An Official Visit: An Excerpt from "Woodsmoke and Leafcups"

03 January 2016

The botanist, anthropologist and writer Madhu Ramnath spent thirty years with the Durwa tribe, adivasis that reside in the forests in Bastar, Chhatisgarh. During his stay in the forest, Ramnath abided by the Durwa way of life: learning the language, and working on the hill-slope.

Ramnath has routinely written on the life of the adivasis and their engagements with often-hostile state machinery. He likens his experience of living among the Durwas, in the forests, as remaining "outside a country I knew and with which I was familiar: the scent of sal hinting at something more refreshing than the goals to which India aspired." In this excerpt from his book, Woodsmoke and Leafcups, Ramnath recounts a visit from the Divisional Forest Officer, or DFO, an officer of the Indian Forest Service.

One of those visits happened on a summer day when the midday sun had caused us to scurry for shade. The tuk-tuk-tuk of the little barbet was broken by the distant hum of a vehicle. A red cloud appeared in the distance and approached the village. The jeep entered without pausing, making its way directly to my hut and coming to a halt. People emerged from the nearby huts and children peered from between the bamboo fences. A door opened and the DFO, dressed like a Texan cowboy in a red checked shirt tucked into a pair of jeans, scrambled out of the vehicle calling my name. Another door opened and the DFO’s subordinates, a range officer (RO) and two nakadars in uniform, stepped out.

I invited them in, shooing off the hen and her chickens, and offered them mats to sit on. The senior man looked around and entered hesitantly, seating himself awkwardly on the mat with his shoes on. The RO stood at the entrance, awaiting orders from his senior, while the two nakadars ambled around the enclosed garden. The driver of the jeep remained in his seat.

“We have come to see what we can do for the people,” the senior man began. “We want to take up some developmental works in the village.” Then he explained how he planned to improve the agricultural conditions in the village. The Depart. was expecting some money from the World Food Programme; a proposal had already been formulated and sent to the capital.

Keywords: Chattisgarh Bastar Adivasis Madhu Ramnath HarperCollins