The month of July passed without much new activities. I traveled a couple of times to see my parents with Piya, but spent majority of the time going over Master ji’s work and reading related books, preparing to find some old linkages.
I also monitored the Trust’s financial situation. The trust income had reduced in this month but it still earned a couple of lacs. Due to the monsoons, there were fewer truck plying, fewer visitors to Amma, and less produce to package and send out, but also there was no more need to invest in dam work. The trust’s only investment was books and solar equipment for pumps.
The trust gave Tulsi’s account a donation of one lac rupees, for her and Muniya’s future.
We also deposited our part of salaries in the bank. With almost no costs of living, the sum looked quite significant. Tilak did not want any part of his salary other than his expenses, so the rest was also given to Tulsi’s bank account.
The trust also had an excess of funds now, accumulated over last six months. It was about twenty lacs, still small to be managed actively, so it was left as a deposit in the bank.
The best moment was handing over Amma’s bank statement to her. Just before dusk, Piya had made tea for Amma and me. I handed over her recent bank statement. Now her deposits exceeded one lac; her salary was unused. She asked me many times, how much it meant. I explained, “Amma, you could live off it at the station for about eight years without begging, or in your village for about four years if your relatives don’t fleece you.”
“But how will I get any amount if I want?” she asked. I said, “You will have to go to the bank or use an ATM card.”
She said, “I can’t do all that. Someone will snatch from me.” Piya explained, “Amma, you can’t keep it in cash form also. If you wear jewelry, it will also be gone at the station.”
I gave her an advice, somewhat similar to the one I got at the very beginning. I told her, “Amma, to keep so much money, you will have to remain the Divine Amma. Then no one will touch your money or jewelry. But if you act like the Station Amma, then all of it will be snatched.”
She didn’t get it but Piya laughed aloud. Then I told Piya, “I fear that whatever she earns, she will have a bad time when she goes back to her family. Her last years will be spent penniless and without care.”
Piya asked, “But why will she do it?” I said, “There is no logic for a lot of human behavior. Once she becomes more fragile or old, she will want to be with her children, and her village. We will need to set up some mechanism to protect her money and well being.”
It was a sunny and dry day; a welcome break from rains. We walked around to see children play. There was a red soil ground near the river, and it was on high ground. It became dry fast, and was the favorite spot for children to come and play. Equipments like bat or ball were still considered expensive and fancy. I noticed that they played games with very simple set of rules and limited competitiveness.
I told Piya, “If they don’t learn to analyze and plan to win now, they will always lag in life. Their games have to go to a higher complexity, like urban kids.”
That was the seed of another project. It was the least cost project which would bring significant improvement in mental power of the children. We just needed to buy kits for different games and take children steadily on a path of discipline, and competitiveness. To use the balls or to be a part of games, they had to follow the rules. And winners got some incentive, like getting to keep the ball.
I told Nagbaba about our project, while many others were present. I said, “If you ask me one thing that should be the goal of all our work, it will be developing these children, not just physically but they have to be mentally ahead of the curve.”
Tilak said, “Bhaiya, you now talk like a social worker.” I said, “No. Frankly, I have been thinking like a businessman. Just that the project will take long but its returns will be huge and will last forever.”
During the last month, I had prepared a list of products and technology that could help us leapfrog the income. My shopping list included water purification systems for the villages, systems to fix oxygen in stagnant dam waters so that more life could grow, an engineering design for solar incubators, and many such things. But top of my wish list was a Satellite dish for getting internet to our village.
A couple of companies offered the VSAT service, but no one in the village had any legal address or ownership of the land. Their generations had lived here for ages, but had no property rights here or anywhere. The Trust too was registered on my parents’ address.
I had met various officials to highlight the problem. They recognized that valid humans lived there but could not give a property ownership document.
At last, I went to the Forest official in Hoshangabad who was in charge of the whole region. He was a south Indian from Tamilnadu, Mr.Narsimhan and was an experienced hand in Forest conservation. After an introduction, I narrated the problem to him.
I said, “What an irony? These folks have lived here since first humans came and they don’t own one hut, as per the records. And so we can’t have VSAT or internet.”
He knew more about our village than I had assumed. He said, “I admire how intelligently you have planned to reduce mining in monsoons. It pained me to see the unplanned cutting of forest. My personal letters to seal all mining activities have no takers at top. Had I tried it in the official capacity, I would have been shunted by now to some other location. So, I owe you a favor. But I am not an administrative official; I can’t give anyone any property title.”
He also wanted to speak about something else on his mind. He said, “I have been studying this area for last two years. I am afraid that though the Tiger and other animal population has remained stable, the forests have shrunk faster. The tigers and most beautiful flora and fauna are fighting a war for survival. If we have to protect them and stop this mining contracts and tree felling, we will need to get it cordoned off as a protected zone. The villages may have to move a bit. If the tribals resist, then it will make our task difficult.”
I said, “I am not an expert on such matters. You should talk to folks like Nagbaba.”
Then I cautioned, “But imagine that the tribal villages are vacated by your persuasion. And, before the monitoring around the forest zone is put in place, you are transferred and replaced by a lesser person. The lower staff will immediately get bought by mining mafia. You would know how deep the vested interests run. With tribals gone, poachers and illegal miners will have a field day. It will be a huge disaster. Probably the same thing had happened in many tiger zones across the country.”
