We walked through the steep descent as paths precariously trailed through dense forests. The air was damp and the mountain spirits swayed to the rhythm of trees and its life forms. Below the rising leaflets, our eyes fell on the myriad roofs peeking through the hills. Amidst caliginous skies that threatened to erupt, Dhanya stayed motionless and deserted just the way we’d seen it.
There’s music in the silence of sun-lit bamboo groves. The subtle fragrances of fallen blossoms wafted through the air. And, the pathways wound gently through murky roads yet again leading us to Fayez’s jeep. It was 4 pm and we had no to time lose. We rushed towards the next hamlet which according to the locals was located in a far-flung and remote hilly terrain.
On our way, we picked up a few tribesmen from the main town who were headed in the same direction. One of them turned out to be a resident of Bhoothayar – a Kurumba hamlet. His name was Murugan. “It is a bit tricky to drive through these routes. Unless you are a seasoned driver, you won’t be able to move an inch. Everyone walks to the hamlet from the main road. It is difficult but we are used to it,” he said with a smile.
We drove for a while before we started climbing uphill. Within minutes, we were traversing steep inclines as the roads got more narrow and treacherous. The jeep wobbled vigorously and Fayez tried his best to keep us from veering over the precipice. We were now driving over huge boulders amidst thorny shrubs and tall trees. He soon realised that the engine temperature had soared to 100 degrees. Finding a steady edge through the rocky patch, he then turned the ignition off to let the vehicle cool down.
The hills didn’t seem so distant now. It stood barren and unveiled. Many a ridges spoke of timeless eternity while its summit was drenched in hollow silence. Its arms were stretched out like those of a heaven’s porter summoning the Gods with all his might. For within its heart sparked the pulse and energy of our existence. Somehow, you feel it all around you; in the bloom of the last petal, in the whisper of the gentle breeze and in the solitude of the trees.
We saw dozens of cows grazing freely in the woods. They were unaccustomed to company and the slightest sounds frightened them. We started driving towards the hamlet and the route got more perilous with every bend. In about half an hour, we stumbled upon a cluster of beautifully constructed white and blue cottages. “These houses were built by the Attapadi Hills Area Development Society (AHADS). They were constructed keeping in mind the aesthetics of the landscape whilst giving importance to the stability of the structures. We wanted to give them homes rather than substandard houses,” said Sheen.
We were nonplussed by the stark difference between houses sanctioned by the government vis-a-vis those built by AHADS. While the former barely last a few years, the latter can withstand extreme weather conditions. It was quite evident that AHADS had taken up the responsibility of quality housing much more seriously than the government.
We parked the jeep a few metres away and walked to Bhoothayar. We bought some chocolates for the kids and distributed them to a small group gathered around us. Sheen and Murugan then took us to a spot from where we could hear the sound of gushing waterfalls.
“I have a job in the city but I visit the hamlet at least twice a month. These lands belonged to our forefathers and no one is allowed to claim ownership save its true occupants. I will never allow anyone to buy our land or coax our people to sell it to them,” said Murugan.
Rocky pavements and flowers adorned every pathway. A little girl carried her sister on her waist feeding her bits of candy. An old woman sat dazed on the ground; her saree encrusted with dirt. Some played with her hair while others just lazed around on the porch. A gigantic male turkey pranced around the courtyard luring its mates. Fanning out its impressive plumage, it gobbled and strutted around the village for a while. It is no wonder that in many tribal cultures it is still regarded as a powerful symbol of nobility.
We asked Murugan if they were satisfied with the facilities provided to them. “We don’t need much. We are happy with whatever we have. We have a roof over heads. And, there’s enough water collected and stored in massive tanks nearby. We all use it judiciously. The only thing we require is electricity and an efficient education system, ” he said.
Most of the houses were locked since everyone had moved to different cities in search of jobs and better lives. We were told that the entire hamlet was provided solar-powered lights a few years ago. However, no plans were put in place with respect to low-cost maintenance, easy accessibility for repairs and long-term sustainability. As a result, the equipment wore out and the tribesmen couldn’t afford to mend them. After sunset, the village is plunged into darkness. And, its residents have given up hope.
“We cannot install electrical lines or lay cables since it is forbidden by the forest department. Apparently, it will disrupt the ethos of the reserves. So, we are forced to live without light. Our Anganwadis are in a shambles. If they were functional our children wouldn’t have to travel to bigger towns for pre-school or middle-school. With no electricity and no school, it will only be a matter of time before the entire hamlet is abandoned,” said Murugan…
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