Abujhmad in the deep interiors of Chhattisgarh's Naxal-invested Bastar district is inhabited by a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe and a new book provides a narrative of these people at peace with themselves and nature, their dialect, their festivities, their delightful interactions.
"Bastar Dispatches: A Passage Through the Wilds" by Narendra brings out how forests and the wilds, humans and animals, distances, spaces and the skies, the known and unknown together make up societies and intimacies.
Abujhmad stands today as one of the few mirrors left the world over wherein modernity can view itself - its calamities and collapses.
Narendra went to Abujhmad in 1980 on a field study project of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). His stay there continued for the next five years. With an estimated population of about 13,000 and spread over 4,000 sq km (the core area being about 1,500 sq km) of, at places, impenetrable vegetation, Abujhmad lies in the deep interiors of Bastar.
Till the coming of Maoists in the late 1980s, it has had little or no contact with the outside world. The more interior villages like Ehnar and Nelnar had not known the impact of the wheel.
The small Abujhmadia community lived on food gathering and hunting, with shifting cultivation as a supplement. Shifting cultivation was not practised every year or by each family. Still in a somewhat primeval stage, the region had no trade, industry, commerce, occupation or other modern apparatus.
"But neither was there hunger, starvation, beggary or lingering disease. Whereas an average village consisted of three-four scattered huts, an average family had four-five members. Amid the primeval silence of dense wilds, the Abujhmadias continued to live in their tiny bamboo-and-thatch huts," the book, published by HarperCollins India, says.
According to the author, even though Abujhmad remained outside its reach, modernity has marginalised the rest of Bastar by working against its own referents or by taking virtually no notice of them.
Bastar now draws its signification and sustenance from the outside world, which reinforce the modern world view in its land. Neither the land, nor self-image nor legitimacy is now its own, he says.
"Though now spoken of differently by the Maoists and others, in the 1980s, Abujhmad meant dense wilds, human sacrifice, witchcraft, man-eating tigers, aggressive loinclothed men and bare-breasted women. It was used as a synonym for savage and uncivilized. The Abujhmadias on the contrary are a very generous people; very shy, timid and extremely graceful," he writes.
Narendra's writings are based on his field notes, observations, memory and reflections of the period 1980-85 and partly on his experience of the surrounding areas of Bastar till he moved away in 2013.
"I have tried to keep fluid the temporal 'boundaries' between primitive Abujhmad and relatively developed Bastar. There is a to-and-fro movement, a fluidity without which the region could not be," he says.
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