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Monday, October 19, 2009

Independence and the King

Should I say it all changed with our independence? In the year 1947, on the faithful day of 15th of August our country gained independence. We became a sovereign nation leaving behind the Raj era. All princely states were united and merged to form one country; properties and estates of kings, be they small or big was taken over by the new state and its government. Time had changed, kings were no more kings, and their property was now property of Indian government. People were happy, because now we were a free nation, a big force, a huge nation rather than small, divided and ever fighting ones.

Many kings could not digest this new system and loss of power. They had lost everything overnight and it was hard but others were ready to change. Those who could gather enough courage and had good education or vision joined political parties or entered business ventures and prospered, those who could not went into oblivion – were forgotten with time and are no more even thought of.

On the list was one whom we regard even today but who has lost its entire kingdom, his freedom and respect to some extent. One of the most powerful royal family in India with siblings and brethrens having presence in the whole country. His kingdom was the largest and certainly bone of contention for many other small kings. His rule was ideal with the denizens happy, perfect discipline, rules and orders were followed. In his rule no one used to waste, rule breakers got the harshest penalty that was death sometimes. But, nor he nor his siblings and brethrens could adjust to or understand the new changed system. Change is nature, everything changes with time and once who do not understand this stand to lose. But he could not adjust.

He along with him all his brethrens, lost the throne, lost the respect, lost the power. Although having presence in rituals, religions, folk lore and mind of people, everything was forgotten. Actually, he could not understand the change, for him and his siblings and brethrens he was still the king. He never thought that in independent India princely states and royal families are no more respected or recognized, kings are no more kings. Rather, kings and princes are treated as untouchable creatures. He never thought that Janta raj will become hell raj for him. He never thought that kings and prince will be taken as blood suckers and collectors of land and money, as enemy of common people, as pests to be precise. He could never come to terms with this new country and its laws.

People started killing his brethrens, encroaching on his property, robbing them of their land and food, his home was made open for the looters on the name of human rights. People who used to respect him yesterday started blaming him for their lack of economical progress and development. He became the main target for people and their leaders. No one gave it a thought that although people in his kingdom are not wealthy economically but are happy and have food, clean water and air available at all time. Rules are followed and no police force is needed. He had no military or police force to ensure laws and rules to be followed. His kingdom was not very affluent economically but everyone had what they wanted and if checked on happiness scale certainly they would have been much better than others it was prosperous in a different way.

Today he is almost on the verge of extinction; soon we will forget we had a great king like him, we will forget everything about his rule and prosperous kingdom। Or chances are, our new generation will be happy that he has been eliminated since in most of the stories for children he is portrayed as a beast. Ours is a free nation, free from the clutches of kings and princely states, ruled by common people and leaders selected by our masses. How can we allow a king be it king of the jungles to live peacefully.

Yes, I am talking of Tiger, the king of forests, who has lost his dignity and kingdom। Today our country is ruled by other type of kings who are as netas and wear white attire. No black and orange any more. Although he has been given the honour of being the national animal of our country but alas he is a king and we do not have any place for kings in our independent country. Times have changed, but I hope this king will get his honour and his kingdom back and may his brethrens rule the forests again. May be I am talking against the norms, against the new laws where kings are not recognized, but this is what I want from the deepest core of my heart. May the king live forever.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Making of a resort - II

I started planning for making an eco resort at village Boda Chhapri, near Kanha NP. As I have written earlier I wanted to make something different where we have all modern amenities but construction should mostly involve locally available materials and local people. I worked on concept of rammed earth and this was really good and I found it to be very comfortable but use of man power went down considerably which went against my principal of giving employment to local people.

I went on to study construction style in neighborhood where people make houses of locally available clay mixing it with some sand and straw of ‘Kodo’ a locally grown grain. I saw a few houses where they had used the same technology for making houses with even up to 2 floors. But, will it stay back for couple of years, what about strength, what will happen in rains, and so many questions came to mind. Then I saw ruins of a house which was left by the occupiers a few years back and all the walls were intact without any roof. On enquiring I was told that the house was vacated around 5 or 6 years back and all wooden logs and roofing tiles were taken by the owner for using at his new site. So, for at least 5 years these walls are facing sun, wind, rains and were standing with only around 15% damage and mind it – all this even without any maintenance. Now my confidence started building up on adopting this construction method. I enquired further and was shown houses which have been occupied for last 20 to 25 years with maintenance of outer walls and change of wooden logs every now and then i.e. only on requirement.

Finally I settled with this method and I hired two people well known in the area as best ‘Mistry’ for this kind of construction Sarju and Ramdeen, both adivasis. We had lengthy discussions on different benefits and problems in using this method. I wanted green roofing which no one does here so this had to be handled by me. As for termites and pest problem local people have time tested methods which I could use at my site. On discussion about different types of agricultural waste and straw available in the area for use in construction I was told ‘Kodo’ straw is best since termite attack on it is minimal but for rice, jowar and other once it was a big NO.

I had hired an architect from Jabalpur to help me with designing part but this gentleman took more than 4 months just to make the ground plan and even that was not satisfactory. Room plan which I had made was changed, splash pool with cottages was removed and placements of cottages were all wrong. I was not happy as all construction activities had to be done well before rains set in and here we are not ready with ground plan itself. Finally, I had to sit on my own and decide everything which I did at the site. I randomly selected placement and gave details to the architect to make final plan accordingly to submit to authorities.

