Written by Narendra
Phulpur is about ten kilometres off Bhanupratapur-Antagarh road. Like Khasgaon, our home village, it is located on a dirt track. Lying on the periphery of Abujhmad (the Inscrutable Land), with rhythms and flows almost identical, both Phulpur and Khasgaon are a cultural contiguity of the pre-agriculture region. I had reached Phulpur early in the afternoon to invite Suklal Nureti, an old friend and traditional healer, for an
adivasi* conclave at Khasgaon.
Phulpur and Khasgaon are about 70 kilometres apart. Dinesh, an exceptionally fine young lad from Kanker, the district headquarters, took me in his car.
Suklal was not at home. After seeing his ornately carved pigeon loft atop a wooden pole, I took the trail to his Laadi (Jungle Hut), about three kilometres away. It was a surprise to see Aja (maternal grandfather in Gondi) there, the Khasgaon elder, spontaneous dancer and singer; and repository of much local adivasi spirit, wisdom and
folklore. I had no knowledge of his coming four days ago for treatment, or that he was leaving for back home today.
Following much chitchat on healing, forest, Maoists, police, weekly markets, the disappearing dialect and folklore, it was time to leave. Aja refused to come in the vehicle. Even at 70 years he preferred to walk it back through the forest, just as he had come. He promised to meet me at Khasgaon on the third day.
But the car would take us in two hours. You are past your age and would be too taxed walking three days through the forest, I persisted.
No, no, you go... Ill be much comforted if I walk through the forest; over the hills, boulders and pebbles; bathe in the rivers and streams; sleep at friends; and bless the youngsters enroute. Ill be distressed if I cover three days in two hours. My being does not permit this; I may fall sick again.
In this age of hectic pace when everything must be done quickly and expeditiously symbolising efficiency and achievement --travelling over
continents in a few hours, internet, telephones... with an intense purpose when speed stands for progress, even for comfort, I have often wondered why Aja, like almost all adivasis of the interiors, remain notoriously inconsistent with the givens of modernity!
Narendra, April 23 2009
Aja passed away about two months ago. Dates were not necessary in his scheme of things. Death and dying are not a taboo subject in the culture he came from.
Narendra, March 2012