Tyre Tube Baby
It was already past eight at night and I scarcely was able to walk partly because of the dark and partly because of the fatigue both mental and physical.
The mental fatigue was a resultant of human emotions and fears brought about by the multiple risk factors that I had overcome just few minutes ago.
Ghosts of two years came to haunt me as I walked away from the banks of the huge water body towards the jeep. Two years ago I was walking on the same hill that I had just descended from having covered about 18 km on foot walking round the dam waters from the opposite site of mundawli. Seeing animals grazing and making merry on the medicinal plants that I had just got planted made by blood boil and I started pushing animals out and pelted stones at them like a village brat. Tribals families marooned on this side of the water came out to watch the spectacle. A sophisticated urban lad running after animals on a hill surrounded by water from three sides!!! The villagers who mustered courage came to hear a blast of threats before they proceeded to the plantation site. After all I had walked all this way not to see breakup of community cohesion and unity in the form of intrusion on community managed lands by a few mean and selfish individuals who were more interested in grabbing common lands of the landless !!
The report of the consultant (incidentally 12 years my senior from IRMA and 10 years my predecessor in Seva Mandir) who had given a graphic description of the problems was still fresh in my mind.
“Status of Joint Forest Management sites as of May’06: During the last monsoon after fresh grass sprouted at the 50 ha Talai I JFM (Joint Forest Management) site, damage was caused to the plantation of the community by grazing animals and a small fire. Grass was also stolen from the area. One farmer had encroached on some land close to the Talai II JFM area during the monsoon to grow mustard. This was proving to be a grazing hazard for the plantation. Moreover, grazing was also becoming a major issue of concern for the residents of Palan Pipli phala, where the Talai II site is located, because of a shortage of grazing land in the immediate vicinity. A significant amount of the protected forest land in this site got submerged under the Mansi-Vakal dam water because of which the passage for cattle from this phala to the forest had been cut off. Moreover, the site became inaccessible from three sides, due to submergence in 15-20 feet of the dam water, and only the side adjoining the neighboring village of Mundawali was open for entrance to the plantation. Therefore, the distance that one had to cover to reach the site became a major hurdle in monitoring the site.”
The Seva Mandir staff agreed to procure medicinal plants from outside nurseries in time for the rains and the issue of labour allocation was also resolved with the help of Jeevaba, one of the leaders in the village. 16,000 saplings were planted in 2005. However, the intra-village feud came to such a stalemate, that villagers let their cattle go astray on both the JFM sites and almost 4,000 of the new saplings planted were destroyed.
“The aftermath of the Mansi-Vakal Dam: Following the construction of a dam on the Mansi-Vakal rivers and the subsequent release of water in 2005, a part of Talai village has been inundated by the river waters. Consequently a significant number of villagers have lost their cultivable land, common lands have submerged as a result of which not only grazing lands have been lost but also access roads have disappeared. Villagers, including women and children, use a raft made with tyres to cross the waterway to move from one side of the village to the other. This can be quite risky at times.”
Today I had already walked approximately the same distance although at 45 degree angle on another hill and another site in the same village before coming to have a look at this one as well. The previous one had left much to be desired and I knew people concerned for the environment and tribals would accept defeat if these models don’t work out.
Having had a 8 month hiatus for Seva Mandir in the corporate sector, I was all the more determined to make it work.
The driver pointed out that it was already 5.30 and twilight when I proceeded to the second site for inspection. I was in no mood to return without seeing it.
Mind wanted to move but the limbs were almost numb with fatigue after a climb and descent of about 6 km in the noon.
My destination was the hill visible just 300-400 metres away but that I had visited two years ago walking all those unending 18 kms from the posterior side linked to the land.
Suddenly it struck me that I too could take the abovementioned risk of traveling/floating on water and thus save time and labor. I proceeded to persuade my companions who unfortunately were all non-swimmers. Not that I too am a champion having already survived almost near death experiences in the swimming pool and village ponds !!
