Have you ever heard of tree marrying a water body? Why is this smug smile on your face? Do you think I am joking? Well if you allow me, I can go to the extent of saying – the marriage was a bulwark against the curse of climate change. Oh! Now you are in splits. Please listen to me, stop it. You think I am an environment junkie out to con you with an outlandish claim! I have no intentions of doing that. I am merely reporting a dying tradition of Bundelkhand, a drought prone region of central India.
Bundelkhand is a region at the cusp of Indo-Gangetic plain and the Peninsular India. The region is rugged, parched and full of ravines. The main river Chambal is one of India’s last rivers retaining their natural grandeur, largely free from pollution or loss of water to canals.
It’s a land of folklores full of valour. People in this part of India are as untamed as they come. They take pride in being labelled as baagi or rebel, outlaw to be precise. Both men and women are trigger happy and can resort to extreme violence if they perceive their pride is hurt. Here dacoits are revered by the locals as superstars. There daring exploits are heard and narrated with equal relish and flourish. Violence runs deep in the psyche of the region. Mostly it’s pride or water that fuels feuds, violence and many times murder.
In an area steeped in violence an age old tradition stood out for its foresight and sustainable development. People here practised a ritual that was performed before the foundation of any new village was laid. They created pond and planted trees around it and performed a marriage ritual that proclaimed the pond and the garden as man and wife. Tradition made it an obligation for the residents to make the marriage work. It was believed the success of the ‘couple’ would guarantee village’s prosperity. Generations after generations would invest their time and resources to occasionally clean the pond and plant new saplings. Technically a water scarcity zone was green and had a rich biodiversity. Even till 1950s one did have to toil to see a tigers near Reeva and Chattarpur.
However, in the last four decades a silent shift from rural agrarian economy to service and remittance economy have spelt doom for the local tradition. Rural youth has been migrating in search of work, those who are left behind have been moving away from village and nearer to national or state highways and there are more opportunities for work. They still till the land and depend on it for food grains and vegetable yet the orientation has shifted.
Now the land is no more a business interest it’s a subsistence option or add-on earning. Majority dreams of moving to cities in search of work. The tradition of taking pride in being rooted to the ground, a sense of belonging to a place they have been calling home for generations, love of freedom and entrepreneurship is eroding and giving way to a lemming like mentality to move where the action is (i.e. city). The psychological aloofness from their mooring is also distancing them from their traditional wisdom. The tree-pond marriage is under stress. The old tree and the sick pond need caring but receive indifference from those whom they nurtured for centuries.
Tradition, ironically, is dying at a time when it’s most relevant.
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