As it was planned, I visited the village trust regularly. Things had changed a lot.
We let the Amma’s court continue with her statue; and the marketing company continued doing a good job. The thought was that the younger generation, once educated would not fall for blind faith anyhow. So we need not fear that effect so much. On the other hand, the earnings would allow more children to be sent to costly institutions.
Bolstered by the sale of the lands that the trust had accumulated, and the continuing income, the Trust’s funds now had crossed ten hundred lacs. It was more than enough to fund many children’s aspirations. We started giving away donations to very needy folks who came to see Amma’s statue.
My work and travel had gradually increased as I interacted with many intellectuals. The impact of modern media and internet was for all to predict but I felt that fundamental research was going to help our cause much more. I felt that a new set of opportunities were going to come our way as the world had lost a lot of natural habitats and lands. The cost of proteins and many other naturally occurring molecules was going to go up. We had preserved the environment to grow many of the high quality foods, and herbs.
But when it came to extracting molecules or for scaling up our work, the technology was not available in the entire country. When imported, it came very costly, and the training itself required skills which we could not hire locally. I started working on setting up a laboratory for research on our ecological diversity and wealth – but getting any scientist to work here was a challenge.
These present challenges apart, some day we would have access to all the technology and at much lower cost. Till then, we had to persevere.
Nagbaba’s health had deteriorated fast in last few months, out of old age. He had become very skinny and used a stick as a support while walking. Mentally he was still quite agile and his eyes had that twinkle.
In my last visit in October, we sat down one night with Mahua, and wild chicken; he still had appetite left for it.
Across the path was Tulsi’s compound. Their lights were still on. Muniya was now eleven and had become responsible. Rehan was ten and much healed. Bihu had become five and was a much quieter child. We could hear three children playing and making loud noises, with Tulsi shouting at them to go to sleep. It was music to our ears.
Nagbaba showed me a tin box. It had my name on it, and was locked. He told Lakshmi, “When I am gone, give the boxes to the named persons.”
I said, “I have got everything I need. You don’t leave anything for me.”
He said, “How do you know I am giving anything to you? I may be asking for something.”
I said, “Then you can ask while you are alive.” He said, “It’s possible to refuse to a living person.”
I said, “Okay, As you wish.”
Many such conversations happened in the coming months.
On the morning of February 26th, 2015, I got a call from the village. Nagbaba had passed away in sleep. I sat silent in my study room for an hour. All of us took the flight to Bhopal, and then drove from there. We reached the village by evening.
Lakshmi was inconsolable while others were calm. Passing of Nagbaba symbolized the end of an era for the villages. He had been their Nagbaba for last sixty years. They were waiting for us to arrive before performing the last rites.
We went to our old settlement. It had become dense forest now but our old open areas remained. Next to the river bank, he was cremated. Lakshmi performed the last rites.
A lot of visitors came to the village upon getting the news – they included Dau, many officials, Mr.Thakur, Khan, Raja, Raju Mama and many others. Amma also came and stayed till the thirteenth day.
Once I had valued in my mind how much economic value he protected as a self appointed custodian of natural systems. Just the teak in hundreds of acres, and sandalwood in forest around, came to a billion dollars in market value. It belonged to entire humanity, but would had been long gone, cut and smuggled, if left to exploitation.
After all visitors had gone back, we held a gathering. It had many folks from different villages.
One old man asked, reflecting everyone’s worry, “Bhaiya, now we don’t have Nagbaba, and he has left without appointing a successor. Amma has also left this place. Who will guide us?”
Nagbaba had prepared me for this, in our many conversations about the world. I said, “Nagbaba will be pained to hear your question. Any leader is like a father or a mother. The only noble objective they have is that their subjects or children do not feel their absence when they are gone. Nagbaba Bhairav only worked for that. With time, a new Nagbaba and a new Amma will come, serve their duty and go. But you must judge them by the objective they have. One who believes in one’s own importance is going to take us down the wrong path.”
After a long pause, I continued, “Once, I was distraught and had asked Nagbaba about what should guide us at all times. He explained to me that it was the Dharma. Dharma stood for its four principles – Truthfulness, Compassion, Cleanliness and Austerity. If we follow the four principles, God will help us progress each day. The true guide lives inside each one of us. Nagbaba explained that to me. This was his guide, and that guide remains with us.”
