Research Associate, Research Unit
The nitty-gritties of ASER began to feel familiar as my journey systematically trickled down from National workshop in Lucknow to State level training (SLT) in Madhya Pradesh to District level trainings (DLT).
While in Madhya Pradesh for SLT, I received an email from Delhi- ‘Support required in Jharkhand for district training.’ Jharkhand! My exposure to the state was circumscribed by rudimentary geographical text facts. I was thus quite excited to explore the place. However, because of naxalite insurgency, I was cautioned by my family and perhaps was a little apprehensive too.
I started my train journey to Jharkhand the same day I reached Delhi from Madhya Pradesh. Due to back-to-back train travel, I decided to rest for good 17 hours. It must have been 8 in the morning when I rose to the hustle and bustle of fellow passengers. My eyes opened to the lush-green carpeted hillocks that stretched till the horizon. The clouds above casted shadows over the mattress giving rise to myriad hues of green. Indeed, unadulterated shades of green- trees and only trees all around- I exclaimed! A fellow passenger promptly replied, “That is why it is called Jharkhand.” I smiled awkwardly for not having decoded the obvious- ‘Jhar’ ‘Khand’, the land of trees!
Ramgarh district was allotted to me for ASER training. Ramgarh – I surfed online to see if it is the same as in the cult Indian cinema, ‘Ramgarh ke Sholay’J. Unfortunately, they weren’t the same. Ramgarh was a district about 40 km from Jharkhand capital. Reaching Ramgarh required me to use different modes of transport- tumtum auto, special auto and a sarkari bus. The master trainers had already reached Ramgarh and they were to guide me to the destination. No sooner did I start my journey from Ranchi, my phone refused to cooperate. As luck would have it, following my mother’s advice, I had written down contacts of point people in my diary that very morning. The local people were very helpful in directing me to the bus stop and lending their phones enabling me to communicate with the master trainers and reach the destination safely.
I reached Ramgarh a day before the training. The next day, early morning, I started for the training centre along with our two master trainers. The training centre was some 25 km away from the town. Within 10 minutes of our journey, we entered a green paradise. The clear blue sky and dense green trees took turns to provide canopy. After 30 minutes of this mesmerizing auto ride, we reached a junction. “Ab 3 km yaha se training centre tak chalna padega!” said the master trainer. There was no public transport available to the training centre from the junction. Enthusiastically, we marched towards the training centre.
Training Centre! Before me was a structure very different from what I had imagined. A room with three large windows, however, no lights or fan! Electricity had not reached this place! We were asked to wrap up our training by 5 pm as it would be too dark by then to conduct training without electricity. We had come prepared with a 9am -6pm schedule. Immediately, I revamped and truncated the schedule in my head. I was quite worried thinking about how to make people sit through the entire day training without a fan and what will they think about the arrangements! By 11 am (already 2 hours late) all the expected volunteers had reached the centre. As I entered the training hall, I was amused to see the volunteers seated comfortably. The two huge windows facing east illuminated the room. Cool breeze pleasantly made its way between the opposite windows ventilating the room. Relaxed, I started with the training!
It was not even 4.30 pm when a group of volunteers stood up in between the training, getting ready to leave. The already revamped training schedule started collapsing in my head again! Jharkhand being a state with naxalite presence, initially, I thought these people might want to leave early for safety reasons. While the safety reason was true, it was safety not from naxalite but from jungli haathi (wild elephants). A herd of 14-15 wild elephants was rampaging on the way to Dulmi block where these volunteers resided. A brief conversation with the volunteers revealed that there have been innumerable incidents where humans have been killed by wild elephants. While a decade ago man and elephant co-existed peacefully in Jharkand, human encroachment in the forest areas has triggered a conflict between elephants and locals. Accommodating their request to leave early, we adjusted the training session carrying it forward to the next day. For next two days, the training time was altered in a way that would suit the volunteers.
Jharkhand was indeed an exuberating experience in terms of learning. I found luxury in the lap of nature (without electricity), and this experience made me feel gratitude to be born! Now, I carry a handbook with contact details wherever I go. Yes, one should have a rough plan, but one should be ready to alter it as per the situation. Moreover, there is a need for sensitization amongst all of us to conserve nature.