This is an attempt to understand the world of a forest dweller who is trying to define her house based on her relationship with space. Her knowledge and confidence is derived from keen observations and considerations of self as a part of an ever-changing forest. From here on, everything is about Salma’s home in her own words…
“My Dera is my home. We – my father, mother, grandparents, my three uncles, their wives and children, our extended relatives and their children, our buffaloes, our neighbours’ buffaloes, and all children from this settlement all are part of my home.”– Salma
See these trees around, they are green now but in winter they become yellow, then brown, then they leave this world, for new ones to be bloom. We sometimes gather the dry leaves for buffaloes as it’s hard to find grass during late winters. Vultures come and sit on the barren branches. We leave the dead buffaloes in the middle of the grassland for vultures to feed on. Even though we don’t understand why they like it, we do our part. Then in the rainy season come fireflies, who light up the whole tree and dance the entire night.
I have space for everyone in my house, some live as seasonal guests and some as permanent residents.
We have several trees and many Deras. There is grass, lots of it. Then there are insects and grazing animals. We all live together, no one to be left behind. The Chittals (spotted Deers) and Hirans (Deers) sometimes get scared out in the wild and find it safe near our Dera. They look like yellow dots at night and are not to be disturbed. The grazing ground becomes their bedroom and they sleep there.
A river flows by, at the shore of which we hang out all the time. The water you see here is always running, never tired. My buffaloes and her friends from jungle drink water directly from here. They don’t have Handa (vessel) like we do. This place is one of my favourites to be around. However, at times, the river takes in too much including the people and things in its surroundings. This happens when it rains heavily for a while. She looks scary but we are brave. We climb the hill with our animals and belongings while the elders try to sustain the Deras.
Can you see that range of hill and the one beyond that? That’s where the buffaloes go for grazing. One of my uncles goes with them and I often tag along. Then comes my mother with my aunts to collect firewood. That adorable place also feels like home. The women teach me how to identify and pick the dry wood. Once a year, my mother takes me there to collect colorful mitti (sand). She knows exactly where it is found. We sing bainths in the forest. My favourite one is,
कदर फुलांदी के जगजाने मुर्दा खावे खान बाले
कदर फुलांदी बुलबुल जाने ते हार परोवन बालेI
Will a vulture know the value of flowers? No, it doesn’t really need them for anything. A nightingale understands the importance of flowers but will not value the dead body. Even if we are living in the same ecosystem, our purpose might differ. We might never understand the value of certain things that are important to others and that doesn’t mean they’re meaningless. We don’t have to disturb what we don’t need as they might be important to others.
And the other animals, who visit once in a while. I can listen to their sounds at night. I don’t want to leave them alone. My family prays to them and our prophet asks us to think well of them. Even if the big wild animals eat my favourite buffalo, I cannot give him baddua (curse) as it was just having its meal.
Also read: Journey Of Gulab Buffalos’ Milk
I wonder where my house starts, maybe at the gate where the forest guards sit. After all, there must be a boundary from where one enters. There, they check if you are eligible to come in; if you will do no harm to it. From there itself, it feels like I belong here; the river accompanies me to the Dera making it feel safe. The vehicles pass in speed sometimes, that feels scary. They make the animals also afraid, so now we all take the inside route and cross only when we have to.