City gods, forest deities

National Award-winning documentary “I Cannot Give You My Forest” brings to fore the raging debate on development and its cost to the society.

April 24, 2015 06:18 pm | Updated 06:18 pm IST

A still from the documentary, “I Cannot Give You My Forest”.

A still from the documentary, “I Cannot Give You My Forest”.

It took a farmer’s suicide in Delhi during a political rally opposing the Land Bill for the common man to think of our farms and farmers, forests and rivers. However, not known to many, some documentary filmmakers have been highlighting this growing inequality in our society through their works. For instance, Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s I Cannot Give You My Forest , the winner of the Rajat Kamal National Award for Best Environment Film including Agriculture for 2014 apprises the ignorant with the ground realities in a subtle and hard hitting manner. The two have earlier made a trilogy on development, human rights and agrarian crisis in India –– Candles In The Wind , Cotton For My Shroud and Dammed .

Underlying the importance of listening to the affected notwithstanding the much touted argument –– greater good for the greatest number –– the film lies bare the futility of man-nature conflict since the latter is willing to cater to former’s needs but not its greed. Devoid of slogans, protests or battle cries the film through the Kondh adivasis highlights the need for compatibility with nature, inclusive living and the community’s age-old wisdom of living in harmony with environment.

The title clearly states the advasis’ determination of not letting go of their revered forests. They perceive themselves as custodians of the treasure handed down by their ancestors. The theme song “Tinba dumbro puyu loye” interwoven in the 29 minute film, in Kui language with English sub-titles, is its gist and core. Sung by Srimati Duduka, an advasi woman from Rayagada district, Odisha it was recorded on location during filming. “The refrain refers to a small forest flower that she sings to, saying ‘come my friend’. This invocation is a constant reminder of how their lives are intertwined with the smallest of flowers which the forest offers them. Throughout the song, she sings of the generosity of the forest in sustaining them,” says Nandan.

The camera pans on the tribal women visiting the forests to collect honey, greens, mushrooms, seeds, roots, tubers, etc which sustain their families. Stressing the value of the flora Hemi Konda recalls how during severe drought it provided tubers and roots twice a day. In reverence they state that though a mother gives birth, the child is nurtured and raised by the forest. Identifying the forest bounties they explain how they are cooked and mixed and matched to prepare a meal and exhort its nutritional value. “The adivasis pity the Dilliwallahs. They find us under-nourished, anorexic and weak. They think it is an urban disease to believe that money can buy everything. They also pity us for being addicted to our computers and mobile phones. A man who walked 10 kilometres uphill with us later revealed that he is 75 years young,” shares Nandan.

Expressing disdain for packaged food the residents inculcate a taste for forest produce among the next generation. Timoli Kurgenlika while plucking berries for her son breaks into an invocation to Goddess Bominiboyrus comparing their relationship with their forest with that between a child and parent.

The understanding of the adivasis about ecology, its protection and importance in their daily life is amazing. What is learnt by us either by way of academic curriculum or choice, is innate in them. The director observes: “They live with the cycles of nature and understand that it is bountiful. They only take what is necessary for their sustenance.” The women extinguish the fire lit for cooking with water displaying their deep attachment and love. The adivasis are vocal about neither allowing the Government to take over their forests nor selling for teak planting. “They are resolute that they shall not let the Government destroy their bio-diversity in the guise of having a teak plantation.”

It was touching to hear a tribal farmer absolving the elephant herd of farm destruction reasoning that the cutting of forests had forced the animals to go astray. Based on his first hand experience Nandan comments, “They believe that the earth is home to all of God’s creation. It is not the hegemony or fiefdom of a bipedal creature called man.”

The directors’ skill is evident as the film, shot in an alien region and language, conveys the message in a simple manner. “The ego of the story-teller as the auteur and the gaze of the filmmaker as an anthropologist looking at his subject as a specimen involve a power-equation. We try our best to break these equations by spending time with our protagonists. When we started filming in the villages at Rayagada, the viewpoint of the adivasis in their own words started pouring forth and the film kept evolving in a collaborative manner.”

The final shot of the crew’s departure is moving. The village women gift the produce from their fields to Kavita displaying eagerness to share their meagre belongings, making the co-director remark, aachal hi bhar diya . Refusing to tie down the documentary to a specific audience Nandan says, “It is a call to the city dwellers and policy makers to respect a way of life which is in consonance with nature.” The forest is a metaphor to the adivasis of their sovereignty. One hopes that the concerned and those choosing to be ignorant take notice.

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