At 11 pm, we parked near a petrol bunk to rest for the night. We were in a deep slumber when we heard footsteps outside. A man muttered to himself in Tamil. His head hung forward and he slurred his words. “I am not scared of the police. I am not scared of anyone,” he said and stumbled into the darkness. Soon, we heard another voice coming from a distance. We were wide awake now. Fayez started the jeep in an instant and pulled out of the parking space.
In ten minutes, we were pulled over by the cops. They were performing routine checks. We asked them for directions and headed our way. After driving for about half an hour, we came across a beautiful spot with endless rows of arecanut and coconut trees. We decided to stop there and sleep for a while.
In the morning, Fayez took us to a small thorny forest near his old bungalow that he had rented out with his friends a few years ago. The heat was unbearable. Delayed and inadequate monsoons, and unprecedented climate change have had a drastic impact on the weather of both urban and rural areas. With drought-like conditions hitting almost every part of the country, we fear the situation will only worsen over the years.
After a few hours, we decided to drive towards Attapadi. We were supposed to meet Fayez’s friend Joby at 3 pm. Since, we had some time to kill, we took a small detour at Anaikatti forest towards the Siruvani river basin. The off-road trail led straight into the water. We sat on the river bed gazing at rocks that had steps carved on them leading to the Bhagvathi temple atop the rocky patch.
A few locals had gathered to cut a fresh path to the temple. An old man with a long white beard lifted stones with his bare hands and set them aside. His name was Boddhamope. A young man and woman accompanied him clearing pathways as he laid stones along the mud trail. Far from the commotion, in a lonesome corner, sat an old woman eating her lunch in silence. Not once did she utter a word. Not once did she look at us. Lost in her thoughts, she collected her things and disappeared into the forest.
After a quick swim, we headed straight for Attapadi. We reached town side and grabbed a quick bite at one of the local eateries. Fayez decided to give us a tour of the town before meeting Jobi. We found a stone bench overlooking the vast hill crests and ridges. As the mist engulfed the town in a sea of white, a mother and her child accompanied by a pack of dogs walked uphill, towards their home.
At 3pm, we drove to Joby’s parents’ place – a beautiful house nestled in almost 40 acres of land that grows organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. They had a huge greenhouse that once grew okra and cauliflower but due to rapid spread of fungal blight they stopped growing them for a while. The pathways leading to their home was lined with plants that overflowed in rows of verdant green. Neatly laid out patterns of bright flowers and well-trimmed hedges led to walls made with paving stones.
A solitary tree stood in silence as a hammock hung from its branches. A small khatiya was placed in the courtyard surrounded by blooming flowers. There, we met Joby. Clad in a blue lungi, he held a small knife in his arm to slice an arecanut into two. Placing small pellets carefully onto a betel leaf, he prepared his paan and greeted us with a big smile.
Joby introduced us to his friend Manikandan who has been working in the tribal health department for a few years. We asked him about the situation of tribes in the area. According to him, the implementation of diverse programmes ranging from community kitchen, health care, farming and education has resulted in this particular generation of tribals giving up their existing identity and becoming excessively dependent on government schemes.
In conversation, we also discovered that alcoholism, malnutrition and infant deaths are some of the issues that require urgent attention here. One of the biggest problems assosiated with facilitating projects within the tribal spectrum lies in the incomplete understanding of what is actually required by these settlements as opposed to what the policy makers feel is necessary for the tribes. To top it all, ill-advised polices combined with hierarchical dichotomies have only fuelled the downfall of these tribal communities. “It’s getting worse every year. Today, they have nothing; no homes, no identity and no purpose,” said Manikandan as he walked away…
(to be continued…)
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 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