“Tomorrow we shall go to Hesla” my wife announced. “This village is near Bandwan, in Bengal, and there is a forest road from here which will lead us there” she added.
We have come to a village called Bondih in East Singbhum in Jharkhand. We are staying here for the past several days. It is a nice place except there are frequent load shedding, so most of the nights are spent on kerosene lamps. But fresh air, fresh vegetables are all for a refreshing change from our city life. We have several working villages here in which we are doing rural development programmes. It is surrounded by forest, and, placed amidst a hilly terrain. Though about 50 kilometres away , from the nearest town Jamshedpur, it is quite inaccessible, mainly due to very limited transport service. This meant we will have an inter-state travel tomorrow !
Next morning we set out for the Bengal village. We had two bikes. I was driving a heavier one, with my wife in the pillion. Her colleague was in the other bike, a bit lighter one, as a pillion rider. It was pleasant to start with. One good thing about long bike ride is that there is always cool breeze to enjoy, especially in the mornings, and I always relish such pleasant ride. For about an hour we drove through several small villages, small huts, small ponds, forest trees on both sides. But like all good things, the smoothness of the journey ended. We reached at the end of the forest road, and, here onwards we will have to tread through thin pedestrian route. This part is quite risky, especially to find out the correct track, but if one drives the bike at a steady speed one can always be able to see the thin white pedestrian track. At one point we sped through a risky patch with deep dry water body on both sides.
Around 10 a.m. we reached the Hesla village, of Purulia district. My wife and her colleague joined the women’s group which met at a villager’s veranda. Their basic agenda of the meet was to work out a plan for a training programme for the village women group as a part of the women’s empowerment initiative.
Myself and Pradip – the other bike rider, set out to have a go at the village. I was told by some of the local youth that this village, like most of the village in Purulia, has Chhow Dance troupe. For the past several years now I serve as the liaison for these various dance troupes and the Kolkata Puja organisers, to get these people contracts for performance. They always look forward to get a scope to show-case their talent in city situations. Kolkata organisers on their part sincerely look for getting these groups to perform in their puja arena. Some of the village youth from these troupes requested me to arrange for some performance contracts from Kolkata. ( Later, after a few months, at least two such trips got actually materialised ! ).
By the time we walked back to the women’s meet venue it was already 12 noon. My wife informed that they have agreed upon on the training programme – training on “Mask Making for Chhow Dance” ! This dance is a kind of marshal-art form, and, predominantly performed by men – even on performing women’s role. The villagers arranged for our lunch – hot pooris and sweet boondia, a very strange combination. But as the saying goes ‘hunger is the best sauce’ we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
By next month the training programme started, with the help of an expert mask-maker brought down from the Bandwan town.