August 04 , 2018

A day well spent for Maitree

Every year, during monsoon, we plan trees in the tribal forest areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka under our project Maitree. These fruit-bearing trees provide livelihood to the local farmers who struggle due to poor socio-economic conditions. Maitree also symbolizes a girl child who, with the sustainability brought by fruit-bearing trees, can complete her education and uplift her entire family. As a part of our vision of planting 1 million trees in five years, we have set a target of planting 1,51,000 trees this year. Colleagues have volunteered to participate in this gratifying act.

We begin at 7:00 am from the Allcargo Aavashya House. Our destination is a small village in North West Maharashtra named Mokhada. It is a 3-hour drive away, made very pleasant by the fact that most of it are through Maharashtra countryside, now fabulously green with the rains.

When we arrive we are invited to visit the tiny village school. It is more than tiny, it has but one classroom. We meet about 30 children, definitely not above 10 years of age. They are as curious about us as we are about them, but the dignity and composure with which they observe us are striking. 

The children sing for us: 5 little kids enthusiastically belting out a song of praise for Chhatrapathi Shivaji and then cap it off with a rousing hailing cheer for Maharashtra and India. One cannot be immune. It's not just darling toddlers shouting a song. These kids know the meaning and are singing with expression. A top city school would be proud if their students had put up such a fervent and energetic little performance. 

Notebooks are distributed to the kids. The kids were respectful and sombre till now but the gleaming blue books light their faces up. They are holding their notebooks like it is some expensive present entrusted to them. They want to be photographed with the books. 

Now for the second stage of the day. All of us were split into 2 teams and we were assigned different fields to plant saplings in. The farmers have already dug holes a foot deep so we don't have to do the digging. The saplings have been distributed to the many farms and are ready for planting.

We walk half a kilometer to the field assigned to us. Since its the rainy season it is green as far as you can see, all the way to the hills in the distance. We cross a creek, then walk little paths skirting small fields. People in the fields watch us like we just stepped out of a spaceship.

At the field, the farmer, and old, grizzled man awaits us. Our team leader chats with him in Marathi and in a minute we pick up the saplings and start planting them. City nerds that we are we need help and supervision with the planting from the NGO workers. The farmer's wife and daughters are watching us from a distance. They have a right to be bemused but their faces simply show amazement and disbelief at their fortune.

Our team plants about close to 30 saplings. The NGO team, experienced with the planting,  painstakingly revisits each sapling to ensure it has been planted right and the soil around it made firm so that it can support a growing tree. They stomp on the soil and harden it around a few saplings where it may have looked loose.

I watch the farmer. Since all the work is being done, he stands mutely and watches us. I think he wonders at the sheer fun we ourselves are having. Within 3 years these saplings, now trees, will bear fruit that he can sell. It is a small windfall for him. The trees we planted today are gifts for him, the fruit they bear will be regular gifts for years to come.

In about an hour, all the saplings are planted. We rest for a bit in the awning outside his house. His daughters bring water for us to wash our hands. The sheer hard work they put into their lives shows .... they are tiny people compared to us well-fed city people. They are curious about us too, but too shy to converse. I say "Thank YOu" to one of them and they all dissolve into a waterfall of giggles. So I say Thank You to each and every one of them and am rewarded with a small chorus of laughter. I say Thank You to the farmer and offer him my hand, he looks at it in confusion for a moment, then takes it and shakes my hand, grinning from ear to ear. 

Back to the camp base point and we are treated to lunch. The village has cooked rice, chapattis, daal and white chickpeas. It is absolutely delicious and we are generously rewarded with seconds. It occurs to me that this must take its place in one of the most lavish meals I have had.  I wonder why this simple meal felt so wonderful to me and I realize that it fed my soul.

We clamber aboard the bus to return home and the village people are waving goodbye. There is gratitude on their faces. I think to myself that it may not be possible for me to explain how grateful I am for the few hours I spent with them.

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