The slow death of a Paradise

Travelling has always been helpful for me to grow up as an individual. Travelling by buses or by trains gives that extra opportunity to observe the landscape, the locale and the natural beauty. Being from Konkan a land where lord was utmost liberal in ushering natural beauty, has only helped me in enjoying the nature all over. Last week i traveled to my native place and it has given me two stories to write…

Travelling to native place, especially during summer time has been kind of a routine for most of the people from coastal best of Maharashtra. No wonder you will find the trains, buses and now even flights full during this season. I have been to my native place countless times and am witness to changing times, sadly enough, the change is not for good though.

There was a time when Konkan was a serene place, the only mode of reaching there was a red state transport bus, the journey of which was nightmarish to say the least.  However, in the hindsight, i sometimes feel that it was good that there was least connectivity from urban world. People were sanitized from the ills of modern lives. There was greenery everywhere, the summer vacation meant that you would be treated with real Alphonso mangoes, jack fruits, cashew nuts and other seasonal fruits. Those who enjoyed sea food would also get it in abundance. Life moved at slow paced, the needs of the village folk were minimal and hence they had time in aplenty. I would spend my evenings near the Terekhol Creek where my brother ran a small canteen. Villagers would flock that canteen and i would listen to endless tales of village politics, ghosts, evil spirits and other such stories which i would not get to hear in city. At times i would treat myself at the cost of my father or my brother by attending a “Dashavatari Natak” which ran till early in the morning. Those were magical days, people were simple, their aspirations simple and lived in complete tandem with nature. Both never violated each other.

With changing times, the reach of Konkan Railway, the extension of mobile services, the splurge of cable television meant that the remote hamlets of Konkan too started dreaming of coming in tune with changing times. People felt that they have been left far behind and so the mad rush began. The politicians milked the people showing them dreams of turning Konkan into California.

My part of Konkan, from where i belonged, which is called as “Tal Konkan” was still very scenic, still very virgin. In early part of 1990s the Usha Ispat Company first appeared in the scene at Redi some 04 kilometers away from my village. The company promised employment to local youths. However, soon it was found that the nature of job was that of labourers.  Cheap labourers and Engineers were hired by company and brought all the way from UP.

People started renting out their houses to these migrant employees and their families and soon the intrusion began. After some years another big company landed and it started buying land, people found easier way of making money by selling off their land. Then after some years a politician brought the entire stretch of coast of my village barricaded it and announced that he would build a private port and jetty, from where the manganese would be shipped to other part of the world. The annual ritual of Ganesh Visarjan was blocked as the coast was barricaded. People by then started realizing the folly they had made, but it was too late and the wheel was already turned and now could not be stopped.

This time when i visited my native place, from Sawantwadi to my native place, i found plots, where once cashew and mangoes were grown, rice was tilled, were now on sell, hoardings of builders announcing proposed row bungalow projects were on display on these plots.

I deliberately visited villages like Talawane & Kondura during my recent visit as i had heard that there was rampant mining. The entire stretch once was as greener as it could be with coconut, cashew, betelnut, mango and other plantations. Today the entire plantations are cut off and the mountains are barren and are dug all over. The mountains which once looked as a bride now looks like a wounded ailing person shouting for help. For few thousands or lakhs people are selling off their lands to these land and mining sharks.

What happens with this sudden richness? Do people grown financially literate enough to ensure proper investment of this new found richness? The answer is NO. People start renovating their houses, build bungalow, buy new gadgetry, cars, bikes. Today, younger generations of rural folks have better mobile phones than we in the cities have. The money so earned do not last even a generation. What next?

The same story happened in Thane district in 1980’s. When people started shifting to Kalyan Dombivli belt the local Aagri people, who were the land tillers sold off their land to builders and developers for few lakhs and now they are nowhere to be seen.

My Paradise is sliding the same way. But, alas, no one is prepared to listen. I do not say that change should not happen. Konkan should also progress, but most certainly not the way it is happening right now.

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An unique art form – Dashavatar

I was introduced to this form of art or rather drama at a very early age. No, I was not a protagonist, i was a mere spectator per se, but this peculiar drama form continues to still amaze me. I am talking about the drama form called as Dashavatar. Dashavatar means the ten forms of  Lord Vishnu, his re-incarnation in various forms and the acts of defeating what is evil in these forms.  Dashavatar is a rustic form of drama performed by locals during festivals, after harvest seasons etc. The beauty of this art form is that it is performed by non commercial actors. These actors may be farmers, goldsmith, cobbler or of any profession, they assemble together and perform the act. Everything is impromptu, no written dialogues no scriptwriters no art directors, nothing, but still the art form has an enthralling power in it to keep you grounded for three four hours in the wee hours of morning.

The another beauty of this art form is that there are no females involved in it, it may be because of the prevalent situation when this folklore evolved, may be because these troopes travel a long and hard journey from villages to villages in odd hours of night. The male protagonists dress themselves like women and enact the role of females. Some of them are so well versed with the role now that their entire body language has changes to that of females.

I got addicted to this form of art as a spectator when i was in third standard, during summer vacations, when we used to be in our native place, these dramas were organised frequently in village temples and in nearby villages. The ideal time for these drama to begin was around 11.30 to 12.00 in the night and end at around 3.00 am. Though the crowd used to assemble about one or two hours before to capture ideal locations. Then various stalls used to crop up near these dramas,  adding to festivity, stalls from those vending tea, coldrinks, cigarettes, eatables, toys.  Some gambling dens used to organise gamble too. An avoidable negativity around this great art form i guess.

I liked to, and i still like to go behind the scenes and explore the make up rooms of these artists, these were some empty houses provided to these artists, they carry their own metal boxes which contain their dresses apparel and makeup boxes. The timing sense of these people always amazed me. Take for instance, the actors knew exactly when their entry would be. If the drama begins at around 11.30 am, the actor who is playing a bad guy knew exactly when he would have to be on the stage, he would leisurely take his share of nap and would wake up fresh at exactly half an hour before his role and get fresh and begin his make up, just to arrive on the stage on dot.

The plays enacted here in this art form usually are historical plays or from Mahabharat, Ramayan or other epics.  If you try not to be a judge or a critic and be a plain spectator, this form of art is a treat to your eyes. Nowadays, this art form has taken some commercial route with some professional form of companies (like Naik Virnodkar, Naik Mochemadkar etc) cropping up, they have their own form of transport, they have their managers etc.  One Dashavatari Mandal which went to Delhi and presented their drama to Indira Gandhi got appreciation from Mrs Gandhi in form of a Tempo for their transportation. Good days coming back to these people i guess.

The so called sophisticated persons who stroll in their native place and behave in villages as if they are high ranking people back at their place may view this art form with a touch of negativity, but for a person like me who always loved alternate way of life, this art form is a gift. Even today when i visit my native place, the first thing i do ask my cousins there is are there any plays scheduled in nearby vicinity. The brothers too kindly oblige and arrange my visit to these dramas.

Long live the Dashavataris and their unique art form… Long live the people who help them survive!!!