This book is a travelogue with a difference. From the middle of 1970s to as recently as January 2006, the author has been traveling to remote tribal areas of central India and recording his experiences, impressions and interactions with the people in these places. These experiences are juxtaposed with the writings of Varrier Elwin who lived and travelled in these areas and wrote a corpus of classic anthropological works. Das Gupta discovered Elwin's writing by chance and was inspired to revisit and reconstruct the tribal world that the latter so loved.
Starting as a hesitant traveler trying to verify his readings, Das Gupta is gradually drawn into a separate reality of which he is witness, observer and reluctant participant. His quest concludes only after he is able to piece together the puzzle about Elwin, the man.
About the Author
Prosenjit Das Gupta studied at St. Xavier's Collegiate School and graduated in Economics from Presidency College in Kolkata. He joined a well-known Chamber of Commerce and worked there for more than 24 years. He is currently associated with a leading industrial association. He is deeply interested in wildlife photography and conservation and tribal cultures.
He has written three books-Ten Walks in Calcutta, Walks in the Wild and Tracking Jim. Prosenjit Das Gupta continues to contribute articles in leading newspapers and journals on wildlife and tribal crafts.
April 2005Between 1970 and 1984 I had criss-crossed the heart of central India, especially Bastar, which at that time was the largest district in India, larger in size than even the state of Kerala. This is an account of the sights and sounds, impressions and experiences that I had felt while traveling and living amongst the Muria and Maria tribes of Bastar, their friends among the Halba, Poroja, the Gharwa and others. This book records some nuances of their lives amidst the hills and forests, where sometimes to reach a bus-stop, one had to trek for a day or more. During my travels, their songs, dances, religious beliefs and practices became second nature to me.
I was inspired to undertake this journey into the heart of tribal India by the chance reading of a book by the renowned anthropologist, Verrier Elwin, who had worked and studied in that area in the early 1940s. A sort of fever took hold of me after I had read Elwin's book and made me almost like an addict who needed his fix and was compelled to confirm for himself the observations made thirty years ago by Elwin. This drove me far away from the humdrum of my routine life and place of work in Kolkata, made me face a reality far beyond what we know in our urban existence. Later, I also visited the hills of Ganjam in Orissa to try and locate the Hill Saora and their votive icons which Elwin had studied towards the latter half of the 1940s.
While this account is mainly part travelogue, and part diary of my travels and experiences, it also touches on some aspects of the life of that extraordinary person, Verrier Elwin, Whose writings set me off in the first place. I became increasingly interested in him as a person and to understand what had driven him to work in such remote, unknown and mysterious places.
January 2006The Bombay Mail from Calcutta, via Nagpur, stopped at 9.30 a.m. in the morning. But Raipur, where I got off, was a far cry from the dingy, dusty city I had passed through twenty years ago. It is now the proud capital of the new state of Chhattisgarh, has wide roads, big shopping malls, smart housing colonies, and a noticeably orderly traffic. The long-distance buses were new, wide and comfortable. Soon I was driving along the freshly-built highway linking Raipur to Jagdalpur in Bastar. Within five hours I was at Kondagaon, a trip that earlier used to take seven to eight hours. It was difficult to recognize Kondagaon its present form - Sharmaji's tea-stall under a tiled roof had been transformed into a two storey-high restaurant cum lodging house; cars and auto-rickshaws actually outnumbered the cycle-rickshaws; young boys and girls in uniform (who would earlier have been doing household chores or tending to cattle) were going home from a local convent school. The large tank where we used to bathe in those days was still there but somewhat leaner in size. The dusty, kuccha road to Bheluapadar Para had been metalled, streetlights and tubewells had been posted along it. The large mango tree close to the entrance of Jaidev's house was still very much there, but the two roomed mud hut with a thatched roof, which I had first entered in 1973 had long been replaced: first by a five-roomed titled roof house, and now by a two storied pucca building with eight rooms and four bathrooms with running water! Despite all this, the joy and affection with which Jaidev and his family received me still remained wholly unchanged.
Back of the Book
'Even now, after more than twenty-five years, whenever I play the tapes, the throaty voice of the sirdar, with the beat of his bamboo rattle, the chorus of young voices, the laughter and the friendly teasing of the songs reach out to me...'
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