photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 31)








Kot Malla village, Alaknanda valley, Chamoli


May 1996



Section 1
What is your good name?
My name according to the horoscope is Chandra Singh. But now people call me Bhailya Singh and even Mohan Singh.

What is your educational qualification?
None at all.

What is your age as of now?
Probably around 96 years.

You are close to 100 years, even so you are healthy, your eyes are quite good, your teeth are also fine. This is a great thing. Tell us what all work have you done in your time, jobs, etc?
I have not held a job anywhere. I grazed cows, buffaloes, goats, cut wood, brought fodder, did all other household work, made boundary wall for fields, brought goods from the market in Dugadda (Kotdwar) - that's all, nothing else.

In your time where was your main market?
Initially, we used to go to Dugadda.

When you all went to make your purchases, there was a special name for the journey - what was it called?
It was called dhakar.

What did you bring from Dugadda (Kotdwar)?
Now see, as I keep 28 kg salt, 6 bhaili (1 bhaili=2 kg), 2kg sugar, goods for my own requirement (clothes, etc), a dhakar utensil (a special utensil made up of cane), iron and clothes, in all we brought a total weight of 60 kgs. Initially I used salt worth Rs 2 (at 14 kgs for Rs.1); it cost .06 paise for 2 kg, later it cost 0.81 paise, at that time I brought 6 bhaili (15 kgs), 6 kg sugar for Rs.1 iron for Rs.1 (for making an axe), and 3 kg weight of axe and my bedding, food supply for travel (which was taken from home) and matta (a stick) etc. Some people even brought sabal (iron rods), etc. 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
Did you face any problems on your way?
Yes there were problems, sometime the water source was very far and at times we faced other inconveniences. When we reached home we used to rest for many days.

You used to travel so much with 70-75 kgs of weight. You people were certainly very strong. What did you eat that gave you so much of strength?
Look, now there is nothing much to eat. Now there are only pulses and rice available at the shops, which don't have much nutrition. We used to eat kadata (?), kafal (wild berry), vegetables of timala (wild fig), kwiryal, semal, khadik bhundi, basing bhundi, we also ate sulla (?). We used to bring home sulla, tear it, wash it, grate it, mash pulses in it and made badis (nuggets) which we ate.

What was the quality of milk and ghee (clarified butter) in your time?
There were many animals to provide milk, there were always at least three buffaloes. Udarani chachi (uncle) had said that the buffaloes came home in the month of Ashwin (September/October) and went to Mulgit (name of the forest) in the month of Chaitra (March/April). Chachi said that during the period they stayed home, 27 patha (1 patha = 2 kgs) of ghee was made at home. We used to keep butter in a ringal (cane) utensil. We also made khoka for eating.

What is khoka?
It is like suji (semolina). A pan of ghee is put on the stove and some flour is put in it and it is stirred [flour is first mixed in the water]. When the stirred ghee separated, the flour was cooked in the ghee. This is the way khoka was prepared. We have seen such times also.

How did you used to light a fire?
We brought kawas (edelweiss: used for lighting fires – when dried and rubbed the flowers catch fire easily) from the forest, dried it in kakar and mixed it with ash. Then we lit the fire by rubbing it together rada stone and agela (made of iron). Later red match-sticks came which, when rubbed on stone ignited a fire. When there were no means of lighting a fire, a sickle was struck on the back of the tava (iron pan for making roti), which produced sparks, which were used to burn the kawas and so light the fire.

Did you also do farming?
Yes, I did a lot of farming, I built large walls in my time. You can see walls of large stones made in Rajesingh’s fields. At that time we did a lot of hard work.

