Independence Day , always a holiday, this year, was different.
Thanks to my new trekking hobby, I learned about an activity undertaken every year, by the Passion Group, headed by Ranchoddas Das , my trekking friend. Every Independence Day, this group visited the Sant Gadage Maharaj Adivasi Ashram Shala, at Bhatsai, Vashind , and carried food and gifts for the children, both residing at the school, as well as in 20 surrounding Adivasi hamlets, or Padaas.
Sant Gadge Maharaj (1876-1956) was a saintly social reformer of Maharashtra , who travelled through the viilages . He would wear his food pan upturned on his head, carry his trademark broom, and immediately start cleaning the gutters and roads of whichever village he entered. He would sing kirtans, and preach the virtues of simple living, compassion, service to the poor. He preached against animal sacrifice in religious rituals, consumption of alcohol. He accepted nothing from the villagers till his work was done, and whatever he did accept went towards creating Educational Institues, Dharmsalas, Hospitals and Animal Shelters.
The Government of Maharashtra has started a 'Sant Gadgebaba Swachata Abhiyan' in 2000-01 in his honour. The Government of India has announced National Award for Sanitation and water in his honour.
Four friends from work joined me on this trip. We were a total of about 25 folks. We reached Vashind by the Mumbai Suburban Network by 10 am. Transport was provided for our trip to the Ashram Shala, where the Adivasi Children study. Some of these children live there too. The school is run by some dedicated teachers, and a bunch of dedicated ladies cook hot meals for the children twice a day.
We then visited 12 Padaas or small Adivasi hamlets in the Shahapur region, in the shadow of the Mahuli Fort, where we gifted food packets to the children. The Padaas we visited were Bershingi pada , Jambhul pada , Avale pada , Boricha pada , Vadu pada , Ambe dor , Sale pada , Tokre pada , Sutar pada , Kharepada pada, Kate koi and Mukund pada.
A photo essay of sorts..
The first view of Vasind Station where we disembarked. This was clicked on my phone. Vasind is a station on the Central Railway branch that goes towards Nashik, via Kasara . My trekking had often taken me as far as Kasara, so it was now interesting to see Vasind.
We reached the Ashram Shala by local transport arranged for us. The kids are normally provided meals at noon. Today, in honor of visitors (us) on Independence Day, the lunch was a bit early, and you can see the kids in uniform sitting down for the meal, supervised by some senior girls and teachers.
Everyone in their Independence-Day best, with flowers in their hair and red ribbons in bows. The children are served on traditional eco friendly plates made of leaves.
As is customary, the children congregated in an assembly, and the program began with a welcome song rendered by the senior girls.
The audience of younger kids . Girls and boys sitting separately. Which is very common in rural areas. But notice the discipline.
Finally, someone acknowledged me . These two guys gave some real winning smiles, though the girls seem to wonder why I am there at all :-)
A closer view, and except for the girl in red wearing the latest fashion , no one wants to look at me.
This young boy followed after the welcome song and was raptly listened to. I wonder how much they practiced. The staff and some teachers watch from the sidelines.
One of the teachers addressing the assembly and perhaps giving an introduction to the visitors who have come.
Finally ! This delightful little girl and her brother know what I am up to, and oblige...
The kids line up to receive sweets and stuff which we carried. Here are two of my friends helping with the distribution. Notice the girl in navy blue, checking out what her friend got.
It is now the turn of the boys, and they line up under the teachers eye. No rushing, no crowding.
Some of the staff and teachers of the school who were present on the occasion.
The ladies who actually cook two fresh meals a day for the residential kids. These are local ladies, and they too were recipients of some sweets and stuff.
One of the rooms on the school premises, and my friends from work and some others posing with the girls from the school.
Gathering together for the mandatory group photo with us at the school porch. The girl walking in front is either some kind of monitor or late comer.
Our group joins them and everyone raises hands as patriotic slogans fill the air. .......and I click.
Children from the various Padaas attend this day school too. We now proceed from the school in the direction of the Padaas. A typical monsoon landscape in the Shahpur region.
The transport provided for us. We often got down and walked to the Padaas.
This one time we actually reached a Padaa with the transport; a good idea given the imminent rain. Clicked in natural light.
Padaa architecture. A typical house .
Another house , another architectural style. Self designed. The clouds appear to be lifting , and we were hoping to sight the Mahuli Fort peaks in the distance.
This must be the house of a influential Adivasi . A nice house with an ever spreading expanse, a solar panel on the roof, a DishTV antenna , and several official banners of the government and maybe even political parties, possibly laminated, being nicely made use of for house protection. It must be emphasized that this guy appears to be an exception, and possibly destined to go into politics later.
I don't know what trees they are. But it was unusual to see a pair of them growing so close to each other in the middle of a field.
And then there were such houses too. Bearing the brunt of heavy showers, and old construction, not to mention uneven ground leading to slushy land in the monsoons.
A typical landscape with the traditional planting of rice. I think the clouds were about to clear the mountaintop in the distance.
The lady of the land walking along the edge of her small field. Immense hard work at her home, in her fields, nurturing many children, and you admire her strength and her posture.
Leaves of the teak tree, collected and organized into piles containing specific number of leaves. These are used in making products with flowers , and one often sees women in the suburban trains carrying baskets full of these leaves to the big flower markets of Mumbai.
One of my friends and the adivasi lady who probably collected these leaves.
Two junior citizens of the Padaa with the food packets (puri bhaji) that were distributed. .
Another junior citizen, posing in his doorway for me, puri bhaji in hand.
We distributed the extra school gifts to the children in the padaas, and there was never a rowdy crowd . They always lined up . (I think Mumbai teaches us indiscipline. ).
Amidst all the signs of progress, these continue to bloom, year after year, unchanged.
The clouds lift off the mountain, displaying the awesome peaks of Mahuli, as we make our way back from the padaas to our vehicles. It is now evening and we must now return to a civilization of trains, cars, autos, noise and concrete.
We leave carrying much of this green with us, on Independence Day .