Rest Of My Family Travel Diary: Day 3

Last night, two of Fayez’s friends Chakra and Seban drove down to Bodinayakanur all the way from Irinjalakuda. They struck us as warm and friendly people. In the morning, we packed our things and were all set to head back to the forests in the Kurangini Hills to meet the tribals and share with them our vision for the Lantana-livelihood project. These tribes have been isolated from the rest of the town and state. For these forest-dwellers, their divinity resided in the pulsating rhythms of the earth and their soul was tuned to the vigour of the skies. We were immensely keen to interact with those who lived in the hills in solitude. We couldn’t help but wonder how different their life must be!

We also hoped to catch a glimpse of the part of Fayez’s land being cleared by the tribals. Chakra had taken charge of the wheel and we drove from Bodi all the way to Kurangini village. We weren’t really sure if he would be able to handle the off-road stretch on his own. As we entered the rocky patch, Chakra had some trouble maneuvering the jeep. Fayez decided to take over and we drove ahead. With the hills on one side and lush green forest on another, it almost felt as if we were travelling through mystical realms. Half-way through the off-road stretch, Fayez took a small diversion towards a beautiful stream that Jose had told us about day before yesterday. We drove through a very narrow path with thick vegetation pouring onto the trail from both the sides. The green trail soon led to a vast stretch of rocky bed.

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Fayez parked his jeep there and we followed the sound of cascading waterfalls and chirping birds coming from beyond the rocks. The winds carried tunes of rustling leaves as the orchestral tones of crickets ebbed and waned in the air. Occasionally, we could hear high-pitched screams coming from the trees. We spotted a huge group of monkeys jumping from one branch to another. As we reached the pool, it felt as if we had stumbled upon an abode befitting the lords. The rocky bed was laden with stones and pebbles of all shapes and sizes. Some were salmon-coloured and had a lovely glaze on them while the others were black and had a rough texture. It is amazing how in the arms of nature time ceases to exist; how it is easy to live in the moment with a sense of calmness.

After spending about an hour in the tiny paradise, we decided to head towards the upper region of Muthuvakudi village since we wished to see the cleared trail of Fayez’s land from above. As we drove past our usual parking spot, we came across a settlement of four or five houses situated in lower Muthuvakudi. We wondered why these tribes-folk were separated from the main village. The settlement was eerily silent. No one seemed to be there at this hour. We walked back to the jeep and found a rudimentary version of a wooden four-wheel cart nearby which we assumed was used by the tribals to move things up and down the mountain slopes.

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We continued driving for a while all the way to the top till the off-road trail vanished leading to a beautiful banyan tree. Fayez parked his jeep under the tree as we explored the village before trekking into his land. The majestic tree roared to life as powerful monsoon wind currents dancing between its roots. A small pond next to the tree shone bright as its ripples swayed back and forth with the winds. Almost instantly, a tribal man came over to us and informed Fayez that they couldn’t clear the stretch entirely because the forest department stopped them under the pretext of being concerned that the path being cleared was a part of the ‘Patta’ land. Apparently, this particular stretch of land was an old trail that went all the way to Munnar and was shut 15 years ago. This was possibly done to avoid unchecked infiltration from one state to another.

Having spent some time in the jungle, we began to realise that there is so much happening here all hidden underneath the thick canopy of forest, that most people are unaware of. It’s quite fascinating how numerous possibilities are being explored in tandem within the forest with renewed interest from time to time. We stumbled upon unknown trails, people living in the jungles and structures in the most unexpected places. We even saw a temple and a fort-like building sitting atop a hill in front of us that seemed completely out of place.

We longed to observe life in the villages here and understand how the lantana project could empower the tribals. Since, we were travelling in a group, we decided to come back to the village sometime later. This would enable us to focus entirely on the project and get diverse perspectives from them on how to introduce this initiative to the tribe.

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We then trekked into Fayez’s land. The skies had a brilliant collage of blue, grey and white. Dense clouds were making their way to the pinnacle of Kurangani Hills. Strong winds turned the forest into a crescendo of infinite sounds where every particle, every stone and every crevice reverberated with life. It almost seemed as if the forest acknowledged our presence and had faith in the spirit of our soul to let us pass through. The grass swayed to the winds and the trees howled to life at every step. And, almost at once, we felt like we belonged here. In a moment, wonderment and awe was replaced with acceptance. This is where we were always meant to be.

The treacherous mountain trail can test the spirits of even the most benevolent soul. But today, we felt at peace. Fear was replaced with determination. And, with every step,we regained faith in ourselves and the earth. The beauty of this journey also lied in the synergy of the group. Both Chakra and Seban are such beautiful souls filled with joy and curiosity. May be, the cosmos anticipated our union with them or may be even planned it. Nevertheless, this was the start to a beautiful journey.

We reached the cleared patch and relaxed there for sometime soaking in the splendour of nature around us. And, for the first time, we could see how real the threat posed by lantana was. It is quite fatal to the local eco-system. For as long as our eyes could see, the plant had taken over the land and parts of the hills. We thought to ourselves that something ought to be done about the plant.

We soon walked back to the village to enter the land from below as we had done on the first day. Since it was an easier and familiar trail, we decided to use that route. We reached the banyan tree and also spent some time walking in and around the village. Most of the houses seemed to have been deserted. Apparently, many people have permanently shifted to towns in search of better jobs  and as a result many houses now lie vacant and abandoned. We also spotted several concrete houses built by the government for the tribals. They were all lined up in one direction and in fact looked like concentration camps.

