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(INDIA 31)








Kot Malla village, Alaknanda valley, Chamoli


May 1996


This is a relatively short interview with a very elderly narrator, yet his responses to questions are substantial. There is one section that is slightly confusing. Much of the interview is descriptions of activities in the past, with some comparisons with life today. He talks about the forests, emphasising how “very dense and beautiful” they were. He returns to the topic later, expressing awe and respect for this great resource.

He touches twice on mutual assistance. He describes the meeting place in the village where men gathered after completing their individual agricultural tasks, to discuss and plan the community works that needed to be done, such as maintenance of irrigation channels. Later he describes the decline of traditional cooperation and an increase in the use of paid workers to complete tasks previously undertaken collectively and for free by the villagers.

In a short section on caste relationships he claims that although the Harijans used to work for them in return for grain or meals, the upper castes respected them. The interview ends with his message to the young generation for harmony and peace.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Throughout his life, Bhailya has worked on this land and tended his livestock. Details of items he used to purchase at the market and the return journey, carrying heavy loads: “In those days we were strong enough, so we walked the whole day. In one day we used to walk 12-14 miles with the goods.”
Section 2  He attributes some of his strength to the more nutritious diet of the past, which included many different wild fruits and vegetables. “Now there are only pulses and rice available at the shops.” Dairy production was also greater then. Description of how they used to make fire. The state of forests: “At that time the forests were very dense, there were various kinds of birds, deer, tigers, bear, boar, antelope, saraun etc…”
Section 3  Account of rescuing buffaloes which fell in the forest. Rescues were successful because villagers offered blessings to their village deity. How community work was planned: “Earlier we used to gather in the village on someone's obara (lower storey), sit together turn the spindle; all the men of the village would sit there. After returning from the forest and milking the cows people used to go to sit there, and…the next day's work plan was prepared. Sometimes it would relate to repairs of the water channel, sometimes regarding work in the temple…”
Section 4-5  Women’s health in the past: “Some women were so strong that the weight of grass brought by them could not be lifted even by men. There was a woman of Dayuli village. She went to the forest, cut grass, put it on her back and was returning when she delivered there in the forest itself. So she came back with grass on her back and the baby in her arms.” Section on a fortune teller which isn’t very clear. People no longer work as hard today as they did in the past. Remembers several of his contemporaries: “Where has Jeetu bhai gone? Where has Pratap gone? Where has Moti gone? Their sons have also grown old. What days those were! Everyone sat together, laughed and played.” Changes in traditions of mutual assistance: “We used to cut the panal (wooden pipe which would bring water to the water mill) in the forest, then tie beams of wood on it and carry it back on our shoulders. All the villagers used to come. For constructing a house only the skilled worker was paid wages. The rest of the work was done by the mutual cooperation of the villagers. Recently I noticed that 13 skilled workers were working on a house!... Over here, both the villages came forward to help each other by going to each other’s village. Now even our loved ones do not come forward to help!”
Section 5  The Harijans worked for his caste in the past but says there was mutual respect between the different castes. Lower castes were given food grain or a meal in return for their work. Praise for the village head: “The village head is doing good work here. He has planted thousands of trees, he works himself. He is planting trees in one place, earlier there was nothing there. He tells everyone not to cut forests... He has planted various types of trees.” His feelings towards forests: “…forests give us so much. There is grass, almost everything, there are fruits and flowers. It gives beauty, everything is wonderful, the best thing in the world is a forest.” Story of one of the journeys he made when he was younger which illustrates his lack of fear.
Section 6  Description of the time he came across a bear in the forest. This story includes a note by the interviewer that in the past, “grains were purchased at night because purchasing food grains was considered bad.” Presumably buying grain implied poverty or a lack of self-sufficiency. His message for the new generation: “…everyone should live in harmony. They should not fight. They should do their own work (mind their own business). Too much of talk and discussion in the village gives rise to enmity and that is not good.”