Friday, March 13, 2009


Banni is an area in Gujarat near the Tropic of Cancer. Once I had to visit that semi desert as a part of my project. People had exaggerated a lot about the place for sending me to the same. Despite me putting forward my difficulties to go to the field as a female, my institute succeeded in sending me to that desert.
We started around 7 AM to Banni. I had taken one ice box with some packets of juice and mineral water, along with the lunchbox from the officer’s mess. Being the only female, I enjoyed the consideration to be seated in the front seat. It was an Armada and even the front seat was not as comfortable as a car.
The main road ended after half an hour. There is no road to be seen..the only plant to be seen is a variety of shrub called Prosopis Juliflora. How to proceed further? We could see some wheel marks made by the charcoal-carriers..Banni-ites in turbans commute in a strange vehicle, which looked like as if a box with 2 wheels fixed behind a motor cycle. People sit in that box as the rider takes the vehicle! It was nice seeing a family going in that vehicle from one village to another.

Men came on camels and horses..In some villages we could see donkeys also.
We had a list of Banni villages to be visited and a very small map.Our driver enquired the correct route to some villagers and started journey. After sometime, we reached one village.
One ‘kaaka’ in turban told me” namasthey bahan” and showed us an old ‘so-called’ canal with no water. After taking the GPS reading and the other primary information, we resumed our journey.
Banni villages smell buffaloes! The villagers live by their livestock. They had cows and buffaloes worth lakhs!
We went to the Sraavan temple in the outskirts of Banni. Sraavan was killed while collecting water for his parents, by the king DasarathHa, in Ramayana! There was a well in front of the temple, the water from which cures all skin diseases provided the person leaves his/her cloth there itself after the bath..! It is believed that all the mango trees there were converted to mangroves by the curse of Sraavan’s parents!:)
We reached a school. No kid was inside. All were playing in the midst of buffaloes, in that hot sun! One can not call it a playground as the entire desert itself looked like a playground!We could not find a teacher there… Each of us looked like an alien to them and vice versa. We waited there as the eldest of the kids brought the village head with him. The head arrived in blue paijama-kurta and took us to the water storage.
Banni villages have a water filtration mechanism for centuries! They call the well-like storage ‘Virda’. According to them, ‘Khichdi’(a north Indian dish made from ‘daal’ and ‘chaawal’)is the tastiest when made from that water!!
Scorching sun started disturbing me through my umbrella. I came to the shade of Prosopis and found a smiling tribal girl Meera. She must be around 20 years. She was wearing the traditional Banni gown and her head was covered with a cloth. She could understand little bit of Hindi and that was a relief for me.She posed for photograph with me, happily.

The innocent villagers pose for photographs even from the end of visibility, without knowing we are taking the photograph of something else..I could see three girls posing for camera from the other end of the pond and a lady on horse cart asking her husband to stop the horse so that she can come clear in my snaps!
The village head invited us to his bhunga(Banni hut) for having a cup of tea. I didn’t want the tea but really wanted to see their house and the inmates. We reached the tribal house with dung floor. I admire their hospitality. One man bought two coats for us to sit. They were made of wood and plastic twains.The village head disappeared for a glance and appeared with a buffalo in the yard. After giving it some cattle feed(which again looked like dung), he started milking it. Within seconds he handed the milk over to the lady of the house who made tea out of it.

I escaped from that teato talk to the tribal girl Meera. She has never gone to a school it seems! I felt very sad about our India’s younger generation..Miles to go..!
We started from there to the next village. It was too horrible a journey for me and the desert seemed to be never –ending..We could see mirage everywhere! I started cursing the institute for sending me to this desert! If something happens to the vehicle here, when can I reach my home..I felt kind of vomiting sensation and stomach ache due to the shaking vehicle in that desert! We could see some lizards running panically here and there to escape frm our vehicle…except we 4, that was the only sign of life in that desert!! At last after one hour’s tiresome journey, we could find a tree at a distance. The driver managed to reach near to that. It was an Akasia with lot of thorns resembling toothpicks. We halted for around 40 minutes there to have our lunch.
I opened my lunchbox…to my disappointment, I could find only a little food remaining as the rest were gone out in the shaking journey. I was at the lowest of my energy levels and the hunger also strted disturbing me. I pleaded to my colleagues to go back soon! But the shortest route to our city was only after 3 villages!!
We resumed the journey and I kept on having the water to keep hunger away..I thought of the previous day’s rice kept in our fridge , to give to the maid..It brought an ocean in my tastebuds!!
I called my mom and husband to share my disappointment…but they could not understand my plight fully.
Suddenly, the vehicle started moving like an old govt transport bus. Yes! One of its tyres stopped functioning!! We all had to get down and stand in that hot sun for around more than half an hour…my umbrella was helpless…I felt this day will free me from all my sins across my births!!That moment, I wanted to see my home in Kerala and longed to have a glass of crystal clear water….
At last the driver managed to take the vehicle..We all looked like refugees post earthquake! The dust and the non stopping wind there can do nothing else..
I was not able to get down when we reached the last village. I watched the village sitting on a chair given by the villagers. Kids are full of dust..not at all taken care..I thought of the kids in our families smelling baby powder and soap..what a difference!
My colleagues collected data and we strted towards our city. At last we could see the main road from a distance! One cry of joy came from my stomach…yes we are approaching our city..!! For the first time here, each street of the city seemed to be heaven to me!!
I rushed to my home as soon as the vehicle stopped in front of it, after 6 PM! Was not daring to look at the mirror before a bath…
Yes, Banni was a nightmare which I can never forget in my life! But still it was also an experience to be counted on!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Journey to Nagaland

