Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Still a Paradise

The most peaceful and soulful times of my life have been those spent on the banks of the River Narmada. While going from one village to the next along the banks of the river in the course of my activist routine of holding night meetings i would loll about and swim for hours in the river during the summer and winter. There used to be a place in Jalsindhi village where according to the Bhils the Gods had danced and cooked a feast of corn paste called ghat and the marks of this celestial merry making could be seen in the depressions in the rocks on the banks of the river. The river formed into a great lake here which was rich in fish and so during the winters people would come from far and wide to bivouac there and fish and feast themselves. I too used to join in this and make the most of such pristine merry making. Unfortunately the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam put paid to all this as the area got submerged in the reservoir. I have remarked sadly on this in the chapter A Paradise Lost in my book Recovering the Lost Tongue
On a recent visit to the area again after more than a decade I found that the resourceful Bhils had still maintained this paradise though with some modern modifications. Fish was abundantly available though of a different species from those that used to inhabit the lake earlier. The people were making merry catching the fish and then drying and selling them as in the picture below -

The reservoir had initially made travelling to the weekly market a little difficult but the Bhils got around this by buying motor boats made of fibre glass and powered by diesel engines. A ride on these motorboats is as exhilarating as swimming used to be in the earlier times. The smile below the burgeoning moustaches of one of my old Bhil friends in the picture below is testimony to the power of adaptability of the Bhils.

The way to these riverside villages is across hills and dales and in between comes the village of Khodamba which is one of the mainstays of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath having played host to many of its developmental initiatives. The people there too have adapted themselves in ingenious ways. Since this village is without electricity from the grid the government once upon a time planted some solar panels there as in the picture below. However, as is the problem with solar power throughout rural India the batteries conked out after some time. So the lights do not work anymore. But the people still use the panel to charge their small battery powered torches. And now with mobile phones having become like toys even these (The village leaders have mobile phones which even though they do not work in the villages they take along with them when they venture into the world where wireless connectivity is available).

In the foreground of the picture is a standing crop of tuar or red gram (kajanus kajan) which is an extremely nourishing vegetable protein source for the Bhils. It is called lal tuar or red tuar to distinguish it from the safed tuar or white tuar which is soybean. In recent years the whole of the western Madhya Pradesh region has been swamped by the cultivation of soybean which matures earlier and is commercially more profitable due to the fact that meal made from it is exported to the USA to feed beef cattle there. Thus in a perverse kind of logic the Americans are being fattened on beef cattle fed on soybean produced by Indians who become emaciated because they lose out on the cultivation of nutritious pulses and lentils like red gram and black gram. I have written about this destruction of indigenous agriculture in my book in the chapter The Treasure of Terra Madre
The Bhils near the Narmada river are the last few people in Madhya Pradesh who are still persisting with the cultivation of these pulses and lentils. Thus on the whole despite the onslaught of modern development the Bhils of my erstwhile paradise have adapted themselves to the changes in ways that have helped them to retain some of its enchanting character.

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