Totally scared and blind as we walked in through the tall canopy of north Indian habitat . A ten inch road in breadth, hardly able to take both of my feet together. Utter darkness and all my fate rested at the hands of the keepers of the land of gods!
I had always been a nature follower. Always amazed by the intricate design and the minute equilibrium that nature offered us to perceive! May it be the shining sun perpendicular to your head! Or may it be the stars twinkling high from where even the earth is nothing more than a dot in the sky. Nature takes you to where you belong! Life of a nomad! And it is full of opportunities! Full of vividness i must say! Will give you the most wonderful moments of your lives and strike you even much harder if you make a mistake! You must pay then, with your life! And then we guess that we might hop into heaven? But equally as i believe and admire the thought that ‘If there’s heaven anywhere in the midst of the cosmos! Then it is this, it is this, it is this’.
Living in a city i hardly bumped into this great mother of mine till i was 10! And that’s when my uncle told me about visiting my ancestral village! I had once been there, my father said! “You were too small to look around and remember the trip, my boy.” he said. Before that all i heard of my village was that my grandpa used to like my village a lot! Even my mom’s dad had this sympathetic rush for village life! I remember that my maa used to tell me about him! I wasn’t lucky enough to be blessed by his presence but by virtue of my mom’s story he sounded to be quite a different man! While he was quite stable here living with his Indian size family (and by Indian size i mean it! He had 5 kinsmen) and a textile engineer job, he suddenly decided to leave everything and get back to the birthplace from where he had walked away once in search of a better lifestyle. After a strict resistance from my grandmom he decided to leave alone! Return to his land and at an age of 45-50 practice agriculture! And when his feet reached the land which was famined by possession battles(family battles) he decided to turn towards ‘Madhyachi vadi’. “Madhyachi Vadi!? What is that momma? ” i asked as an eager child. Later to my amazement i understood that it was a part of my ancestral domain which was quite as deserted due to presence of TIGERS and ‘SATI CHA AHOL’ (The river of sati). That area was all left over as it was infiltrated by tiger population who were not tagged of being man eaters but then they were Tigers! They don’t need a man-eater tag. Who’s not scared of just a Tiger? And SATI CHA AHOL was a river that previously was used by widows to give away their lives on event of their husbands death. (it was an ancient Indian tradition, now eradicated). So it was said that every particle of soil was cursed wherever the water of that river reached!
And now my grand papa decided to use this land as the ship of his dreams ! My mind- First of all, yeah! Excellent choice. There would be no resistance from our blood relations as they would even tremble to come to that land. “do whatever u want to with that land”they might have said as it was cursed. Second thought- he was all alone, no safety and what if there were health issues? Tigers? Darkness? The physical hardship of agriculture? Ghosts of unfortunate women hanging upside down from a tree on a lonely rainy Konkan night! (it rains too heavily in Konkan). Why did he choose that place? And all my maa had for an answer was “he was too brave “.
My mom recalled her visit once after grandpa had left them for 4-6 years! He was happy farming and living the life of a true kashtakari (one who grows his own food). She said that he didn’t even used to visit the village of his blood relations. He used to stay in the wilderness for months! All alone. Deserted! Farming and smiling all day long! “Alone!? M not alone!” he explained when his children asked of him. Turns out that he had the company of his other children,the ones he had himself planted into mother earth. “Mangoes and Kaju (cashews) and kokam and fanas! There are tons of it! And it is for all! For free!” he spoke with great pleasure
And when my mom and her family saw the land that was cursed to be none, she was amazed! ” it was acres of plantation now! All i could see were trees and birds and rabbits and fruits!” she said with an elevated tone, as i listened to her!
But still i was not able to resist and asked mom! “but mom? What about the loneliness? He had just trees! Trees don’t speak! How did he pass his lonely time?” I asked as a juvenile mind. “You will not believe me “she said. My mom knew of every move of the art of making a child listen to her with curiosity! And as i asked submissively “Speak of it mother! Tell that to me at once”
As a child i remember back then, i was all alone. I mean most of my friends back then had siblings! Someone to play with of their own age! No doubt my parents are the best company one could ever get but then you know, as a child,You always want someone to stay with, in those lonely vacation nights! And if the TV used to drop down dead i had no control of my feeling of loneliness! So how did my grandpa lived months without being hit by that feeling? “Must be the trees!… Naa, tried that last vacation, My teacher was faking when she told that trees have feelings and you can talk to them!” I said to myself.
And breaking into my thoughts, my mom said “A Tigress! Vinay, your grandpa had a friend Tigress! Even i didn’t believe when your grandpa told me about it but as i know he was an honest simple man! He said that his daily rounds in the forests and the woods had made her consider as a part of her habitat! She initially was aggressive due to the encroachment but later she used to stay close to the hut he lived in! And as months passed she became confident about the farmer’s intentions and didnt mind his whereabouts in her land! Your grandpa respected the creature and the land he believed in! And as year or two passed he even used to caress her as she slept in his tent! Not only did he had his green children back then but a companion who, he believed was our ancestor in tiger form. Guarding the soul of the forest and turning towards dad for the debts of love he has to pay to his ancestors! And the greatest token of that trust was when she let her newborn cubs stay with him at night when she used to hunt! He was in love with that beast” my mom completed.
And as i opened my eyes i was on the train that was taking me to the same village i always wished to visit every time my mom narrated the story. Even my dad,s father, my dear AJOBA (Grandpa in my mother-tongue Marathi) was fond of visiting his ancestral land HARICHARANGIRI not far from Madhyachi vadi. He was blind for last 10-15 years of his life due to Cataract but even then he had this pull for his land and people. I was blessed by his company for first 5 years of my life and all i remember him as is my best Friend! We had this debate over who was Hrithik Roshan among us as he was my favourite during that times! And we reached to a conclusion, rather i reached a conclusion that i was the Gora Hrithik(fair complexion) and my ajoba was kala hrithik (darker), mom still recalls and laughs.