I met Sumilya, a friend I made from Amelia during the Mumbai protest we did some 3-4 months back. She took my palm in hers and pressed it slightly as a physical gesture signifying her happiness at seeing me again. We were re-living the time and incidents we had in Mumbai when we were together. She told me how she loved the Juhu beach, the gola, and the liberal crowd having a jolly time. Her opinion was so contradictory to the other lady I spoke to. She found living in flats jail-like and wasn't comfortable amongst people with a culture so distant to hers.
The day in Amelia starts at 4am. They take a bath, fill water from a well, clean their house, wash and feed their livestock, prepare lunch and leave to pluck Tendu leaves, collect firewood and fodder from the forest. They eat only twice a day and don't have the concept of breakfast. They return around 10am, have lunch and rest till 2pm. After they wake up, they prepare dinner and leave for drying tendu leaves. The process of drying leaves continues till 9pm. When it gets pitch dark, they return home in their exhausted state, have dinner and sleep.
I asked Sumilya if she had her lunch, what all work has she gotten done since morning, if Tendu picking is over for the day and what will she do now? She misunderstood my 'what now' question and told me about how her entire year looks like.
She told me Mahua and Tendu season is over so the village will be taking a break for 10-15 days. Then they will sow food crops like rice and corn. They will maintain the crops for three months and harvest it in September. At the same time they will go to the forest to collect mushrooms and other medicinal herbs during the waiting period.
After the harvest in September they will take a break of 10-15 days. In October, when it gets a little cool, they will sow crops like wheat, chana, and green peas. This they will harvest around Holi in March and take another break for 10-15 days. By then, the Mahua and Tendu season will be back.
Everyday of their life is so closely related to their forests which makes me wonder what will happen if their forest will be cut down? You can displace them, but can you resettle them without hampering every aspect of their life? Food for thought.
Jungle hamare aap ka. Nahi kissi ke baap ka.
Aafreen Ali is a volunteer with Greenpeace India.