Then I explained to them the picture of Saraswati (knowledge), Lakshmi (wealth and progress) and Ganapati (welfare). If One of them was missing in our deeds and thoughts, the others would eventually leave. This was going to be our guide in all works.
The villagers were rejuvenated. Then we had a vivid discussion on how these principles worked to create progress, wealth and knowledge.
The next day, seven of us gathered at Nagbaba’s hut – Myself, Lakshmi, Tulsi, Bajrang, and two elders and one young trustee. The purpose was to open the boxes. There were four small tin boxes – One for Lakshmi, Two for me and one for Tulsi. One by one they were opened.
In one box, he had gifted some silver jewelry and other small valuables to Tulsi. The box for Lakshmi contained his hand woven silk clothes meant for Lakshmi’s marriage, apart from some Gods’ idols meant for her good fortune.
In one box given to me, there were original books and diaries. They had been meant for the Trust’s library storage but we had kept only copies there. The originals were now given to my custody.
The second box was locked – it was the one he showed to me some months back. The lock was broken. It had his personal fortune – his snake Gourds, the tiger claw, horns and stones that were passed on from one generation to another. I silently surveyed the items while the gathering looked on. There was a note also he had got written by someone else. The note read: ‘May God help you in your path.’
He had appointed the Thirty sixth Nagbaba.
Now running away from the responsibility or living it was my choice - there was no chance of reversing his act, nor anyone was there to question what I did with it. I used to think and worry about the Trust and villages’ future all the time, so this act was meant to bind the community to me. It was a brave decision to put that trust in me – after all I was neither one of them nor survived like one.
Further, he realized that their society no longer faced dangers from snakes and beasts that lived in forests, but from those who were in human forms. Understanding the complexity of the world and the simplicity of his own villagers, he had decided to pass on the responsibility to me.
I requested all others present as witnesses in the hut to keep this a secret. We needed least distraction to do our current work. I did not want to attract any attention. For the common knowledge, I had moved away and settled in a different world with a job, with a continuing stake in the Trust’s income. In my view, I was just another custodian who had to manage the transition to become an advanced society and then hand over the role to someone like Lakshmi or more capable person.
I smiled when I realized that now I was a Snake Charmer also. Both me and Lakshmi, the next prospect in line, were neither trained nor fit for that job. I had to find someone, as villages did need one.
We stayed there in our hut for a many more days. Babu started liking our old hut. Compared to the apartment in Mumbai, this was a heaven for a child. We continued to stay in the village much after all had left. With permission from the Forest officials, I went to see our old village and then the fort along with Bajrang and others. It was still T3’s territory but he didn’t show up; probably disappointed at not finding Nagbaba amongst us. I was sure T3 watched us from some hidden point.
I spent time in organizing the team. Tulsi now looked after Amma’s court’s activities and Bajrang after the brokerage network. The natural products growth was now an organized effort. It had good processes. The Education project and the Research project I monitored directly. Piya wanted to stay here itself, but I said, “Not yet. We will come back to live here when the time is right. Currently, all the knowledge we need lies far away.” We returned to Thane with Lakshmi. Lakshmi was going to stay with us.
Today, I have finished narrating this phase of my journey. It is ten at night.
Seven years back, I left this city loaded with false convictions and material dreams. And have come back here again alive and happy but a changed person. I have bigger responsibilities now and the boat remains small and fragile as before. But I now believe that this world is not about named kings or governments or billionaires but the real beauty and strength in this world lies with the Nagbabas and Shamshers and Chaturvedis and their silent faith.
Many challenges will come in our path, but I know that as long as one remains true to oneself, one need not despair. There will be a Nagbaba waiting somewhere in a forest, or a Amma at the Railway station, or a Tilak or Shafiq on the streets, or a Thakur or Narsimhan in Offices, a Master ji in schools or a Verma ji in courts. That is the power of good karma.
I had been lost in such thoughts. Suddenly, I felt Babu’s little hands wrapped around my neck. The little fellow had silently climbed the chair from behind. It was time for his favorite story.