By the time this blog will be published, we would have completed over a 100 days in Lockdown. Sudden implementation of lockdown has affected several people in different ways. While many are struggling for a square meal, some aren’t able to order a Pizza. Many are locked with a lot of people while some are getting bored inside their houses. Access and choice related to food, medicine, leisure, education, employment and so on have been affected.
With a vibrant PDS system and self sufficient agriculture, food has not been a major concern in tribal region of Gujrat, from what I could understand after visiting more than 10 odd villages (after the unlock of course). Access to medicine and interestingly, alcohol, has been an issue for many people in these villages.
With shops and roads closed along with corona scare, reliability on local produce has increased. Phones and radio stations are running information about Covid-19, 24*7. The community is aware of the impending danger. Many people are unwilling to visit hospitals and clinics, giving way to more use of desi dawa. For most time in the first two months of lockdown, villages had closed down entry and exit by putting logs on the roads.
Traditionally, people in these tribal regions have been drinking homemade liqour like Mahua and Taadi. There is less taboo around it and women too can be seen consuming it. Here, in desi daru, I’m limiting my scope only to Mahua and Taadi, as there are may more types, which are soured naturally. By desi dawa, I mean tribal ayurvedic medicines sourced from forest vegetation.
Mahua Daru is made from the flower of Mahua tree which has iconic and socio-cultural importance. Its leaves, fruit, flower, bark, wood, etc. all are useful. Seeds of its fruits are dried and crushed to extract oil which is used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.
Mahua daru is the standard alcohol for cultural and religious tribal functions like wedding, prayers, etc. Many families which do not consume it regularly, keep it for such occasions. One can get a bottle for less than Rs. 50. It is cheap, organic and has health benefits. Most people drink Mahua after a day’s hard work. Some of them get noticed repeatedly for this habit of theirs. They can either be found lying unconscious on the roadside or hyper-active beating wife and/or old parents, crying and singing on the road, walking like a zombie around the village, sometimes kicking an innocent dog.
How is Mahua daru made: Fresh flowers are collected from under the tree early morning. If the tree is on a public property, there is competition – who comes early and collects the flowers. These white fleshy flowers can be eaten raw or distilled. People mostly dry them under the sun for a few days and then store them in gunny bags. After a few weeks, these flower become like raisins, which can be further stored for over a year. From time to time, the family takes out the required quantity of dried raisin like flower and put them in a bucket with water. This mixture is allowed to ferment for 2-3 days until it starts smelling really off. Simultaneously, a distillation set up is built to harness alcohol out of this rotten mix of Mahua flowers. Distillation is a homemade jugaad set-up which works just fine and is easy to handle (at least by the look of it). First bottle is the most potent. Next 2-3 batches get softer.
In this particular village where I witnessed Mahua making, people have given up on daru because of social evils. Until last 3-4 years ago, drinking was as common as in any other tribal village. About two years back, someone died due to over-drinking, leaving behind a young wife and 2 kids. Sadness gripped the village. It was then visited by a sage, who altogether made them decide against the drinking culture. Today, only a few families drink. There is a near abstinence.
Now, coming to dawa, Sonu Zipar Dhangariya, an ayurvedic doctor here, took a training in Ayurveda from Pune. He is a specialist in massages and treating swelling, upset stomach. He uses a scrap of tree bark to treat skin diseases. He doesn’t charge his patients any fee but accepts whatever they offer, which is usually Rs. 20-30. To earn a living, he works as a farmer but Ayurvada is his passion. He has medicines for many illness and medical conditions:
Gandi Sherdi for mental illness.
Tulsi and other herbs for fever.
Bitter Moringa gel for bichchu (scorpion) bite
Moringa Chhal for lakwa (paralysis)
Moringa leaf paste for swelling and internal injuries
No medicine for bee bite as the bee venom is itself a medicine
All these are sourced from the forest and are naturally grown, plant based medicines. People from many nearby villages come to him for all sorts of medical issues. Majority of them come for sores, muscle and joint pains as hilly terrain puts an extra pressure on muscles. Combined with insufficient nutrition, they become more prone to joint pains, fractures, etc.
Many great Ayurvedic doctors never share their knowledge and rather, prefer to die with it. This restricts the access to such information and skills in the community. This needs to change as we need to preserve the simple and extremely economic sources of medication. Why should only the western medicines have the monopoly over people and ideas?
Our trust in English medicines is so immense that we are literally blinded to consume doles of tablets on daily basis. It’s sad to see children and teenagers in the age group of 10-19 taking anti-depressants and pills to control/cure diabetes. Most medicines we are consuming here, in this tribal village, are natural and devoid of any side effects. Consumption of organic and forest produce, improves immunity and builds resilience against many diseases.