We started from YP at about 4:55 am on 4th November 2002. I was feeling very sleepy after a nightout. But still, YP to Kanjur Marg, then to Diva Junction by local train and then to Pen by another train, all along the way I had the feeling that I will be having a lot of fun in the next couple of days.We reached Pen at around 8:30 and decided to move towards the town on foot. We hadnt covered even 100 m when Prof Date stopped us and showed us the board of a shop. It read some ABC bhatti painting. Bhatti Painting? What is that? A young chap in the shop told us that he paints auto parts and then dries them in a furnace! He opened the furnace and showed the complete mechanism. In this electric heated furnace, hot air was circulated which resulted in saving of lot of energy. He also told us that he was the only fellow doing Bhatti Painting in Pen and hence was doing good.
We moved ahead and came across a turn. The water fountain (though non-functional) at the corner reminded me that I had travelled on the same way in January when I had gone on a bicycle trip to Murud. A little later we came across a typical roadside restaurant one which serves tea and some snacks and has a tin roof on the top. This restaurant had a speciality in it. It served only Ghati food :) Kanda-poha (it was yukcs), Misal, puri bhaji, usal etc etc. Surprisingly there was'nt any "pav" there! Hence we ate only Misal instead of Misal-Pav. But the most interesting thing that was there on the menu was a traditional ghati delicacy called Anarsa. I had never seen Anarsa being sold before. Each one of us ate one Anarsa and taking some Shrikhand moved ahead.
We were moving across the town keeping our eyes on the left and right side of the road. We had hardly moved any distance, when we came across a famliy which was making bamboo baskets. At that time they were making a huge basket to store rice for a nearby farmer. Soon an old man (in his sixties maybe) came ahead and started answering our inquisitive questions. Slowly we realised that he was not an ordinary fellow, but was a great craftsman. He had worked with Shri Karve for three years, and had learnt many skills when he went to Assam and had also attended a few international bamboo fairs. He said he could build a nice poratable home for himself mounted on a hand-cart. But the municipalty didnt recognise such a home. Hence they had to live in their ordinary huts. We were learning from him how useful bamboo can be when suddenly he got very excited and brought a local Marathi newspaper article. It read "You must have seen baskets and roofs made of bamboo. But some ABC in England had made a motorcycle made of bamboo. Everything in the motorcylce except the engine was of bamboo". When we saw the picture, it was just amazing. The tyres were also made of bamboo. The old man had seen the motor-cycle in an international fair and was very proud of it. He was also narrating his experiences with Mr Karve. When Prof Date asked him why he left working with Karve, he said that Mr Karve was offering him a job. But he refused it. He wanted to live a life of his own, even if it earned less money. I had read a lot about self-relaince earlier, but for the first time had seen how passionate some people are about it. Finally he showed us the structure of his huts. With pride he said that he had not used even a single nail while making it. People in Assam build houses with 2-3 floors using bamboos and they dont nail them, not even at a single point. While making a mockery of tin sheets he said that his structure was very stable and didnt fly away in strong winds.
We moved further through the town and reached a rice mill. Husk from the grains was removed in the mill. Unfortunately the mill was under repairs there. A chat with the mill owner and workers revealed that the polished white rice that we eat contains mainly starch. After the removal of husk, there is a brown layer on the grains. This brown coating contais a lot of proteins in it and is very nutrutious. Thus what we buy as white polished rice is protien and nutrient deficient. While discussing about the nachinery a worker told us that 15 years back he had read in a newspaper that Americans use ultrasonic waves for breaking the shells of groundnut. He asked us if the same technology could be used for removing rice husk? Date sir immidiately replied that it could be possible and can be definitely studied. The fctory owner also told us that he was presently trying to find a use of the rice grains that are broken while removing husk.
We had walked through the town now. A little away, on the right side was a factory to make RCC pipes. Such factories were started with govenment aid to get the pipes for sanitationa and water supply projects. Tiles were also made there now. After seeing how it worked we had a general discussion with the factory manager about the labour problems, how mechanisation in other factories was creating unemployment while cost for making pipes was the same. In one factory 3 lakh rupees were wasted by calling a Japanese mechanic. And what he did was just fix a belt. And now the factory calls him every month to just see if everything is fine. The manager sadly said that what the poor people would have earned was now earned by the Japanese fellow.
What came next was a surprise to all of us. This was a bone crushing unit. Bones of cow, buffallo, goat were brought there. Ofcourse the area was smelling badly. When asked about the factory, the people present in its premises didnt disclose anything. After a lot of interrogations, it came out that the bones were crushed and then sold to a famous company to make toohtpste. A worker there explained us how oil is also extracted from bones by boiling them for about 36 hours in water. This oil goes in soap making.
