PARADISE – LOST AND REGAINED

This is a dedication to the #Bishnois of Rajasthan who are the most fierce and dedicated environmentalists in our country, probably in the world. They gather every September to commemorate this great sacrifice which took the lives of nearly four hundred Bishnois.

Story of a Paradise

Vast was the desert endlessly dry and hellishly hot yet icy cold to life. Salt and fiery heat blew wild across the vast seamless sands. Fire had successfully established its firm-hold over this land and, clearly, water had been routed. It seemed there was a curse upon it for even the devils preferred not to come here, where one element out of the five was nearly non-existent.
Nearly – yes, but not completely, for somehow it seemed to have earned a blessing too: right in its midst was the little village, a real paradise on earth: An oasis where people had transformed the desert into a grove. Here woods grew thick and green; animals and birds lived in fearless harmony with their human friends. Gentle deer and timid rabbits frolicked around rubbing lovingly against children; peacocks danced happily while cuckoos cooed and sparrows chirped gaily; squirrels created a commotion in the afternoon heat; crows tried to compete, in rather poor comparison, with the cuckoos. And, to trouble everybody, there were monkeys around.

It was a place where sadness was rarely experienced. For, in life, health was taken care of by the very lightness of the soul. Inevitable death too was celebrated enabling one to see the reflected truth of life’s happiness. But death that was evitable was hard to understand, digest, accept.

 

Paradise Lost

Due to some unknown, long-forgotten curse, a time came when, the forces of lesser truth peeped into this paradise. And this is how it came to pass. The ruler of the land, which also included this desert, was in need of wood for building his palace and his throne. He dispatched his men in all directions to find the best wood available. His men travelled great distances through the deserts – east and west, north and south – in search of wood.

One of his generals with his troop of men, travelling west and, having heard about the little jewel of the desert, went about trying to find it. They set about in the direction of the village, judging lightly the atrocities of the western-desert climate. Ere long they had exhausted their supplies and had no water to drink. By night they traveled and rested in their tents under some palm trees during the day. Cactus juices and water from camel humps were precious supplies. Many a man fell ill; a few died of exhaustion and hunger and more of thirst and dehydration. The general, determined, moved on with the remainder of his men. After a few days’ journey through the desert, weary and exhausted, the men reached the little village.

 The simple villagers were excited about the visitors, for they seldom had any, and got about nursing and caring for this royal group of men. They gave them water and food, comfortable beds and medicines. The general and his men were so taken in by the hospitality that they nearly forgot where they were from, let alone the purpose of having come there. In a couple of days, the general and his men, hardy soldiers as they were, could go about normally.

Now that their health was restored, their regular memory and attitude returned back. The general soon organized his men and got them set to cut down choice trees to take back to his king.

Coming to know of this, the villagers rushed to where the general and his men were. “O respected sire! We salute you humbly. We plead with you to have mercy on these trees and also on all the creatures that need them. We beg you; do not cut them down. We shall serve you with pleasure to the best of our ability in any other way. Noble sir, please do spare these trees!” beseeched the villagers.

 “O, you foolish subjects! Do you know who you are talking to? Do you know on whose behalf I am here? The wood is for your king, your ruler, who is above you all! Now begone and do not pose any trouble. Let my men get on with their work,” said the general.
 As one of his men raised his axe to fell the first tree, one woman ran and hugged the tree. It was her favourite tree under which she had played as a child, under which she had sat so often with her maiden friends and laughed in joy. How could she let go of her beloved tree?

As another man raised his axe, a second woman went and clung to it. It was her tree. She had climbed it when she was young and had earned the nickname ‘monkey’. How many berries she had picked form it! This tree was as much her friend as any other girl was in the village!

When the third one raised his axe facing a tree, yet another woman hugged it. It was behind this tree that she used to hide when she played with her friends. She remembered that her pet peacock loved to roost on this tree! She would never let go of this very own tree of hers!

And so, one by one, every tree that had an axe facing it had a woman to hold on to it. Several scores of women held on to the trees. The axe-men, at a loss, knew not what to do. They looked questioningly at the general.

The general simply said in his loud and clear commanding voice, “Chop down anyone who opposes the king!”

And all the trees fell into the blood pools of the women. Soon men and children too were clinging on to the trees – and being killed for it.

Bishnoi

Having come on a mission, the general and his men now had wood which they could not collect. They simply turned back to report the unexpected turn of events to the king. The others in the village watched on helplessly as the sky came crashing on their heads.

Pain hung solid in the air. The deer and rabbits stood petrified. Agitated squirrels jumped from tree stump to corpse and back, unable to comprehend why everything was as it was then. The monkeys quietly went around the corpses and tried to shake them awake. When they did not get up, they wailed in mourning. The peacocks brooded and the cuckoos sang the most melancholic songs ever heard. The crows gathered around to mourn. Time simply stood still.

A few days passed. Nothing was cooked or eaten in the meanwhile. Children were beginning to starve for want of their parents, siblings, friends and food. Life had to begin again and so it did. Neighbours adopted parent-less children. Soft, comforting words were spoken. Slowly life moved on – sober, gloomy, sad.

Paradise Regained
One day, one child ran to where its mother had been killed and stood rooted to the spot for long. When his father, fearing something amiss in the child, came by the child said, “Mother is asking me where her tree has gone!”

And so the village began its work. They planted trees for all the dead children, men and women. They nurtured them well, watering, manuring and talking to them. The grove slowly but happily grew back. There were children running around now. There were plays and fun happening in the grove. The elders began smiling again. Squirrels and rabbits and deer and peacocks played around. The cuckoos sang and the monkeys played their funny games. The paradise came around all the more beautifully for everybody knew its worth all the more now. This paradise too once was their very own hell!

 Although this happened many many years ago, the grove and the village are still there. Here the presence of those noble people who gave up their lives, is still felt; so they say! They are often heard whispering to their loved ones, “I am right here; come, try and find me!”

***

The king of Jodhpur, upon hearing the details, stopped felling of trees thenceforth.

Amrita Devi was the first woman who, along with her three little daughters, defied the king’s men and clung to the trees. The villagers soon followed her. This was the beginning of the Chipko Movement.

A total of 363 people lost their lives in the incident.

Amrita Devi Smriti Award was instituted by the Government of Rajasthan for exemplary service to protect the environment.

 

 

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