When a Stranger in Bundu, Jharkhand Offered His Shop for Me to Stay Overnight

It’s saddening how I don’t remember learning about tribal leaders in school or college at all. The fact that we are ignorant of our real history and choose to celebrate some people at our own convenience is well known, but how could I not name even a single tribal leader? I chose to start my Jharkhand cycling expedition by paying homage to Birsa Munda, the only tribal leader to be honored by his painting in the parliament. He stood up for the rights of his people long before rights-based activism was a well-known fight.

Starting amidst rain and stagnated water in the city of Ranchi has been quite an experience. I only have 45 kilometers to cover today, so, although I left late, I am not too perturbed. On reaching Bundu, my destination for the day, the person who I’m meant to contact is not reachable. I ask around for a lodge or guesthouse or dharamshala, but no luck.

That is when Ram offers to put me up at his shop. I decline at first but seeing that I couldn’t cycle to Jamshedpur at night in rain and with no other place to stay, I take up his offer. We are joined by Vishnu, his friend who then treated me to a hearty dinner cooked by his wife.

Here I am, in an unknown town, among unknown people, with no understanding of their political leaning or faith or religion. But I’m met with unmistakable brotherhood and hospitality. My apprehensions about the trip are put to rest by this unexpected show of kindness. Ram keeps me company in his shop at night and I wake up to start my ride to Jamshedpur, primed with optimism.

I know how I feel sometimes when I have to write my posts for Instagram or for my website. There’s always a thought of whether this is worthy of writing, whether this would engage the reader. Similarly, there are times when I have thought while cycling whether this is worth doing and whether I should be doing something else with my time.

And then when I see what I see on the road, it all seems so natural. I see the sun rising up consistently, without questioning itself whether it should rise or not. I see the Earth put in all its effort so that seeds germinate into fruit bearing plants so that millions of species are able to feed themselves. I see water meander through towns and villages and pristine forests, supporting life wherever it passes through. I see that the elements are true to their nature, they do their job without questioning themselves. And I am inspired to look within and ask if I am true to myself. That is where I find my answers. I don’t know what I would rather do than to explore the world’s indigenous people and the biodiverse locations they inhabit on my bicycle. To hear their stories, to be able to live and eat and play with them in their pristine, preserved environs. To know and to experience that there is more to our lives than being mere consumers. To be inspired by the simplicity of life and its goodness.

This morning, amidst all the natural bounty that surrounds me, I am thankful that I have somewhere discovered my true nature. It isn’t something which isn’t meant to merely to please someone, but it is one which is true to me, deep in my bones. I love to ride and I will continue to for as long as I can.

The heat and industrial smoke in the air had tired me more than the 95 kilometers that I cycled. Black soot mingled with sweat had accumulated at the folds of my arms and on my neck, making me look like a mine worker. Wiping the sweat off my face had left streaks of soot, giving the appearance of someone who was auditioning for a commando film. I was really excited to see Jamshedpur, the home of India’s first steel plant built by the legendary business conglomerate Tatas.

Alas, the reality here is quite different. With a newly sharpened social lens, I now fail to see the point of displacing 18 villages and its original inhabitants into oblivion to build a steel plant, over a century ago. The visionary industrialist who many herald as the torch-bearer of an industrial revolution does not seem so heroic from what lies beyond the walled steel plant. The steel plant feeds on iron ore which is sourced from the land of tribals, causing further displacement and woes. The entire town is nothing different from Rourkela, another monstrous steel city in Odisha. Typical to a steel plant town, trucks make road traffic rather difficult, garages operating on them line the roads. Tall chimneys spewing white smoke signal that the coffers of yet another industrial behemoth are being fed, while the income inequality continues to widen, pushing the poor further towards poverty.

Realization struck me, that this is yet another capitalistic town which has made the rich richer and poor poorer. Were the Tatas to be blamed for shattering the pedestal on which I held them? Or had I, like millions, been living in a false, illusionary world all along? Had I, too, fallen prey to the conventionally acknowledged norm of development, which makes the educated, high-born, urban people richer?

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