I was fortunate to have been born seventy years ago in one of India’s most beautiful natural and cultural environments in the mofussil town of Hazaribagh surrounded by jungles, wild animals and birds and the tribes of field and forest. The town itself had no walls around houses, only the ubiquitous lantana bush trimmed into hedges. We would walk out of our house and stroll across the fields of an evening or morning shooting the plentiful partridges or end up in our walk at a favourite jheel where we would wait in the darkening eve to take shots at the duck and teal flying in for the night. Often we would find the nomadic Birhor laying their string nooses for catching hares or partridges, and sometimes find them carrying back from the hunt the day’s catch of spurfowl or wild boar. These people would become my first real friends for my school was in these wilderness areas rather than the boring classroom to which I would return after several decades in order to document what these and other tribes had taught me. Both my early experience and later erudition would help to place in perspective a world that was even then disappearing before my eyes for India had gained independence from the hated British rule and begun a series of Five-Year-Plans to industrialize which meant the destruction of the natural world and its traditional custodians who were the tribals. Perhaps the most salient fact of the industrial way of life which feeds the economic consumption necessary to maintain modern progress is the destruction of the natural world upon which egalitarian tribal societies have subsisted for thousands of years. No better example of the destruction of natural habitat and the peoples who had lived in it for millennia could be given than the plateau of Hazaribagh clothed in emerald saal forests and dotted with scattered forest villages of various tribal clans. Beautiful lonely places were criss-crossed with meandering streams and high walled gorges contained the secrets of the older world in which the undisturbed anthropomorphs in stone held silent council undisturbed by the outside world of man. I wandered across this landscape both on foot and sometimes horseback, my young mind filling with knowledge, which I now realize is as secret as it is sacred. These places and the people who inhabited this world would shape my young developing mind and give me a responsibility to keep its teachings as if I were myself a denizen of this world.
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