Pakshirajpura: The abode of the birds

 

Apart from Vinod and Lohit, the camera team, the photographer Partha, Amelia from CIEDS/Vimochana the ones to join us this round from the community are young Sonia, Division’s granddaughter ; Reshma, Hari’s  difficult but defiant daughter, the enthusiastic Sameet,  the burly and loud Anjan,  serious Kamraj from Bhadrapur and Srikant from the last trip. After picking up the ebullient Kumuda who has integrated herself into this adventure we are off in a Tempo Traveler driven by Bhaskar towards Mysore district where we plan to visit, among other villages, Pakshirajpura and Tiger Block, two of the other oldest settlements in the State.

 

The stone plaque at the entrance proclaims that it was set up in 1958 as part of the Central Government Welfare scheme. It is getting clearer that almost all the major settlements within the state do share a common history. Hailed as the Head quarters of the Hakki Pikki tribe in Karnataka, walking  through the main street, which is a nondescript mud road with mounting excitement, it is obvious that if  Chikmatti was Dubai, Pakshirajpura is Bombay….complete with its own Bollywood as we were to see. The sense of entrepreneurship and ingenuity is tangible in the air (and hair!) as we were going to discover!

 

The fact that our hosts, Seenu and Satish  are perhaps the most well travelled couple in the clan shows in the stories they tell and photographs and video clips they show of the people they have met, friends they have made and business partnerships they have set up.. Europe and Americas are the only continents perhaps they have not colonised! Africa is their most preferred destination. They are the happiest with Black people who they say are very trusting and affectionate.

Satish’s  inspiration was Boondi who was the first one who travelled out to Malaysia. Boondi in turn was taken by the Nari Koravas from Tamil Nadu who were the first to travel to far away lands.   He is very clear about what is required from the government in terms of getting permission for the handicraft and ayurvedic business they are doing between countries. He has ambitious plans to extend the business….for himself and for the community.

They have two daughters who are both in a boarding school in Mysore. One of the daughters is visiting with her cousin when we are there and both are studying hard for for their SSLC exam. Both want to do business studies. Not surprising when business flows through their veins! They have not travelled out with their parents at all, have been brought up by their grandparents, Belli and Chandralekha, and stayed in the hostel as they grew older.

Nanjundswamy, the acknowledged leader of the community and the Chairman and President of the Karnataka Adivasi Budakattu Mathu Hakki Pikki Sangha speaks about the history of the settlement which comprises of 300 acres with 4 acres being given for each family. The proof of their mastery of the newly acquired skill of cultivation along with the knowledge they have brought back from their travels to other lands is the photographs his sons, Mohan and Devathi show of huge pumpkins and gourds that have won them prizes in local krishi melas. Vegetables they have grown from seeds they have brought from Jamaica! The furniture that is newly being made in their house is also from the wood that has been harvested from their own land.

 

We are taken to a site where a pooje/habba has just been  completed. The ‘habba’  is a community celebration when the families of one particular clan affiliated to one of the four goddesses come together from across the State. After the habba, the prasada, including the khajjaya that has been fried by the poojari  on who the goddess has descended and who uses his bare hands to take it out of the boiling oil, and the meat of the goat which has been sacrificed, is shared in equal measure with the community. Apart ofcourse from the alcohol,  the natural ‘theertha’ that is also consumed in generous measure during and after the Habba as was evident from the spirited sensibilities from all who were speaking to us of their faith. Unfortunately  we are only given a piece of the fresh khajjaya!

Their most prized and priceless property are their goddesses which they pack into battered trunks along with the Batte devaru (cloth god) that is taken out during the Pooje. Inside the pooja tent we witness the rare sight of a silver Mariamma whose iconography is distinctly primal as compared to the more modern and better contoured Lakshmi and Saraswathi who are by her side along with their batte devaru that they claim is 2000 years old. Incidentally in deference to the fact that their goddesess are etched out in silver, married women never wear silver on their feet as toe rings or anklets.

From the sacred to the secular….At the pooja spot are also Kade Raja and others showing off their lovely long locks with pride. As he twirls around and ties up his gleaming hip length mane with feminine grace, he nonchalantly tells us that this hair which has been groomed with the special oil they prepare with the roots and bark they get from the forest would fetch him about 3000 dollars when he goes out of the country! He shows us all the various currency notes he has collected from the different lands he has travelled to.

Little wonder that hair is one of the major exports of India as evidenced by the killing that is made by the TTD authorities when they trade in the enormous amounts of hairs sacrificed by millions of their devotees!

The ingenuity of the youth who have embraced and played with  technology with the confidence of the global class is jaw dropping. Armed with the latest mobile gadgetry, Ajay Raj and his 50 member team of the Pahadi Rajputs have managed to produce, direct and ”curiograph” their own unique versions of Sholay, Darr, Dabbang and other such Bollywood masalas. We are treated to a special viewing later that night on a bigger screen at yet another ingeniously set up make shift open air theatre . Their films are roaring box office hits drawing cheers and laughter that grumbles into polite but bored silence when our films are shown…..art house stuff that needs to be suffered only to indulge the outsiders!  We retire hurt….but amazed!

Second Colony

Nellurpala, or Second Colony, as it is popularly called, which is not even a kilometre down the road is the quieter ‘other’ of the more noisy one we have visited first. Again here it is dominated by those who have converted to Christianity and are grateful to their new God who has helped them deal with alcohol and the ”squalor” of their earlier life. Weaving together the trademark colourful plastic flowers, Chandrali, speaks of this transformation in their lives where they work hard to make a dignified living. Her daughter Sakshi and Chandini who is doing her MA in History in Mysore silently approve.

 

We are given a warm send off by the most gracious staff of Green’s Hotel, Ibrahim, Hafizul, Abdul Latif and Ashraf who have gone out of their way to feed us….including giving up their dinner for us the last night!  They are another family that has made the HP settlement their home. Rajbhog, Ravindra, Shekar and the others known well to Kumuda also see us off after giving us a sumptuous breakfast at Greens.

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