I stood there with Laxman’s words reverberating in my ears. My breath quickened and I began to perspire profusely. I felt seething rage seep in, challenging my capability to maintain mental equanimity and objective distance. Was this just a human reaction? Was I now, one of them?

Culture shock
The world is fast becoming a global village. The prevalent influences which we are subjected to in our routine realities threaten to override our indigenous identities. The nature of the debate is dichotomous and so must be seen in context of micro situations.

I was quite exited to experience the local culture and dance forms. So, after quite a bit of cajoling the locals agreed to ‘perform’ with the pre-condition that we take part in it. We gathered near the courtyard, surrounding it we waited in anticipation. They said that they would play the “banjo”. Now, I was curious!

A band with a synthesizer and orchestra drums, often seen in weddings, suddenly took form. A loud din of familiar pulsating tunes filled the air. The village men started gyrating to the rhythm al la Ganesha festival procession in Mumbai. I gasped at the vigorous and at times crass moves, an obvious external influence that was internalized.

Prabha Tirmare, the Nirmala Niketan professor traveling with us, explained. “We were shocked to see them…Their dance form was quite different sometime back. It was much more rural and poignant. The rustic art form seems to be lost…The women have started wearing relatively modern clothing and plucking their eyebrows…it is gradually changing”

The day before, I washed my face in a corner, by the roadside, in front of the temple we had slept in. In a stereotypical yuppie movie twist, the rock I thrust my head over turned out to be a tribal deity! I was grossly embarrassed and after apologizing profusely, I quietly walked ahead. It was genuine ignorance that made me commit this act. At this point I felt diminutive, a complete moron.

The students who took part in the ‘traditional dance’ were much more demure and ‘rural’ than the villagers. Was a tradition lost forever, diluted beyond recognition. Were we overtly romanticizing village life?

The visiting NGO’s and social groups, in a way introduce their own culture, assumptions and outlook towards life to once culturally pristine region. How much impact do these people have on the native culture? And how much of it is valid in the name of progress?

This brought me to the basic question, should we leave the tribes and in their untarnished land in a sanctum sanctorum state or should we try and change, influence and educate them for a “better” quality of life?

The other tribe
This visit would have been an ethnographer’s delight. This was a unique opportunity as two intrinsically related groups were juxtaposed with each other. This symbiotic mode of mutual necessity and understanding is something that has always fascinated me. The tribe in question, far less intriguing but equally mystifying, on this trip was the tribe of “social workers”!

For a long period of time I failed to understand why individuals who have no particular reason or an obvious logical motivation, become socially inclined. To work for the masses, to ascertain their rights and place in our feudal, hegemonic social order. These individuals, by a large majority, come from the upper crust of class-caste disparity, with nothing in common except for a red blooded heart.

Most of them on this trip could be defined as left/liberals in their political leanings, except for a few towards the extreme left. Largely there is a restrained disdain towards those who consider ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ or CSR as a viable option to achieve social justice. Yes, the cliché of a “cutting chai” with a cigarette in hand, vociferously debating the future of the masses and the destiny of our country holds true.

What most intrigues me is the focus on rhetoric rather than actual actions, which seems to be the rule rather than exception. Those motivated by real action and grass root level implementation are few and far between.

The similarities between the two, the locals and the social workers, are quite conspicuous. For instance both groups as a norm seem to be skeptical of the higher ups in government and the corporate businesses, to a point where it is almost perceived as an existential anathema. Also, the generous and expressive open faces and lots of smiles, is a striking similarity, which bring about an acute sense of camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Almost like a closely knit extended family, a tribe.

Amongst the differences, I would list the eternal angst that a social worker goes through. The conflict of belonging to places, regions, ideologies and people beguiles an individual. As opposed to the relative simplicity of rural life, a social worker is burdened with the prospect of reality, in comparison to his own. He/She bears the cross of knowing and the eventual realization that very little, if at all, can change.

Social groups like the ancient tribes before them, focus on the most humane and basic necessities as a means of creative sustenance. Singing, dancing, arranging skits and informative plays brings out the lighter side of these visits; these activities are not only highly recommended but a necessity.

Folk songs are an intrinsic part of their activities. Interspersed with socio-cultural messages meant to educate and motivate people, a reminder of their cause. These songs, sung in the local dialect preserve the essence of local culture. It integrates them, individuals coming from different parts of the country. Bound by rhythm, mesmerized by words which speak of deprivation, loss in a far of land, about atrocities and crime by people against their own, these songs leap out to tell forgotten tales.

Above all they speak of hope and restitution. They say, we too shall prevail, one day at a time. We too live under the solemn blue sky, with aspirations equal to your own. We too live in a time that refuses to acknowledge humanity, but not for long.

