On August 8, 2015, I met the Kushwaha family in Gundrai village, Tikamgarh district, Madhya Pradesh, with whom I was to stay for six weeks as part of a rural development project.
Twelve volunteers were chosen for the Youth Citizen Service Leadership Programme, out of which three of us were assigned this village in the Bundelkhand region. The nearby hills overlooked endless fields interspersed with mahua, neem and peepal trees. I couldn’t wait to explore the hills and was a little surprised when Tulsidasji entrusted his 10-year-old son Narendra and his friends with the responsibility of guiding us.
And boy, did they do a good job! During our quest to explore this new land, our young guides would provide us with a variety of information, ranging from which hills had the best view of Tikamgarh to which had gold deposits. Although we later found out that the boys had cooked up the gold story, what amazed me was that the children, barely teenagers, knew so much about the land and forests around them.
Family of farmers
A man of many trades, Tulsidasji used to run a school in Gundrai, but had to shut it down due to some unfortunate circumstances. He now runs a small shop and is also a successful farmer and gardener. He spends many hours with his wife, Sheila, working in their field and garden. When I asked him what motivates him to work so hard, he said, “I have loved nature since my childhood. I have never cut any fruit-bearing trees and instead have always planted more of them. When I used to teach, I always encouraged my students to plant trees. A human can provide for their family, but a tree provides for many families. When I was young, I helped my father in farming and making barren lands fertile through proper methods of digging and sowing. Farming has always made me happy and I believe it sustains human life.”
Sheila aunty echoed her husband’s thoughts, “I love farming and gardening. Today, forests are on the verge of destruction, which affects rainfall and causes drought. I believe that we should all plant at least 10 native trees in our lives as birds, animals and humans all depend on them.”
Part of nature
I was curious to learn how the children here connected with the natural world because back in Bengaluru, my job involves creating and providing nature education material. Tulsidasji and Sheila aunty have set a fine example for their five children. As eager as they were to absorb and learn more, they did not attend school every day as there weren’t enough teachers in the area. This gave the boys an ample amount of time to roam the countryside. The girls were not as fortunate as they were burdened with household responsibilities. But once they were done with their chores, I would spend hours in the garden with them, climbing trees, plucking berries and sharing stories.
Nayantara Lakshman works as a Project Associate in the education and public engagement programme at the Nature Conservation Foundation. Being an animal lover, she tends to spend more time around animals than humans. Apart from travelling and meeting new people, she loves adventure sports.