With plan ready and layout done we planned to start the work soon. Although rooms were being made of clay but all bathrooms had to be made ‘pucca’ using cement, baked bricks and RCC. We required almost 1000 trolley clay for our work, 50 trolley straw of ‘Kodo’, logs and other materials for giving strength. Clay and straw were a problem since now very few people grow ‘Kodo’ but in 2 weeks time we had almost 20+ trolley available to enable us to start work. Now, clay, what to do, from where to bring that much quantity of clay? Finally we decided on two things, many farmers have 4 to 5 acres of land but only around half of it is cultivable and rest not as its ‘barra’ i.e. high land and these people were interested to get their land converted to farm land. Secondly, a pond nearby needed digging so we worked on it with local panchayat people and they agreed if we dig the pond free we can take the soil. This pond used to dry up in summers and needed some digging to improve water storage capacity. So, a win – win situation for all. We were happy for clay was available in plenty, farmers as their waste land was turning into farm land and panchayat and villagers since now their pond will have better water storage capacity.

One person whom I will be forever grateful is Kalim bhai, who is a gypsy owner at Kanha. He had been with me in thick and thin and all planning we did were together and even left his business to assist me – A friend in need is a friend indeed. That’s it for now, will write more about how we did the work in coming blogs and yes many people have asked me why you chose the name ‘Kanha Village’ for my resort, will write about it also soon and will start putting in photographs of construction from next blog.

Bye for now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Me and Kanha

I have been visiting Kanha NP a few times every year for last more than a decade. Its Sal and Bamboo mixed forests and beautiful maidans had fascinated me since I had seen them for the first time as a kid. My first visit was with my parents and sisters as a 9 years old child. It is one of the most memorable trips I had made on any holidays (the only other one being Kashmir). Although a very short trip of two days Kanha its Sal and Bamboo forests and Maidans enchanted me and it remains itched on my memory. Even today I remember seeing the King, in its entire splendor, chasing a deer (Chittal to be more specific). He pounced on the poor animal, caught it by its neck and waited for a couple of minutes before taking away its prized catch for dinner.

I fell in love with this charismatic animal, although a bit confused due to its reputation as Sher Khan – the beast, I found those black and orange strips, that royal walk, that agility, spurt of energy and speed most astounding. Tiger had secured a few bytes of space on my mind’s hard disk for ever. My next visit to this national park was to come after a long gap of more than a decade. In between we visited Corbett and Bandhavgarh, all in family trips and saw tigers, elephants and other denizens of the kings kingdom but that first memory always remains fresh as it happened just yesterday, it’s like first love which you never forget (ask my wife she will swear on this).

In ur entire holiday trips I used to be a porter for my father’s camera kit, who used to be a very enthusiastic photographer. In time I started learning tit bits of photography and was gifted an old box camera which, I used to take family photographs and this helped me in understanding lighting and exposure. Even today I remember those black and white photographs taken on 120 mm roll and pride of clicking them. Then came a time when I got busy in my studies and my faithful camera kept in the closet gathered dust.

It was only after my elder son was born that I purchased a SLR camera – Minolta 600si with 28 – 200mm and 100 – 400 mm lenses. Thus started a new era of photography where I concentrated on wildlife and nature. I used to visit Kanha NP and Keoladeo Bird sanctuary often and also started participating in contests. Soon I had a few acceptances in national and international photo contests and this stimulated the burning desire of mastering the art of photography. Now I am using a Canon kit with longest lens being a 50 – 500 mm zoom lens by Sigma Corporation. I haven’t mastered to prime lenses as spending money on them never seemed to be a good proposition, as I do not get more than a week or two in a year to do photography since my business keeps me tied.

With time I started understanding the nuances of forest, lifestyle of different animals their routine and most importantly their significance in our eco system. But, as I said earlier my business kept me bound, but, from somewhere within I was not happy, I always wanted to do something related with nature, something which could bring me near natural world. In meantime I handled Kids for Tigers – The Sanctuary Asia Tiger Campaign for couple of years as coordinator which further gave me insight into our natural heritage. I got to meet Mr. Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia and his most enthusiastic tem, Mr. Fateh Singh ji Rathore, Mr. Aditya Singh (Ranthambhore), Ms. Bilinda Wright, Mr. Raghu Singh Chundawat and his wife Joanna (who is a well known wildlife and natural history photographer), Mr. Kishor Rithe and so many of them who guided me and my understanding of nature and wildlife improved.

But, how do I get near nature, near Kanha, near Tiger? A question which always bothered me! Being in business of refractory manufacturing, farming and finance time was always a problem. I thought of starting a resort near Kanha NP but then – will I be able to do something on conservation front? A big question! Will I not alter the local landscape? Will I not become one within the lot for whom profits are everything and not conservation, and so on many questions started troubling me.

Finally I decided of starting an eco resort near Kanha and purchased a piece of land at Boda Chhapri, a village around 9 Kms from Khatia gate. I had in mind a plan to make resort by using locally available materials like clay, straw, wood and use of cement or non biodegradable material was to be kept to lowest possible. This way I could give employment to many local people in construction period and later I can employ some of them in my resort. To make something where local ecology is not disturbed but to present something having all modern amenities which people ask for in any top resort.

Idea started taking shape and today my resort Kanha Village – Eco resort is almost ready. I want to tell some interesting tales and facts on construction activities but next time.
See you’ll soon.