Next – Conclusion to the three part series

Raigad Dairies II – Tribal instinct

Part II – Tribal instinct

Tomorrow promised to be more antiquated and I could not have been more exited to experience it. …

The most pleasant revelation, when I woke up next morning, was the difference in the air. It was much more clean and fresh. My asthmatic lungs were overjoyed. It was a welcome change from the carbon monoxide spewing city that challenged their very existence. I wonder what makes people leave this serenity to migrate to ugly, congested and brutal cities, more on this later.

If there is one thing that I am grateful for in the city, then it has to be sanitation and the toilet. My morning dilemma was complexed with the thought of ‘doing the dirty’ out in the open. Even though some may romanticize the whole ‘being one with nature, when nature calls’ thing, I for once was skeptical.

Armed with toilet paper (yes, couldn’t help it…) and water we scouted the area. We walked for what seemed like an eternity till an apt zone with enough foliage to camouflage our deed, was selected. After we scoped out the area for snake holes and other insects, it was time.

To avoid further onslaught on one’s senses, I won’t delve into the details. But yes, it is an interesting experience nonetheless. An act and an amenity that we almost take for granted. It is a must for those who feel secured in their claustrophobic walls, to sense this vulnerability. It is disconcerting yet intrinsically human, organic.

Who knew shitting could be so difficult!!!


The trek to Kelat from Varathi was brutal, a 3 hour long walk through a rocky terrain. The steep slopes and treacherous climb up a hill took a toll on all of us, but we persevered. Some of us harden by daily field work found it relatively easier. The view from the top was magnificent. As though nature’s blue prints were laid out in front of us.

The sun spewed its anger, smiting flesh that dared to challenge it. Saddled with a heavy bag breathing became a task in itself.

This is the exact route that the adivasis take to reach rationing shops to get their groceries, medical clinics and to seek other necessities. A river runs through the middle of the route, which becomes hostile in the monsoons. A fallen tree acts like a bridge to cross across the stream. They traverse this distance, carrying their sick and even pregnant women to the clinic in Roha.

We reached the outskirts of the village and were greeted by a small water reservoir, which was a sight for sore eyes. Also, there was a huge land mass covered in greenery, a vegetable patch, I was informed by Ganesh, which was a sharp contrast against the brown contorting terrain. Like an emerald set on a golden broche, it gleamed with pride.

There at last

We were greeted with eager eyes and shy, gingerly smiles. I was first taken aback by the warmth and friendliness of the people. I remembered the hostile, territorial faces back in the city, ready to snap at an inkling of perceived invasion of privacy. Here, there were open doors, open houses, open faces and open smiles.

We kept our bags in a room allotted to us and proceeded to explore the area, talk to the people.
The poverty was conspicuous but so was pride, in their way of life. I felt slapped in the face by reality. It was time to wake up.

Laxman’s story

We gathered under a huge Mango tree in the middle of on open field, to begin our session of discussion and sharing experiences. Laxman Sutak, a tribal youth and Sarvahara karyakarta for seven years now, joined us. He is a 3rd generation tribal, as far he can remember or knows. He narrated his experiences and of his community to us. We were later joined by the elders of the village.

The Khot (Zamindar/ Landlord), Kulkarni duped the villagers and acquired their land. He initially lived in Roha and established a coal mine around Kelat. He lived in Kelat for a while under the hospitality provided by the indigenous people.

When a survey was carried out to establish land ownership, he made the officials believe that he was the true owner thus confiscating tribal land. He made the adivasis labour in the fields for a majoori of 15-20 rupees.

Also, he initiated a ‘makta’ system, revenue (tax) earned on the crops, where he decided a particular percentage of quintals to be given to him. Even though the farmers were not sufficient grains for survival, they had to pay the tax.

He exploited the people and beat them up on a regular basis to a point, Laxman says, that getting beaten cruelly or being raped became a routine. The complex relationship that the tribals shared with zamindars made it difficult for them to rebel. They depended on him to bail them out if caught by the police, for their sustenance and survival. He had a strangle hold on their psyche and every aspect of their life. To go to a doctor, lawyer or police they required his consent.

Initially 150 families lived in Kelat, now only 50 remain, as most have left due to the rampant exploitation.

Sarvahara worked on empowering the local people to fight for their rights. A police complaint was lodged against the landlord. It was decided that for 1 year ‘makta’ would not be paid. Also they demanded right to own their land.

