My life in the forest began in 1994. I was struck by the enchanting beauty of nature, the gurgling river that is called ‘pamula gautami ‘ (Gautami of the snakes) because it looks like a fast moving, hissing cobra as it flows down, the herds of deer which suddenly appear and disappear, luring sight of ripened fruit-laden mango trees, the smiling flowers that greet one all along the path. While looking back over the shoulder to take in the beauty of the flowers, your foot could trip over stumps and you could fall flat on the ground. Of course, the peals of laughter from your comrades will make you forget the pain. Such is the happiness found in guerilla life.
As part of the squad’s daily routine we started from Gandavaya to Parenar. Our folks told us that once we cross the river and climb the hillock, we will reach the village. This was my first time on this route. Even the thought of climbing a hill always gave me palpitations. It was probably this fear that made me feel breathless as soon as I started climbing. The sweat pouring down my body helped cool my warm body.
‘Look! We can see the sky at the peak of the hill. If we reach there we will have scaled the hill’ we told reached there. No sooner did we do that and sighed in relief, we found another steep incline. After climbing ten such inclines, my heart heaved a great sigh of relief as soon as I heard our folks say ‘we are done. We scaled the hill’.
“How much further is the village?”
“We are almost there, we will reach the village after another half an hour’s descent…….” replied Vimala.
By the time we reached the village it was close to sunset. The homemaker was anxious to quickly finish her household chores while there was still light. The men who had gone to work in the fields were returning home with empty porridge containers and axes slung on their shoulders. The old woman was lighting the fire to drive away the darkness. The old man headed home with a half done basket woven with thin strips of bamboo.
Ramey’s mother was feeding her baby. Chandu’s mother was cooking rice. The Nendani sisters were pounding millets. Chimiri, the twelve year old little girl, was fetching water from the stream for cooking purposes. The pot of water on her head was almost half as high as she was. Nenda and Raju holding Barmars in their hands, were returning from the hunt with two monitor lizards and a rabbit. Buduru who had a catapult in his hand, was showing a young bird that he caught to his sister.
There were five households and one gotul in the village. The moment he learnt of our arrival, the ‘little kid’ came running. Vimala and I often go to the village. The little kid’s mother was called Chandu’s mother. She used to stash away addaku (Mahulan) seeds, Tendu fruits, rekha fruits, tuber roots, raw plantains or ripened bananas especially for us. Chandu was the eldest son of the family. He was ten years old. A girl was born after him. The last one was the ‘little kid’ who was the naughtiest. He was six years old and had dark complexion. With his shining black round eyes, he would attract the onlookers. He wouldn’t respond to calls and nobody could catch him. He would never take a bath on his own. If anyone did try to catch him to give him a bath, he would quickly run out of their reach. No matter how hard his folks tried, they could never get him to wear shorts. Even if someone forcefully made him wear them he would take them off and throw them away. He happily ran around without a stitch on.
I love kids a lot. As I came to the village often, I made friends with the ‘little kid’. Slowly he used to come and sit next to me and listen to my words sincerely. He would stay with us till we left the village. I wasn’t sure how much he understood the stories I told him but he used to listen to me in wide eyed wonder.
After dinner, we had the meeting and singing program. We stayed the night in the village. We woke up in the morning, exercised and headed towards the stream to wash ourselves. The ‘little kid’ followed us.
“Will you take bath?” I asked him gently.
“Hm” he nodded agreeably.
No sooner did he agree, Sita and I started scrubbing his body. We scrubbed him just as we would clean a fish by rubbing it with salt on stone. It took three scrubs with Lifebouy soap to remove all the grime and dirt from his body. After the bath, he looked squeaky clean, shining like a ripe java plum.
When I said “Run along and ask your mother for your shorts” he sincerely went and got them. He wore his shorts without any resistance. I oiled his hair and combed it smoothly.
The chai whistle rang. Mangu who was cook for the day gave us two glasses of tea with a smile on his face. I gave one to the ‘little kid’ and took one for myself. Just like me the ‘little kid’ is also crazy about tea, so I filled his glass to the brim. He did not lower the glass from his lips till he drank the last drop. After finishing, he held out his glass towards me and said “Here take this”.
I did not take the glass and said instead, ”Go wash it and bring it back “.
He did not budge from his position but just stood there. After a while, he held out his hand with the glass to me again.
” There is water there. Go wash the glass, bring it back and keep it here” I said calmly and firmly this time.
Yet he did not budge. He just stood there. When he realised that I am not going to make an effort to take the glass from him, he threw it at me angrily and ran away without looking back.
” What did I say to him Vimala? Why did he get so angry? ” I asked Vimala who was sitting next to me and giggling.
”Well, didn’t you ask him to wash the glass? Do men wash their plates and glasses in households? Hence he got angry ” said Vimala bursting into laughter.
It was my turn to be surprised. Who taught patriarchy to this ‘little kid’ who does not even know how to wear his shorts on his own? Lost deep in thought, I snapped back to reality when I heard commander Jagat say “Let’s go didi (sister)”. I quickly packed up my kit and slung it on my shoulder.
