Kashibai’s hamlet by the woods


Update for the week ended 26 October 2012

Kashi lived at the edge of the forest. For her, it could have been the end of civilization too. The hut that she inhabited was part of a small cluster hamlet not far from the sal and teak thicket that blotted the landscape beyond to the land where the sun was born each day. That is how Kashi saw the land. It was a hill that rose above the plateau that she inhabited. It was lush after the dodgy rains this monsoon, but green enough for her work. So before the sun rose from the land that it was born from each day, she tucked up her tightly worn waist garment, which was like a local sari, except that it lacked the upper end of a loose pallav. In fact what she wore looked like Bermuda shorts from a distance, and she started her nimble walk up the hill, before it would become hotter. The climb from her hamlet was steep and she was quite adept at handling the hilly slope though it was slippery with fresh vegetation and green grass. Her bare feet gave her the needed grip to stay on path and reach the thicket that she was looking for – the plateau with the flame trees. These trees were the favourite haunt for t he black faced macaques, as they feasted on the sweet flowers in spring, but that was at least 6-8 months away. Kashibai was by now joined by a bevy of younger women from the hamlet and other nearby hamlets and they all were on a single mission. The leaf collection mission. Some had their little toddlers and infants tied up in a little bundle dangling on their hips and they went about selecting trees which had enough green cover. These flame trees had large roundish leaves and were leathery, ideal for holding within it more than a handful. They lucked at little twigs and leaves, climbed up the thick trunks to get to the fresher, mature leaves which were not pocked with holes due to age or disease. They spent all day picking the leaves and collecting them in mounds under a mango tree shade (this thicket had been an orchard in the forest some time ago, but that experiment went awry as the scheming urbanites who set about building this orchard ran out of money and vamoosed leaving this thicket to nature. And nature did take its course, as it nourished t he fruit trees as well as the old forest essentials that had been cleared away for the urbanite’s  jungle. In the evening, Kashibai climbed down the slopes to the hamlet with her mates. This was a tricky trudge as they had heavy loads on their heads and a few of them also balanced the infants on their hips, and the grassy slopes did not help either. Kashibai has slipped a number of times on these slopes and was bed ridden a couple of times too, not due to bruised knees or ankles, but broken bones. But today was a careful climb down, a few slips, but no major casualties. She alongwith a few of the older women carried the large neatly stacked bundles of leaves on their heads and if they could balance, one more precariously hanging by their hooked finger and trudged the miles in darkness to the railway station for the evening train.

The D Street Boyz looked beyond their street to see the green cover of their surroundings. Though this monsoon had not been very kind to them, the green cover did not indicate anything amiss. So they made their green picks of the days and took their SENSEX up with them. But in the evening, when they had to take their trains home, they had a few misses and slips – no major casualties, but a few trips and falls as their SENSEX also slipped – all in all the week could have been green as preparation for Eid – turned slightly red – oddly on Eid itself. So the SENSEX moved up from 18682 to 18880, before retreating to 18625 on Eid.

The women boarded the local train’s women’s compartment and though were not literate, they knew which station to prepare to get off with their load of leaves. They had to negotiate bridge, with uneven steps, dodge a few street hawkers who peddled little nothings on the bridge that let them out to the crowded market outside the railway station. In the old days, Kashibai remembered that this was where she could peacefully set down her head load and either sell her leaf bundles there on the street or she could negotiate a not so good deal with the flower sellers. But now, she had to walk a further kilometer or so before she could rest and drop down her leaf bundle.  The new market was less convenient for people like her, though she had seen large trucks carrying flowers from afar disgorging their contents neatly rolled up in cardboard or packed in neat boxes with holes at this market. For starters, it was better lit and had some space for walking unlike the old market, but she liked the bonhomie the older market offered as she could chat up with her neighbor neem leaf seller or even ask the loaders to share some of their chunna , lime mixture that she would add to her betel leaf. Kashibai was now set to sell her leaves that would wrap the flower bundles being sold at the flower market, or retailers would buy larger bundles from her to wrap their goods in and she managed to get some money from it to cover not only for  her train travel, but also perhaps a cheap meal outside the market before she back for home in the last train. She had to climb the hill beyond her hamlet tomorrow too, as she had for several decades now.

So next time, you buy that fragrant string of jasmine or get some marigold flowers for your celebrations, also pay some attention to the ladies who risk their lives and limbs to pluck those humble leaves, that you carelessly throw away after you set your eyes what you had actually paid money for.

Have a nice week ahead .. cheers….

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One thought on “Kashibai’s hamlet by the woods

  1. I was at the flower market by the railway station, and saw Kashibai. She was there this morning, but instead of the neatly stacked leaf bundles, she had these large sacks that she guarded. I looked into the bags and saw the long green mango leaf bunches stuffed therein. She was attuned to the festivals and perhaps must have climbed the forgotten orchards on the foothills of her village hill to pick this livelihood for this season.

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