I was little worried saying adieu to my hometown, yet the thought of joining my husband helped to keep my spirits in tact. Yes! I am going to the ''Seven Sisters'' to meet him. And I was travelling with my dad after a long time.That gave me a kinda security and pleasure.It was half past nine when we reached Mumbai. My dad was happy to take me to his quarters. I became a child again.It is difficult for parents at times to consider their children as grown ups. My dad, being the eldest brother of 3 sisters can play the role of a home maker better than my mom!
I felt little guilty as I was drinking the milk boiled by him. Bread and milk was quite enough for the dinner. We went to sleep soon as my flight was early morning next day.
Dad's alarm woke me up. We got ready in no time. Though it was difficult to get one auto in to the defence area early morning, dad managed to get one. We reached the airport 2 hours before the flight's departure time. I started feeling bad leaving my Dad alone. My mindset that time was the same as a child whose Dad has come to drop her at the nursery school for the first day... After check-in, I came back to my Dad twice to see him again and again. At last one among the cabin crew had to remind me of the flight time.
I reached Guwahati through Kolkata , after 6 hours. The food served was really expensive and I had limited my lunch in to some raisins carried from home and mineral water. Was feeling really hungry. At last I found my cousin n his wife waiting for me with their car, outside the airport. I felt bad as I knew they were waiting for me to have the lunch together-being doctors in Army, they were real busy ones.
I was seeing teh Guwahati city for teh first time...quite deserted roads..not that attractive..Bhabiji told"there is a Vishnu Mandir near by. if possible we will make a visit this evening..."
We reached the officer's mess and had our was 3.30 PM! They took me to my accommodation in the mess, as they themselves were staying near to mess waiting for their accommodation.Guwahati was dampened yet hot that time. My cousin who is elder to me by around 10 years frightened me saying.."beware of snakes...thisis north east!" soon as they left for their accommodation, I was all alone there...and fear started crawling within...As I always do, I made a check in the bed, pillows, bathroom, buckets, cupboards, drawers etc and made sure everything is safe. I was not sure when can my husband come down to Guwahati to pick me. It all depends on the availability of his casual leave.How can I live alone in this room alone?!! Evening my brother came to pick me up to their accommodation on his way back from the hospital. Bhabiji(brother's wife) was ready with tea. we chatted for some time. My brother copied some classic/cartoon english movies for me to a CD. Bhabiji want to go to the hospital for the evening rounds. She took me also behind her on her scooter. I was introduced to some officers(her patients) and we came back after half an hour. Brother was too busy in finishing a document. And despite their busy schedule, they planned to take me out for dinner.

I enjoyed travelling in the car during night. the climate was quite pleasant with a breeze. We got inside a Chinese restaurant. I was not able to understand the names of even the soups in the menu..I gave a bewildered look towards my brother.Seeing this, bhabiji pointed to one item and told "lets be on the safer sure this is a pure veg item.."..Three of us being vegetarians, it was better to on the safer side. I enjoyed the company of my cousins. we reached back and to my great relief, my bhabiji decided to sleep with me. The thought of sleeping alone in that strange place has been troubling me, still I was trying to be bold. But only a lady can understand another lady.:) I was too the same time I felt it quite bad as I am detaching his wife from my brother for a coupla days..they must be more matured than me.. Myself and bhabiji chatted for long and slept.
She left early morning for PT. By the time they reached mess dressed up in olive for the day, I too was ready for the breakfast.
My brother advised me not to get panic when you are new to your unit mess, to be relaxed and not to worry about the any mistakes in following the etiquette. But as the etiquette is almost the same as that we learnt in corporate training, I didnt feel anything new. Afterall, I had visited my husband last year soon after our marriage. I was pretty relaxed.
Sending them off to hospital, I returned to room and started listening to the music, watching a movie etc. After two days, my husband got leave and came down to pick me from there. He was happy to handover a packet of sweets, a token of love to my cousins and was feeling very grateful towards them for their help.
We left our accommodation the next day early morning, in a bus towards the railway station.
The train is in the afternoon. We decided to take rest near the railway station.
We boarded the train to Dimapur by the afternoon.
Going to north east is like going out of India to me.The entirely different culture, people, habitat..
Assam, being planes is quite similar to West Bengal and is having more of Indian culture. As we go towards Nagaland and Mizoram, the mountain people and their chinky look will make you feel that you have reached outside India.
Our train compartment was full of chinky people, except one Malayali jawan family.
We reached Dimpaur by 8 PM. Jawans were waiting there to receive us. We reached the officers accommodation near to the railway station, in the army vehicle.
We had to start early morning next day, towards the mountains..Yes,his unit is located in a very remote area in Nagaland.