We started on our journey to Gongawada . As I walked along, my mind was filled with thoughts about the ‘little kid’. Since we are social activists who have taken up the Herculean task of bringing about change in the society, thoughts about duties and responsibilities were swirling in my mind. We took up the ‘ Rectification Campaign’ to correct the rising patriarchal attitudes in the Party and in Mass Organisations. We ran awareness classes, organized Criticism and Self – criticism sessions right up to the village level. How do you talk about patriarchy with a little kid who is not a member of any Organisation? He is not old enough to be eligible to join even a children’s Organisation. How do we change the ideology of thousands and lakhs of little kids? How do we institutionalise the new democratic concept of men and women being equal as naturally as the patriarchal ideology, which under the patronisation of the society has been so naturally institutionalised? How do we erase the compartmentalised divide between a man’s work and a woman’s work? Even as I was thinking about the changes to be brought about in practice, we reached our destination.
The 9th Congress of CPI (ML) (Peoples’ War) was held in March 2001. This Congress took some historical decisions which could cause qualitative leap in the advancement of the Indian Revolution. This Congress resolved to make Dandakaranya a liberated zone as the first step with an aim to establish area wise political power.
The formation of Revolutionary People’s Committees began as part of the efforts to form state power in an embryonic form in guerilla bases. Janathana Sarkars which are the embryonic structures of the state power were running the villages. Departments of Justice, Defence, Public Health, Agriculture, Education and Culture are the mainstays of these Sarkars.
That was the Bhoomkaal School running in the Maad Division of Indravati area. The school kids were wearing dark blue trousers and sky blue shirts. Boys’ and Girls’ benches were not segregated, all of them sat together. As all of them were in crew cuts it was difficult to tell between the sexes.
Poosu, Messy, Puyisu and Manchu were Bhoomkaal School teachers. It was Puyisu teacher’s class. We could see the children holding the book, Gondi Bhasha Kariyakad (Let us learn Gondi Language). The children were repeating each sentence after Puyisu.
‘Mother is ploughing the field’
‘Father is rocking the cradle’
‘Chandu is cooking rice’
‘Ramey is serving rice’
‘Uncle is sieving rice’
It was just minutes before noon. It was time for lunch. Monitor Raju announced ‘Comrades! Take rest for an hour after lunch and then go and bring firewood. Come to the Grounds at 3 pm’
All the children finished washing their hands with soap and stood in line with their own plates. Ramaal and Kosi were on cooking duty that day. While Kosi was serving dal, Ramaal served curry. After eating, everyone washed their own plates and put them in their bags. On a rotation basis, two children will be given the task of cleaning the kitchen after meals every day. On that day it was Lachhu and Sigini’s duty. They finished cleaning the kitchen and the hall in about half an hour and left to take rest.
Everyone reached the Grounds at 3 pm. It was Jaini’s turn to take the drill class that day. She was leading the Flag Protocol drill and the children followed. She made the children stand height wise. Everyone stood in a straight line from right to left.
‘Savdhan ‘ (attention)
‘Vishram ‘( stand at ease)
After Savdhan she gave them one, two, three numbers.
“Ek Do Teen Ginthi karegaa… Ginthi Kar”(You will count 1,2,3 …..Count….)’ Jaini gave the caution.
‘Number 1s will take one step backward, Step back! ‘ Upon listening to the caution, Number 1s took one step back.
‘Number 3s will move one step forward. Step forward! ‘ Upon listening to the caution, Number 3s moved one step forward. When ‘ Dress up ‘ caution was given, those in front made a fist and touched the shoulders of those on their right and those at the back formed straight rows behind them. When three such rows were formed, Jaini made them do ‘Attention’ ‘Stand at ease’ once again.
Jaini gave the Red Salutes caution. After repeating this four times she gave the final ‘Dismiss’ caution.
It was February 10th 2005.
I got an invitation seeking my presence at the anniversary celebrations of Bhoomkal School. All the children were dressed in brand new clothes. All arrangements were being made very swiftly and systematically. Ratni and Sunju were sweeping with broom sticks. Kranti and Rama were filling the generators with kerosene and petrol and doing the wiring for electricity connections. I kept watching them for a long time in fascination because I loved the fact that boys were doing ‘girls’ work’ and girls were doing ‘boys’ work’ without any hassles.
The lunch gong rang right then.
All the children gathered around me as I began to eat.
‘When did you come didi?’ asked Vimala as she walked towards me. It was ten years since I met Vimala. She pointed to a dark boy who was just beginning to grow a moustache amongst the children gathered around me and said ‘ Did you recognize him didi?’
‘He is your little kid’ said she laughingly recalling his glass-throwing incident. All of us laughed out loud at that.
The ‘little kid’ walked off to wash his plate, laughing all the time and came back. He stood there as though waiting for someone. When I was washing my plate he handed the water to me and said in a whisper ‘Nanna Munneta lekka hillen”
(‘I am not as I used to be ‘)
* * *
Translated By A.Surekha
About the author:
Nitya is the pen name of a Maoist revolutionary leader famously known as Com. Narmada among their ranks and people of Dandakaranya. She wrote many articles, short stories and poems. She edited their magazines Sangharshrath Mahila, Poru mahila, and worked for the magazines Prabhat and Jhankar. She knew and wrote in Telugu, English, Hindi and Gondi. She was arrested while taking treatment in Hyderabad for advanced breast cancer and sent to Byculla Jail in Mumbai. She was shifted to a hospice when her health got deteriorated and breathed her last on 9th April 2022 in judicial custody. This story was originally published in Telugu in Arunatara (March-April 2012 issue) a monthly magazine of Revolutionary Writers’ Association, popularly known with its Telugu acronym as Virasam.
This story is in Volume-1 of Viyyukka (September 2023) in Telugu.