He was booked under Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, but was immediately released on bail. Two trucks full of people from neighbouring villages and the landlords touts, tried to remove the villagers from their land. The fight got violent and they were hitting the villagers and beat up two women mercilessly. Ulkatai called up the police and demanded immediate action. Till they came, the violence continued.

Laxman tells us of a similar struggle when he was small, in which his father was mercilessly beaten by the Khot (landlord). He died a month later, due to the injuries incurred. His mother told him about the incident as he was just a little boy then.

At this point I began to wonder about the relevance of my own reality. We use words like “life”, “death” and “survival” as rhetoric, but these are questions intrinsic to their daily existence.

To be continued

Raigad Dairies I

Part I – A reflection

I visited a tribal hamlet “Kelat Wadi” as a part of a workshop. Looking back in retrospect, I feel such rural exposure visits are a must for city slickers like me. It puts life in perspective.

I stared at the myriad specks of light; they never did shine so brightly. Adjusting myself, rather uncomfortably, I looked straight into the darkness surrounding us. Ronald, Sanket, Sagar and I decided to rough it out, get a feel of the outdoors. We lay in our sleeping bags and blankets, telling dirty jokes contemplating the impending morning dew which would add to the penetrating chill.

It was the first time I slept in a chawdi (village courtyard), vulnerable to the environment around me, free from the ubiquitous walls. The star filled sky mocked my limited vision, as if to signify the mysteries that lay beyond my comprehension. It is a very humbling experience, subtle yet effective.

I began my journey on the 11th of January, with a group of students mainly from Nirmala Niketan and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It takes 6-7 hours to reach Roha station from VT (It still remains VT for me). I wondered what lay ahead of me. Ronald Rebello, friend and a social activist, briefed me about our itinerary for the next two days. From Roha we would move to Taregarh, a small village, were we would stay in the community school and local temple. The next morning we take a bus to Varathi and then begin the long trek to the small tribal hamlet, Kelat Wadi.

Some of the students were placed here as a part of their field work and were the coordinators of the trip. Many were and still are associated with the local people’s movement active in Raigad called “Sarvahara Jan Andolan”, spear headed by the fire-brand activist Ulka Mahajan, since 1990. Kelat was one of the villages that were assisted by Sarvahara (literally, one who has lost everything) in solving their socio-cultural problems and was “liberated” as one of the locals put it.

Katkari – a brief intro

Ganesh Sodaye
, TISS student and associated with the movement for 10 years, filled me in with the history of the movement and the social structure prevalent in Kelat. The sangathan actually started functioning from August, 1990. The three adivasi tribes residing in Kelat are Thakar, Warli and a majority of them Katkari.

The traditional occupation of making ‘kaat’ (used in paan, made from betel leaf) from Khair trees which gave them the name Katkari was inadequate for sustenance as the forests depleted. Not having any special skills in farming, the Katkari were alienated from the mainstream and were forced to migrate to seek work for livelihood. This led their exploitation as the contractors took advantage of the landless, jobless labourers and trapped them in a vicious cycle of debt-bondage over the years.

Six months of migration leaves the children largely uneducated growing up on wisdom that comes from surviving on the fringes of life. Schools and formal education are not a part of their world. Daily meals constitute of bhakri (thick bread), rice and if possible some watery dal. Until sometime ago, his expectations were limited to these bare essentials for his survival.

The perennial instability and faced consistently with treachery, it has become difficult for this community to put their trust in anyone. Sarvahara took a holistic approach to their problems and worked on the principle of empowering the adivasis to fight their own battles. This has led to a radical change in the social and cultural life of this community.

The community dynamics are very complex, Ganesh explained. Hierarchically, the Thakars occupy the top position amongst adivasis, followed by the Warli’s and the lowest being Katkari’s. The Dhor Katkari, a non-vegetarian section is looked down on by the Son Katkari, largely vegetarians. This presumably happened due to the Hindu cultural influences specific to this region where pure vegetarian Brahmins are generally considered more pious than meat eaters. The divisions persist but are gradually on a wane.

Journey continues

We approach our destination in Taregarh. Sheilatai, a local activist, helps us find accommodation. Due to the community service done here by Sarvahara and the group we are allowed to stay in the school and the village temple, both modest places in terms of space.

Here we could see influences of the Hindu religion on the indigenous place of worship. Tribal Gods now had Hindu deities for company, a recent development I am informed, due to cultural proximity of the two.

We end our day, under the watchful eye of the local deity. I see a big lizard crawling on the wall, not the most comforting sight. Also, a dog keeps barking all night, ensuring that I was beady eyed and drowsy next morning. In the silence of the night, rumbling of a truck could be heard. Tomorrow promised to be more antiquated and I could not have been more exited to experience it.

to be continued…