There has been rather a long gap in posting blogs on Vrikshamandir. The monotony was broken as Nagar sent this blog. While forwarding this Nagar wrote, “Shailu, I guess this is, as of now the last write up that I have. I seem to have lost the rhythm to write more.
It seems you too have lost on uploading more stuff on Vrikshamandir. Perhaps that is the way to take a break .
I am yet to reply to Nagar. But this is what I propose to write to my friend. “ It is true, of late, I have not posted on Vrikshamandir. Not because I don’t have material from friends or written by me. I am also not taking a break. But something inside me is making me lazy. I am working on it. I have loads of material to upload. The latest is a blog from Ramanujam, sharing details of the cycle journey from Manali to Leh, at the age of 64, that he just completed and wrote his first ever blog on Medium with lots of pictures. I have his permission to post it here too. Please take a break, rejuvenate and return with some more memoirs and anecdotes. Love Shailendra “
This is the latest contributor from Nagar.
Soon after leaving NDDB in January 1999, I joined Dr. Tushaar Shah for an action research project on water. I was doing fieldwork in a village called ‘Haldimohan’ in the district of Cooch Behar. I used to travel to the village with my team of investigators early in the morning from Cooch Behar town and leave the survey village soon after sunset since, the road network in the district was very poor and the driving conditions tough even for experienced drivers. Imagine driving on a narrow single lane road after dark and with some adventurous speeding driver coming straight into your vehicle from front.
Haldimohan was just the stop. The actual sample households were distributed over helmets 3-5 kms from the center of Haldimohan. The link roads between Haldimohan and these helmets were even narrower, barely 6-7 feet wide, raised by another 7-8 feet from either side. That meant that if your vehicle slipped, you would be straight in a ditch ending up with broken bones.
Since I invariably left Haldimohan just at the sunset, I had no idea that this remote place would give me a surreal experience- just because a tragedy will strike in form of the breakdown of the vehicle.
It happened. I was that day with a lady investigator in one of the helmets.
As we prepared to leave, the vehicle broke down. And the nearest garage was about 3 kms. My driver who spoke little broken Hindi, told me that he will arrange a cycle rickshaw for me and the investigator who will drop us at the nearest bus stand about 2 kms in opposite direction. We would be there in good time to take the last bus going towards Cooch Behar. In the meantime, he will walk down to the garage, get the mechanic and after the vehicle is repaired come to Haldimohan to pick the rest of the team.
That proposal looked good only in one sense- I could put the lady on the bus for her to reach home safely. But I had to travel back to Haldimohan to pick the rest of my team as I couldn’t think of leaving them alone to fend for themselves. What if the vehicle can not be repaired during the night? How will I and my team travel back to Cooch Behar? How about worrying families of these investigators? There are no PCOs anywhere here. A thousand questions crossed my mind.
I decided to put the lady on the bus and then take the same rickshaw to Haldimohan. It worked, the lady was safely in the bus, even though it was overcrowded. Next day she informed me that she had safely reached home in good time.
I then headed to Haldimohan with the autorickshaw puller, who didn’t understand a word of Hindi, let alone English, on a raised 7 feet wide road in pitch darkness where even the rickshaw puller could hardly see the road. On the way, we came across couple of rickshaws coming from opposite direction but could see them only when they came too close- almost hitting us. Every time they had to get down and carefully cross each other to thwart any chance of the rickshaw rolling down the slopes.
It was a ride to remember, not because it was scary pitch dark night, but because it provided me with a view that one can only dream of. On either side of the raised road, the empty fields were filled with millions of fireflies brilliantly glowing and twinkling like stars in the no moon night sky. The sight was breathtaking, and it continued till I reached the outskirts of Haldimohan. Wow, what a view. I felt as though the sky had turned upside down all the way.
I suddenly remembered this experience and thought of sharing it with you all. I would not mind having a repeat of this experience again.