He said, “I am aware of it. We can’t take chances. Murphy’s law applies in this country perfectly.”
I said, “You speak to Nagbaba. If tigers and forests can be protected, he will do anything for you. But don’t backstab them. My only wish is that they get some property rights to get an internet connection.”
He said, “I will come to your village within a week.”
Mr.Narsimhan visited our village three days later. He had a team of officials and forest guards with him. He had a relaxed schedule that week as rains had slackened. Otherwise, Monsoon was a high alert time for him. He spent the day roaming around the tribal villages, and seeing the stop dams, our production of herbs and many other projects. He was particularly impressed by our poultry stock size and multiplication techniques. He took our offer to stay for the night in the Trust’s guest house.
He was an atheist Tamil Brahmin, and not averse to tribal foods and drink. That night many different delicacies were cooked. We now had facilities to serve Mahua in different flavors. Over the drinks, I explained to him how the exotic Indian Mahua wine was an essential part of this culture and was a great comfort in freezing winters. But it had been strangulated by government policies and beer companies. Each day, the beer financed goons were busy harming Mahua trees and forcing villagers to buy their wines in winters. It put homes under debt trap when they were forced to buy everything.
He accepted that it was a sad affair but could do nothing about it. I found great comfort with him, at least he was an officer who looked square into the issues and made no false claims about his supremacy. Nagbaba and other tribals also took to liking him and his peculiar accent.
By dinner time, a large gathering had assembled in the premises. All sat around the fire. Unlike old times, we had enough food provisions. He explained what he had learnt in last one year. Many species of flora and fauna had been lost in last fifty years, but his focus had been on tigers in last few years. Tigers’ cause used to attract enough funding and popular attention; it allowed various influential nexuses could be overcome. He candidly explained his findings about this area - how many and which streams had died and how forests had been entirely cut in several patches. Many new forms of diseases had appeared in even the wild grazing animals.
The tiger census showed stable trend but they were fragile. The majestic T3, the largest of the lot, and in whose territory our village fell, had been rescued at least two times from poachers. I was witness to one such vigilance last summer. The deep mining and movement of trucks had disturbed the large animals’ peace of mind and were not breeding adequately.
It was a grave picture in his view. To some extent, our stopping of trucks during this monsoon had made life easier for the forests. But the problem was multifaceted and large.
Nagbaba asked him, “What can we do?”
He had come prepared with a plan, some of which I already knew. He explained, “If I get approvals for your rehabilitation to another cluster, just a small distance from here, we will make this large river as the northern and western boundary of protected forests. No human activity shall be ever done inside that area then.”
The eastern boundary was protected by steep rise of mountains. On the southern side, major coal mines were located in the plateau beyond forests. So it had been in control of government since British times. Most human settlements were in north as were the mineral deposits. The land rose slowly from north side, making it easy to run logging operations.
He continued, “But I cannot put up a plan to government unless sure of your commitment.”
He opened the maps to elaborate his plan. It had marked the river as the northern boundary. That left the villages to the north side of river untouched. But our village was deep inside the forests and south of the river. We were to move somewhere closer to Revaram's village, and outside the protected forest zone.
The decision was an easy one. Movement of this and many other villages was not a big sacrifice if tigers and forests could be saved. Nagbaba said, “Sir, we are simple people. I do not understand these maps, and your plans, but I see your honesty of purpose.”
He continued, “This plan will come in force only if the proposal to protect core forest territories is accepted. I have also thought about your other problem. Folks will move only to a place where they are granted proper land titles. It won’t be a temporary arrangement.”
I had another issue. I said, “These guys need to be near a forest zone, and a stream. They will recreate the natural ecology around the villages. They don’t know any other way of livelihood.”
He had taken care of that worry; he was an expert in such affairs. He opened the maps and explained the locations. The relocated villages formed a chain around the dense forests. Their locations were also once dense forests but now only had shrubs as trees had been cut. Then he added, “You will still be responsible for forests and tigers as your villages will form a circular boundary around the core zone. They will continue to be employed as forest guards and related activities.”
It appeared to be a fair path. Mr.Narsimhan had worked on every aspect. I guessed he wanted to take the locals onboard before sending the proposal for approval. He had hesitated on that front, not knowing how the various stakeholders were aligned. But after our meeting, he was all set to move.
We agreed to persuade all villagers once he issued the letter. Then we opened fresh Mahua. The discussion lasted till late night. We told him about the diaries and research on the history of this place.
Before parting next morning, Mr.Narsimhan said, “Whatever issues arise, you talk to me directly. Don’t let any politician or such social outfits confuse anyone. They will have their vested interests.”'
Nagbaba said, “Don’t worry. If one has noble intentions, God will send help.”
Mr.Narsimhan also advised me to explore the forests. “You won’t find anything more beautiful and meaningful. I will send a letter for you, just in case you need permission.” He said.
We thanked him, and wished him good luck. Then I went to Bhopal. From there, I moved to Ahmedabad for a long trip. That city had vendors who were really innovative and driven. Once they understood what I needed, they were willing to experiment, source components from China, and do whatever was possible to meet our needs and cost.