You have generally stayed in the forests. What was your experience there? What was the condition of forests then?
At that time the forests were very dense, there were various kinds of birds, deer, tigers, bear, boar, antelope, saraun etc. There were several animals, which were in abundance in the forest, cocks, patridges, etc. In some places the forests were very dense such as in Bhanglu-ka-gair, Pusurpatya Gair, Dwarkhila Bagarjhindi, Khyotovon and Danda khark, Lamb kandi, Khalyan, Dubaj-ka-khark, Parbhanda, etc. These forests were very dense and beautiful. Once I had a high fever, my condition was very bad, I had my bath, milked the cows, cleaned the cow-dung, shredded wood. I started from there and on the way fell asleep in one place. In my dream I saw a girl wearing a white sheet, who slapped me and said "you are lying in this forest, you are not going home? Go, go home". When I got up I was absolutely fine.
Section 3
Do you have any experience related to animals in the forest?
You see in Bichala kot there was one Lata whose father's name was Jeetu. He and I lived in the same place. Once in Rajju-ki-khal forest one of our buffaloes fell down from a 15 metre high hill. There was no way to climb up and further down was a steep mountain. If the buffalo had moved even a little bit it would have fallen down and died. When we saw that nothing could be done we called all the cattle-grazers of the forest, thick wood was cut and the buffalo was tied to them. We prayed to Goddess Durga and offered 20 rupees in her name. The people from above pulled the animal while I gave support from below, and gradually the buffalo reached the top. Once when a buffalo slipped from the mountain and was unable to come up on its own then I myself offered 5 rupees in the name of Ma Durga and brought her up.

When you lived in the forests did you believe more in gods? Which god did you worship more?
Yes, we believed in God, Bhagwati Ma is our village deity. We had faith in Bhagwati. You can imagine had there not been the blessings of Bhagwati, could we have lifted the buffalo? Do you know, we were not allowed to eat our food inside the thatched huts that we used to make in the forest. We had to come out of the huts and then eat.

In your time what type of grass did you give to animals to eat?
We gave tyalya, pacharpatya, mamchu, tacharu (local grasses) and various other types of grass.

What types of herbs were there in the forests? Do you know about them?
There were no special herbs in our forest. One was pacharpatya; another was hariyal [red root, probably a variety of jatropha used for oil]. Bhutkesh was the best herb. If an animal would not give milk then an entire bhutkesh root was dug up. It goes down around 10 metres deep. The root is brought up, and made into incense. When the animal smelled the incense would start giving milk.

In your time how did you get mutual cooperation from the villagers, and how was community work done?
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. During the daytime people sat under the khadik tree in our village. Even the place had become established. After returning from the forest and milking the cows people used to go to sit there, and then in the same place the next day's work plan was prepared. Sometimes it would relate to repairs of the water channel, sometimes regarding work in the temple and occasionally the plan of work for the way was made there. Sometimes individual plans were also made, people lived happily. At that time men wore a thick loin-cloth and they spun wool and made their woollen clothes themselves. That was how it was in those days.
Section 4
These days are women generally ill? In your time there were no special medicines. How was the health of women at that time?
In those days there was a village called Naula behind this mountain. A vaid (practitioner of indigenous medicine) used to stay there and people used to go there to get medicine. 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.

We have heard that there has been a bakya (fortune teller) in your village. Could you tell me something about him?
It so happened that some people from Vachansyu village came to call us. So I also went along with them. We were wearing home-woven vayukhi (?). On the way we ate hot roasted bhang (hemp) seeds and developed dysentery. So we couldn't reach our destination. The whole night we were lying on the road. He (the fortune teller) had the power to look into the future. Those who came to see him would raise their hands. Then the bakya would throw rice at them and all the rice would mysteriously come into their hands. Then he would speak the truth as he foresaw it. It was because of his power that the British Government gave him a pension.

Your age is close to a hundred years. What differences do you find in the old days and the present time?
The difference is that earlier people used to meet and spend time together. It is not so now. Earlier people used to wear clothes suitable to their work. Today they wear pants and coats but do not work. We used to work a lot. When we had to irrigate our fields we used to work day and night. These days boys put the spade aside and then enter the fields [said sarcastically]!