From there we went ahead to a village called Ambeghar. We met a person named Pandurang Patil who had lost one of his legs in an auto-rickshaw accident. He now made use of a fibre leg. We decided to go to a small dam that was constucted near the village. This dam provided water for irrigatin to nearby villages. Pandurang Patil told us that the villagers were now planning to grow sugarcane in the next season. On our way to the dam we met an adivasi. On asking him how things were going on, he sadly said that the rain was low this year and hence his condition was not good. The immediate question that we asked him was why should he worry when the dam was there. (Indeed, people were planning to grow sugarcane!). The reply that came was shocking. The dam water was useful only to the people on the lower side of the dam. Since he was an adivasi he had to live up the dam. Before the dam was built, he had 5 acres of land, which got submurged in the dam. He was provided a small amount of 11 thousand as compensation for this land. Later the adivasis filed a case in court, but the person who did the dealing is now absconding leaving him and his family in povety and enabling the people downside to grow sugarcane.
On reaching the dam we couldnt stop ourselves from entering the water and enjoy swimming. We had our lunch there. At 1:30 we started towards Donwat, took a bus on the highway and reached Donwat by 2:30 and then to Narangi where the office of a NGO called Rural Communes (RC) was situated. After drinking tea we started in a jeep of RC to the village named Shedoshi where some adivasis lived.
When we reached there this village seemed to be like any other ordinary village till we met Milind Gore who is a RC member. Milind like other RC members is a graduate and has been active in Shedoshi since many years. In 1994 RC started constructing a watershed in that region. This watershed aimed at providing water to two other villages (not just for domestic but for agricultural purposes also). He took us to a small check dam and explained how first the villagers had to be taken into confidence before starting any work. The labour for constructing the watershed was provided by the villagers. He showed us the bunds made on the slopes of the terrain. They completed it in 1997 and soon the effect was visible. Now the villagers were able to take two crops. And unlike the earlier dam that we saw, in this case, all the people were able to get benifit from the watershed. No one had to lose his land.
Milind told us that the villagers earlier used to live in the forest, chiefly involved in making "daru" and frequently used to get involved in illegal activities. A woman named Yashoda from the village took the lead and brought the villagers together. Soon liqour was banned in the village. Yashoda also formed a Mahila Mandal which regularly did some cultural activities. The women pooled in their savings and constructed a separate room for them in the village. Now they did these cultural activities there. Government has now opened a "Anganwadi" in the room. The women are now planning to have some small business also.
Milind then took us to the mango and kaju plantations. RC had also asked the villagers to plant these trees. He showed us the trenches that were construced near the tree. These trenches were about .5 metre deep and wide and were 3-4 metre in lenght and held water for a long time. The mahila mandal have planned to do mango and kaju processing in their room when the trees start bearing fruits. While returning from the plantation, he showed us the village well. and to our surpirse, it had water at a depth of 5 feet!
We then had discussion amoong ourselves in the village. Had food in the home of yashoda. It was a delicious dinner. Rice, dal and brinjal all three were so delicious that we couldnt stop ourselves from not asking for more. We again continued our discussion after dinner. Slowly villagers started joining in. We had a nice cack session with the villagers, they telling us about their lives and we telling them about our lives. This was a very entertaining session. At about 10:30 we went to sleep. It was a bit cold at night, but the absence of mosquitos was definitely realised by many of us.
The crowing of a cock in the morning told us that it was time to wake up. But habituated to sleeping till late in the morning, many of us ignored it happily. Finally at about 7:30 we all got up and started hurrying up to go Narangi. Till the jeep arived, we went into the home garden of one of the villagers. All the houses in the villagers had home gardens where some vegetables, medicinal herbs and other useful plants were grown. The home garden where we went had brinjal, chilli, an a lot of other unknown vegetables. There was also maize which the ancestors of the villager had never grown! A change has occured was clearly seen.
We reached the RC office in Narangi at 9:30 and had poha in breakfast. The poha was really tasty and thousand times better than what we get here in the hostel. Then we went to the RC office to present RC a gift. We saw some documents there and also some maps of the region. RC was taking help of ISRO GIS facilities to monitor the development of the place. While we were chatting in the office, there came a person named Dr. Palekar. Dr. Palekar was a commerce graduate and was called doctor for his immence knowledge in herbal medicines. He took us to his herbal collection where we were amazed to see the various varieties. Palekar told us the use of many of them one by one. When asked about the remedy to mental stress, Palekar immediately replied "Since the past few years, so many people have asked me about this. But I really dont know any herbal medicine for stress. Probably stress was unknown to ancient Indians and is a very recent term. Maybe meditation can be of some help!". Later we learnt the collection which amazed us so much was just a sample. In Karjat he had collected about 500 species from different parts of Maharastra and was even processing herbal medicines.
Our visit to the herbal garden left us with no time to go to Ambe Valley where a new watershed was under construction. So we then went to Khopoli ate lunch and came back with wonderful memmories, learning experiences and a desire to have a home garden of our own.