Before I start writing about my experience, I would like to brief something about myself. I have been associated with Shiksharth at Sukma since the last 3 years and closely working with a government residential school in a small village named Korra which is 27 Kms away from the District Headquarters of Sukma. I have been staying in the residential school along with the children for the last 3 years and that has helped me form a bond with these children on a personal level. I visit the villages of children whenever I get a chance or on special occasions to be a part of their culture and festivals, meet their family, and listen to their stories, share mine as well. So here begins my unforgettable story of the visit to Guphdi.
Let’s start with Guphdi. In this present moment, when most of the country is talking about constitutional rights, preamble, discussing different articles of the constitutions & debating over the constitutional validity of CAA, Guphdi is a village in the district of Sukma where people don’t have the basic civil right of casting vote because of varied reasons which I won’t discuss. The village is a residence to more than 50 families comprising of the Gond tribe with almost 90% of the population could only speak Gondi as the single language and have never undergone formal education. These people mostly rely on agriculture and the bearings of nature for a livelihood. All the houses are made of mud with one big room for cooking and storing agricultural stocks, clothes, utensils, and other essential stuff. The closed room is elongated to a large open courtyard which has a roof on the top but open from all the other 3 sides. All the houses have boundaries (baadi) around them made up of Date or Palm branches or bamboos including a gate to enter and exit. The village is enjoying electricity through a solar panel and a battery installed in each house just before 2 years. So, most of the time when we were busy complaining about power cuts, these people enjoyed the moonlight at night, enjoyed a clear sky full of stars which we can imagine to see only in pictures & videos. Mobile network & internet is a distant dream as of now.
My 3 days visit to Guphdi started on the 16th of February, a Sunday. I along with 15 children from my school who were from the same village or had relatives in Guphdi took a bus till Gadiras which is just 6 km away from Korra. Gadiras has a big local market (bazaar) on Sunday and more than 50 villages depend on this bazaar for buying and selling important commodities for livelihood. It seemed crowded than usual. The children accompanying me went to buy new clothes for themselves or meet their relatives in the bazaar. I had been to Guphdi once before this visit where I had to walk almost 4 hours constantly to reach the village. But I had been said that on Sundays, there would be few auto rickshaws available to the village. So when we reached the spot for getting an auto, I could see almost 200 villagers waiting for vehicles to reach Guphdi. It was the eve of the Gade Festival (Gade Pandoom), one of the three major festivals celebrated by the tribes over here. Almost all the women and girls of the village had come to that day’s market to buy new clothes for the festival. After almost waiting for 2 hours, I saw a tractor stopping and almost more than 100 villagers climbed on the tractor carrier. It was impossibly congested and the road to the village wasn’t that good. So there was a lot of risk to travel in that overcrowded tractor. After some time came to an auto-rickshaw. Then I observed almost 25-30 people got inside and were jam-packed inside and some were hanging out from the auto. Few of them were my students. It was practically difficult for me to even imagine traveling this way. After a few moments there was another auto-rickshaw filled up the same way. It left me with just 3 more people, who were my students. We waited for almost 2 more hours with the hope that we might get another auto, but there was none. We decided to walk to the village. The weather was sunny and hot. I was completely exhausted until I reached Guphdi.
It was 5 PM when we reached Guphdi. As I was passing by the roads, I could sense people looking at me smiling. I smiled back. I reached the house of one of my students, where I was meant to stay. I had stayed with them on my last visit as well. His parents welcomed me warmly. I could sense the festive environment all around the village. Children studying in residential schools were back to their village. I was served with a delicious chicken meal. In the evening, I sat with the parents of my students also joined by my students with few drinks of palm juice (Tadi) forming a large circle. We had a discussion about how is the life of their children in the Pota cabin, about their academics, about what they would do if their child gets a chance to study outside far from the village. But the most concerning thing for the parents which I could sense was the increasing use of mobile phones by their children. They had complained that most of the children who are using a mobile are acting differently, they are not talking to them properly, always busy with the phone and not even helping them in household works. One of the parents was highly concerned as he felt that the mobile has drastically changed his son in the last one year and threatened him to get him married next year if he stays this way. That’s the most usual way of threat, a parent gives to his child in these communities.
By the way, child marriage is very common in the Adivasi culture. It was a great evening. They didn’t know Hindi, I didn’t know Gondi, but somewhere deep down I could understand how much they want their child to be a good human being. When the night gets cooler, the Adivasi houses do not have walls to protect them from cold. The blankets purchased from the markets are mostly thin and doesn’t resist cold. There were 3 single beds in the house, out of which I got to use one. The rest were used by the children. Sleeping outside in this cold with the fire burning and the least of protection from the blanket made it difficult to sleep but this is how an Adivasi family sleeps each and every day. Around 4 in the morning, the chilly weather makes you fold in your bed and shiver in cold while the Kukoodookooh of the hens relays across each house making you deeply annoyed. When I woke up in the morning, I saw everyone busy preparing for the festival and I was the last to wake up. So, rather than talking about me, I would really love to talk about this beautiful festival of the Adivasi culture Gade Festival (Gade Pandoom).
All the mainstream festivals that we celebrate in India are not celebrated here in these Adivasi Lands. The 3 major festivals that they celebrate here are Kodta Pandoom, Gade Pandoom & Bija Pandoom. All these festivals are celebrated out of gratitude to nature. So, while the people of Guphdi were gearing up for the celebration of the festival, I was curious to know more about the festival and why it is celebrated. Gade Pandoom is a festival celebrated for the gratitude of natural resources the community enjoys. The Adivasis worship the Mahua Tree, Mango Tree, and Palm Tree for an abundance of fruits and all the products they receive from these trees.
The festival starts with the worshipping of the trees by Vade (The person who worships). The ladies wear new colorful sarees and carry earthen pots filled with water and pour it on the root of the tree. Then there are men wearing their traditional attire along with Dhol (Drum) playing music as they move all around the village carrying the Goddess of the village. In a large field, the villagers of 3 villages unite, with girls, women, and men dancing in rhythm to the sound of drum beats. The beauty of this scene is mesmerizing to eyes.
Then in the evening they cook food of various kinds and eat it together along with beverages. At night, the young boys and girls sing songs in their local language and dance in rhythm. In adversity, they don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful life they have. Being a part of this beautiful festival taught me how to count your blessings and how to always be grateful to Mother Nature. In the midst of no network and technology, I could feel pure bliss and joy.
The last day at Guphdi was meant to explore the life of a tribal man in the village. I traveled to the fields where the parent of one of my students was extracting Palm juice. From there we went fishing. We climbed the nearby hill and talked about hunting. We took a bath in a nearby stream. I interacted with the parents of the students studying in the Pota Cabin I teach. I drank Tadi and Sulfi, the local beverages with the villagers. I spent the day, completely being with myself without worrying about calls, the internet, or anything. It was such a joy talking to these simple and amazing human beings.
My stay at Guphdi was just for 3 days but deep within I know I now have a home away from home with this beautiful community and amazing people. The way the people over there are connected to nature, is a shout out to people all over the world. There could be lot of opportunities in my life to visit different places all over the world but I would love visiting Guphdi again and again whenever I get a chance and be a part of their unique culture and tradition.