There were only two children in the vicinity who were initially shy to approach us because of our camera. As they slowly started walking away from us, we waved to them and smiled. This took them by surprise. So, they ran and hid behind a house. Slowly, we saw one of them peeping out of his hiding place to see if we were still looking at them. We waved at him again. This amused him thoroughly and he couldn’t contain his laughter. Both of them ran towards the banyan tree. The older boy whose name was Surya hung from the roots all the while swaying from one root to another. It was quite amazing to catch a glimpse of how children grew up in these tribal villages. The hills and the forests were their playground; the banyan tree was their comrade. They were so cut off from the rest of the world and civilisation. We wondered what their understanding of life was and whether or not they comprehended our world with as much curiosity as we looked at theirs. We wondered what their idea of fun was and what their dreams and desires were. Soon, an elderly man walked towards these boys and scolded them for playing with the roots of the tree. They quickly dispersed and hid from him all the while trying to suppress their giggles.

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We bid our farewell and headed towards Fayez’s land. We reached the lower trail and saw Sounderrajan’s bike parked there. Fayez parked his jeep in the corner and we trekked to his house. We couldn’t find Sounderrajan anywhere. After a while, we spotted him waving at us. He stood slightly above us and had a sickle in his hand. He walked down to talk to us. He told us that some guys who had come with one of Fayez’s friends a few days ago had plucked a raw jackfruit and threw it away. They also chopped down a lemon tree. He was very upset and said to us he didn’t mind people plucking fruits or vegetables but it was unacceptable for them to destroy a tree. We were deeply hurt that the boys were insensitive towards the forest and its trees. We didn’t know any of them but we apologised to Sounderrajan on their behalf. We told him that we would never resort to destroying trees or plucking fruits mindlessly. The urban notion of experiencing elation through sheer destruction has probably led us to completely detaching ourselves from our surroundings. To those boys, plucking a fruit before its time meant nothing for neither did they understand the effort put in by a human being to nurture a plant to life nor did they care that it would go to waste.

Sounderrajan had really warmed up to us and we shared long conversations with him about the hills, forest, bisons and wild hogs. We asked him if bisons attack human beings here. To that, he playfully replied, they will strike at you with force and throw you into the air. He pointed towards the woods behind us and said there are about 15 or 16 of them resting in there. They only come out at night. However, he felt that wild hogs were far more dangerous than bisons. They are incredibly fast and are always ready to attack. He also told us that he had seen a huge black snake outside his hut this morning.

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As we slowly trekked through the forest to reach Fayez’s house, we realised that our resident Tarzan – Seban – was eons ahead of us. When we reached him, he had plucked and peeled some juicy grapefruits for us and was ready to leave. He walked ahead, shook a few trees and gathered some more fruits in his backpack.

We reached home, cleaned up, cooked some food and decided to relax for the night. Seban, Chakra and Fayez built a makeshift bathroom with tin sheets. Without any delegation of duties, all of us took charge of doing different chores that had to be done to set things in place. It is amazing how we were so tuned into each other’s emotions and thoughts that kindness no longer felt like an enforced concept; it came quite naturally. Perhaps, the energy of the forest flowed within our hearts…

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We reached home, cleaned up, cooked some food and decided to relax for the night. Seban, Chakra and Fayez built a makeshift bathroom with tin sheets. Without any delegation of duties, all of us took charge of doing different chores that had to be done to set things in place. It is amazing how we were so tuned into each other’s emotions and thoughts that kindness no longer felt like an enforced concept; it came quite naturally. Perhaps, the energy of the forest flowed within our hearts…

Food was ready by 5.30 pm. We lit a huge bonfire and ate some some rice, sambar and soy chunks for dinner. The air was chilly and damp. It felt as if a storm was brewing. Fayez then decided to make swings using broken windows panes. While  Seban climbed the tree above the rock and tied one of the window panes using rope to its branches, Fayez fixed another swing using a tree adjacent to the house. At around 7:50 pm, it got pitch dark and we decided to sit on the giant rock. While some were cocooned in their sleeping bags, the others just stared into the dark. What’s beautiful, serene and timeless in the morning could be quite intimidating at night. However, at that moment, we felt at peace in the lap of nature with our cosmic brothers. It’s quite amazing how every time we are in the forest or closer to nature, the urban landscape becomes a distant unreal reality – as if we have concocted a present to keep memories of our beautiful past alive all the while destroying fragments of our existence that played a vital role in creating our ancient past. But one thing was for certain! We wouldn’t trade this moment for anything else in the world.

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All in all, it made us feel that we were experiencing the beginning of another society; a society where the members have already gone through a natural selection process through their life journey and choices; where people share a natural sync with each other in  thought and action; where beautiful energies collide to create experiences that are ineffable. And, with such strong similarities and beautiful bonds shared between people, a society where individuals co-operate and create a better world seems possible, after all.

At around 2 am, a loud thud woke us up, we felt stones and pieces of cement falling on our faces throughout the night thanks to roughshod winds. Apparently, these seasonal winds are quite common this time of the year. We had never experienced anything like this before. We ran out of the rooms to find Chakra and Seban struggling to hold the tin sheet down that served as the roof of the house. It was on the verge of being flown away thanks to the storm. Trees as tall as 6 ft swayed in the winds like a pendulum. In the midst of such an intense experience, we couldn’t help but burst out laughing at our plight. We then took turns to keep the roof down. We used sticks and rope to tie the roof to the window. We finally caught some shut eye at 4 in the morning. We could still hear the boys cooking after the storm and having a good laugh about the whole situation. As we drifted off to sleep, we hoped that the roof remained intact in the morning…

Project ‘Rest of My family‘  is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.

Through ‪#‎RestofMyFamily‬, we will focus on highlighting the social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….

Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502

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