Sunday, June 16, 2013

Life at Kanha!

Living is getting knocked down time and again, then standing up time and again, and once more. It's easy to act honorable when things are coming along and all your pastures are green. Plenty difficult when the ground is dried and burned and people have connived to take even that from you....
Nancy Turner.

Each time I visit places like Kanha these words echo’s in my mind by the great writer as it's not just the forest which I visit but it’s the people around that forest also, mainly those who are responsible to keep that forest alive for us & their lives also depends on that forest. Many of them know it & are dedicated to the forest; life is indeed difficult but these guys hold on & keep fighting. Forest has something to offer new on every trip, on every safari we took, provided we should be ready to absorb it. Most of the tourists which visits forest are there to see the tiger & nothing wrong as the animal has a special charm in its personality & by now in my so many trips all around the forest over India, I have seen hundreds of time the tiger yet each sighting has its own charm & thrill. This time also my Kanha trip didn’t disappointed me rather had some wonderful sightings of cubs with their mother, a rare scene at Kanha. Usually the cubs as young as six months of age rarely come in open & to get them so was some experience. Each trip rather safari in forest makes you crave for another & that’s the beauty of forest. One needs enough patience is equally important & what better we can learn from forest than be patient & let nature plays its role as an anchor. May it be tiger cubs or a small bird like blue fly catcher every sighting has its own thrill & beauty, rather to chase a bird is more difficult than to chase a tiger as there are no alarm call or pug marks to guide you towards the same.

After so many tiger sightings I have concluded one thing, to chase the tiger through alarm calls of spotted dear, languor, sambar even crows who are waiting near the kill is more thrilling than even to sight the tiger. It’s a thing to experience how the environment in forest changes with mere presence of one animal; all become alert & change the mode of behavior. I think this is what keeps the tourists & the entire system going. With all regulations after Supreme Court on wild life tourism, yet the national parks are becoming more popular destination & on one side its good sign of awareness of urban population regarding wild life conservation still how many of them are there for real care of forests is a matter of study. Over recent past my subject of interest isn’t just the forest & animals but as I mentioned above it’s the entire system which revolves around forest mainly the tiger. And many die hard forest lovers won’t like it but it’s always better to accept the fact & then try solutions than denying the facts & then looking for solution. Right from the first morning tea before safari at dhaba to gipsy to ticketing counter to drivers to guides, all are engaged in one conversation "Kal kidhar sighting hui?" means yesterday where & who saw the tiger? So the plans of track & routes get decided. Agreed in this zest the main object gets neglected but this same urge for having a glimpse of tiger we can use to make visitors aware about the survival of the specie.

For that we need to make entire system get more exposed to the visitors , so he or she can understand the term forest in larger context & not restricting their role just as a visitor but a participant in true means for the conservation of the forest. And my this sharing is especially to focus this hidden aspect of the forests as right from the "chaywala" i.e. tea maker at the dhaba to the boy working at tea stall to gipsy driver, guides, guards in forest & even senior forest officials like rangers & director; these all are some way responsible to conserve the forest & help visitors to explore the same. And when we visit the forest we need to understand that visiting such places for 3- 4 days is fine but it takes hell of life when we have to face the same days after days for years. For instance look at few of the characters I met at Kanha & you will understand what I mean.

Meet Manglu, age 16 years, he is a tea maker at dhaba near Khatiya gate. The gate opens at 5.30am in morning & the rush of drivers , tourists , guides & forest gate staff starts right from 4.30am, so he has to be up by 3.30am & be ready to make his tea preparations since then with his assistant Snatram, age 10 years & from nearby village. Santram goes to local Zilah Parishad School & as its summer holiday he has taken this job to make some money during holidays. It’s this extra money which will help his family back at village. When all other city boys of their age are holidaying with their parents or just lazying in bed  these two have to be awake from 3.30 am in morning & slog themselves to give hot tea to all concerned with the park & they themselves have never been in forest as they can’t afford the safari charges! They event don’t have decent clothes to keep them warm in harsh winter of Kanha. Its similar scene with number of hotel boys who are engaged in making breakfast at various hotels, who has to work till late night so as to clean up the dinner leftovers from tourists & yet to wake up very early for making their mornings comfortable.