In your village how many people of your days are still alive?
There is no one [looks up at the sky]. Mohan Singh of Pallekot village is approximately my age. There is no one otherwise. Look at this boy [points towards a boy]. His grandfather, Roop Singh of Kharkot village had a water mill stone whose thickness was 14 times a finger's breadth. Some people were bringing the stone to the water mill in the morning. Just then his grandfather came. He saw that eight people were carrying the stone but the ropes were not properly tied. He tied the ropes properly and then he alone carried this stone on his back. [He looks towards the sky.] 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.
Section 5
In your time there were no means of transportation. Then how did you transport the gharat (water mill stone) panal (wooden pipe which would bring water to the water mill) etc?
We worked on the basis of mutual cooperation. We used to cut the panal 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! There is a house in our village in which the plastering has been done with ground urd (a lentil). Even today that house looks as if it is new. Each family in the village carried one load of pathela (dry leaves), a load of padhale (roof slates), and one bansa (bamboo rod), and each day they deposited one stone at the site of the 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!

In your region what were the caste-based occupations - such as coppersmiths, blacksmiths, and so on? What work did they do?
Yes, there were special caste-based occupations. They (Harijans) served us (Syamanya Thakur) each day. There was a female blacksmith who worked near the fields of Pandera water channel. But she never came to work for us. One day, two of us were going that way, when suddenly a man slapped her and asked why she never came to serve in his house? Since then she started serving [in his house].

How were the relations between you and them (Harijans and upper castes)?
We had very good relations with them. There was one Jalmu (a Harijan). He was passing through our village, when Padam's mother (an upper caste woman) was on her way to fetch water from the resource. The woman quickly stepped aside and gave way to Jalmu. I asked her why did you give way to Jalmu, he is a Harijan? She answered, “Oh God! he is like my jethji (elder brother-in-law)”. So you see we had the same sort of relationships with Harijans as within our own caste.

What were their financial resources?
They were given food grains according to their work. The Ojhi (blacksmiths), coppersmiths, were given food grains and when these people came home they were given a complete meal even if there was shortage for our own selves. The Harijans were given a full meal. Nowadays people don't give food. They did our work so we fed them.

The name of your village is Kot. What does it mean?
I do not know. 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. I have myself been to the forest planted by him. He has planted various types of trees.

Do you think that every one should plant such forests?
Yes, 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.
Section 6
Tell me some experience of your life which you have not forgotten?
It was like this. I was a different sort of man. I went all the way to Rudraprayag from here. I had a buffalo, which gave milk only to me. After milking her I started off to Rudraprayag in the evening. It became dark, as I went through the forest. I heard a sound, I thought it might be a tiger or a bear. I could not see anything, so, I sat on a hill-side and smoked some tobacco. Since there was nothing, I went on to Naulagadi. A log of wood was on fire. So I warmed myself a little and went on to Ratur I lay down in one place there. After sometime I got up and started again but I saw that one of my shoes were missing. I told some people that if you find my other shoe, send it along with this one to my village. They said don't travel so late at night, there are ghosts on the way. I replied that so far no ghost had ever eaten me up! From there I went to Rudraprayag to get the goods, woke up the merchant, bought the things and while returning day broke near Shivanandi. This is the kind of man I was. Now I look up to God to take me.

You stayed very long in the forests. Did you ever come across wild animals?
Oh yes, once I was on the other side of Machgadhera with my buffaloes. At that time More Singh's father and Jeetu Bhai were going somewhere. I started cutting ringal (cane) when I saw a bear coming down from a tree. Had both these men not created an uproar the bear would have eaten me up. Once I was coming down through the forest and a bear was going up. I got scared when I saw it. But the bear went away on its own. Once chachi (aunt) said that wheat had to be brought from another village at night. [At that time grains were purchased at night because purchasing food grains was considered bad.] When I came down to the mill I saw that a bear was coming out of it. I stopped there and stood still. After some time the bear went away.

What message would you like to give to the new generation?
What can we say? New people know much more than we do. We ate the vegetables of the forest, we ate halwa (sweet) of Khoti Bhaili. Now there are various delicacies to eat. Once I went to Panai village, an old woman was stripping wood there. I told her to give me the axe so that I could cut the wood [for her]. She refused, saying that I had come to her village from outside. But I did cut wood for her. My message is that 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.

Thank you very much, Sir.
I am very happy to see you. Do you go to every village?