I asked the lady who runs our child care centres to arrange for the tyre tubes for us. She hailed somebody called baloo from the other side who was supposedly a good rower of these tyres across the water.
Four tyres were arranged in a jiffy and to make good seating arrangements, mats of bamboo were placed over them. With many prerepaired puncture holes, these tubes were definitely not visually assuring ones. To have them floating over 100 feet deep ice-cold water was definitely disturbing. The fact that this was one of the largest water bodies in the area with a huge expanse made the danger of going astray a real possibility.
We were asked to sit on each of the tyres and join hands so as to make a train of tyres. I definitely enjoyed this sitting arrangements till somebody pushed the train onto the water. Baloo started rowing with palm leaves as makeshift rowing equipment. Just to do some time pass I asked him about the hazards that they face while undertaking this spectacle.
“Saheb hum to roz hi ate jate hain, raat ke 2 baje bhi” he boasted.
“To tum aaj tak gire nahin”?? I asked
“Gire hain na bahut baar”. (yes many times), daru pee ke chalate hain to girte hi hain. (If we drink and then row then one does loose balance)
Sights of completely submerged coconut/date palm trees in the water with just their top leaves visible gave me a fair idea of the depth of water in many places. Just a meager touch of any of these leaves was enough to puncture all these tyres and take us to the roots of these trees.
The train of tyres edged forward at a snails pace. It took it a fair amount of half and hour to reach the other side and the time was already 6.15.
Happy at the uneventful passage I hurried up the hill. In the last rays of sun I had a glimpse of the now barren plantation site with the empty pits telling a sorry story. But a few tall adusa and eucalyptus trees seemed to have survived the onslaught and were testimony to the fact that proximity to water can turn a dryland into a fertile heaven if given proper treatment.
Having resolved to return with more people to talk out the issue, I hurried downstairs having shot a few snaps with those last pillars remaining. The 3 other people accompanying me were only too happy to return back as it was already 6.45 not knowing what was waiting for them.
When we returned to the bank, we had plans of returning back as quickly as we had come but alas some more adventure was in store for the day.
There were no tyres or bamboo mats where we had left them. Some enquiries told us that the tribal people who live on this side of water do not venture out this late so they have hidden them away.
We shouted out for out benefactor but he too seemed to have vanished. The lady paraworker on the other side of the water was now getting worried and she too used her vocal chords.
Last rays of sun had now gone and it was now getting pitch dark. Listening to our pleas the person returned but this time with deflated tyres that he managed to borrow from other people. Given the time constraint, one possibility was to wait on this side in some household for the night but the driver and other people had no idea what we were upto.
My thoughts were disturbed by the sounds of air as baloo proceeded to pump in some air using his lungs as a pump. Same rigamarole was repeated and we decided to waste not a single minute now and boarded the new train of tyres.
That it was 7.30 pm at night made matters a bit more difficult for baloo as well aw he started rowing. My words of solace for my friends anuj and fatehlal were now working to irritate them as they now were really afraid for their lives in the dark. As the adage goes, some degree of anxiety is good but I thought of no good when you don’t know how to swim and only a bamboo mat separates you from a standing river.
The darkness was pierced by the rowing sounds as we reached the middle. The person in front of me called fatehlal complained of cold now. Baloo’s words of comfort did nothing to sooth him as his pants were now drenched in cold water.
The sounds of water was also mixed with the faint sounds of air oozing out of one of the tubes.
Baloo seemed to have realized this long ago (may be even before we started) and was rowing as fast as he could. Now he also was talking fast
“dheeraj rakho bus aa hi gaya hai” (We are almost there)
“bus 100 gaj door hi hai” (Just 100 yards now)
As fate had more such adventures in store for me, we reached the other bank by 7.55 leaving everybody filled up with emotions of mutual congratulations and justified curse for meJ )
Justified indeed it was as one of the tyres was indeed half deflated and baloo’s gamble had paid off.