Same is the story of Pratap or Anup who are drivers of gipsy which takes the tourists for safari. The gipsy drivers should also have to be at the hotels to pick up the tourists & make them arrive on time at the forest entry gate, as there are always chances of sighting the tiger in early morning hours. And for this they have to wake up at 3am in morning get the vehicle update & bring the same to hotel, then to collect the entry form of the forest & complete the formalities so the tourists are allowed in the forest. And then drive the vehicle for hours through extreme weather on uneven roads of Kanha with utmost care not to allow any mishap during the drive.

Story of guides like Ashok, Pukhraj, Mallusing isn’t different. They too have to adjust their routines as per the park hours & sat in open gipsy for hours & keeping keen eye around to see the moments of birds & animals around & to explain about them to the tourists. At the same time the guide has to face the enthusiasm of tourist for having a look at the tiger & even face the anger of the tourists if they can’t see one. It’s a forest spread over thousands of kilometers & to locate one tiger in the same isn’t an easy job, yet relentlessly the guide has to do it for the tourist as they think when they have paid  200 rupees for the guide then they own him & it’s his job to show them the tiger!

Then comes the forest guards like Tomar or Mangalsing which includes the one who has to stay inside forest, few of them are on gate & then even mahawats i.e. the one who sits on elephant & keep an eye on tiger as well other animals. All these people are exposing to life threat while performing their duty as its not only tiger that can attack while they are on guard but there are snake bites or even animals like bison or bear that can be dangerous in forest. Also there is always danger of falling sick due to infections through drinking water or diseases like malaria which can be caused by mosquitoes which are abundant in forest. For most of the guards one shift is of 24 hours & for that whole time he has to remain alone at his post deep within forest with his only contact with outer world is a walky- talky i.e. wireless radio. Imagine dark forest around you on a pitch black night & you are all alone, I don’t think even a single tourist can stand to this condition leave apart enjoying it.

The life of senior officers at forest isn’t also that easy as they are answerable to so many things like forest fires too death of any forest animal or attack by them on adjoining villagers. Media has become very sensitive & even a smallest event gets global at places like Kanha & can cost the concerned officer his job!  

And above names are just a few which I came across , there are hundreds of manglus, santrams, ashoks, prataps & tomars who are doing their thankless job at Kanha & for year after year without any holiday as they can’t afford one. Many will say what’s big deal doesn’t all of them get paid for their jobs? Well yes but look at the kind of remuneration these people are getting against the kind of job they have to do? Cups of tea gets sold at Rs 5 per cup & just imagine, how many of cups needs to be sold so as boys like Manglu & Santram could get decent education & warm clothes for them. Ask how a guide can survive his entire family in Rs 200 per trip with rotation system in existence, means there isn’t surety that each guide will get to go for a safari every day, so he isn’t assured about even the Rs 200 a day for entire month! Look at the kind of salary as well infrastructure the forest guards are getting & the task as huge as saving the tiger from poachers to villagers by exposing their lives at danger! I think it’s these questions a tourist should ask to himself than just the usual one about the tiger sighting. As then only we can think about our responsibility in the forest conservation. It’s very easy to book the safari on line, to get checked in a decent hotel, get picked up by gipsy with warm clothes to wear & hot cup of tea along with well packed breakfast, a guide to explain you about the forest & the only job left is to look around & enjoy the beauty of forest!

Friends, if you are like these tourists who come for a tiger snap & go back with it & forgets every other thing they saw at forest, then I will say you haven’t seen the real forest as real forest isn’t having a good sighting of tiger & clicking its snaps but real forest lies in all such people who makes it possible for you to have a sight of the tiger. Its these people whose behind the curtain hardship makes our forest trip memorable, so isn’t it our duty to make their life also somewhat comfortable by our contribution? Don’t ask what you can do for them but ask whether you really have understood this side of forest? As if you get the answer of this question then rest things will automatically follow.  

The story may be about Kanha but it’s applicable to all the forest or parks around the country & many such Manglu’s & Ashok’s need a helping hand so as they will realize that they are not alone in the fight of surviving forests! And as Nancy Turner says, ground has been burnt for these people, it’s our turn to make it green for them, then only we deserve to enjoy the sights of forest or else we will join the wagon of forest destructors by not doing anything for those who are doing their share to conserve this treasure for us!

( Btw just sharing as somewhere someone can take more initiative after reading this. We at Sanjeevani are always trying to share our responsibility for the cause & this time

we have provided rain suits to kanha forest guards. In past also we have been doing this by providing safty shoe, winter clothes to forest staff. We are working of doing similar support things for guides of kanha also.)

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

MSEDCL (Power) Committee, Credai, Pune

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