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Root cause

 

TSI takes a walk around the unique eco-cultural community of Bhalopahar…
SNEHANGSHU ADHIKARI | Issue Dated: October 2, 2011, New Delhi
Tags : jamshedpur | TISCO | jorhat | luxurious life | bhalopahar | best school award | telegraph | purulia | folk culture | nature lovers |
 

“I alone cannot take the responsibility of entire India. I will take care of only one or a few hamlets. These places are to be made ‘independent’, in the real sense. Every one will get desired education – there will be an air of ecstasy around – Indian heritage of music, dance and social prayers are to be revived. You help in achieving these. We would proudly claim these hamlets to be our experimental India.”


 - R. N. TAGORE

              


Jayati Chakraborty chucked her lucrative job at TISCO, Jamshedpur a decade back. Every dawn now, she gets up to the drum beats from a far-flung santhal village. Originally belonging to Jorhat, Assam, she had hardly any idea about these adivasis on the edge of survival. She was led on by that little urge to create something that would be of use to others. Having left the handsome salary and the luxuries of city-life behind, the lady is now seen walking barefoot in the fields. She waits till the tribal kids dressed in yellow-maroon uniform start entering through the green iron gates that separate Bhalopahar from the rest of the Maoist-infested Bandowan in Purulia on the Bengal-Jharkhand border. And she’s always keen to share the tale of Bhalopahar – an afforested, self-sufficient village for the hopelessly poor local tribals. Bhalopahar is also a cultural epicentre where poetry workshops and camps are conducted on a regular basis.


Bhalopahar hosts on its premises today, an exemplary school for around 250 adivasi children up to class six. Kamal Chakraborty, the patriarch of Bhalopahar (a former employee of TISCO and an eminent Bengali poet) is a proud man, “We converted a hall into a classroom and started with 66 students in 2001. There are around 10 government schools nearby Dangorjuri, Bandoan area but people prefer our school even at the cost of a nominal fee of Rs 30.” The school is yet to affiliate itself to any existing formal education model; it is a school with a difference. And while Jayati di (elder sister) would wait for the children to come, Manju di would have been busy with the mid-day meal preparation for the kids. A casual trip to Bhalopahar a couple of years back proved life-altering for the one-time busy LIC executive Manju di. Speaking to TSI, she said, “Our budding school is an attempt to connect the children with their culture, to be imbibed along with formal education. To prevent them from taking any of it for granted, we charge them monthly Rs 30 as token money and provide books and uniforms at subsidised rate.”

             


Just a couple of years back, Kalachand of Bandoan area was admitted to Bhalopahar school. For this teen, school wasn’t the best of places; he was the most regularly irregular of all. Though he supposedly left for school all six days of the week, the attendance records never seemed to reflect his presence. Once, it came to the notice of Manju di. Today, along with Rabiranjan and Barin (two other local boys), he boards at Bhalopahar and is one of the most proactive students in the school. To listen to his heart-wrenching rendition of the Tagore-masterpiece ogo santhali chele was a treat. Rabiranjan, once struggling with Bengali even, now greets you in flawless English. Goes on to prove that the ‘Best School Award’ (from The Telegraph) given to Bhalopahar in 2008, wasn’t a fluke after all.


Situated close to the Dalma Range in Purulia, Bhalopahar (meaning ‘the good mountain’) is not a typical Pahar; it’s a man-made forest at a distance of 8kms from Bandowan. The credit for the making of Bhalopahar goes to the poet Kamal Chakraborty and his team at Kaurab, a Bengali literary magazine published from Jamshedpur since the seventies. The Kaurab team, from the very beginning, saw Bhalopahar as a meeting place of creative minds – creative minds intent on giving back to the community. With an explicit aim of “restoration of threatened ecological system alarmed at the rapid depletion of vast stretches of forest and (is) also an instrument for nurture and propagation of folk culture and enhancing environmental education to tribal children”, members of Kaurab gathered their savings in 1996 and bought hundred acres of land at Bandowan in the Purulia district of Bengal, and named it Bhalopahar. An entire agriculture unit was raised comprising of various fruit trees and crops. Mr Chakraborty vividly recalls the initial days when he would travel 60 kilometres on his two-wheeler from Jamshedpur (his work place) to Dangorjuri (today’s Bhalopahar, his dream & destination) every weekend to plant trees. In the first phase, he planted more than 1,50,000 trees and now the place can claim 2.5 lakh of teak, neem, subabul, sonajhuri, sal and many more species, some extremely rare.

  


Thus, Bhalopahar is truly a destination for nature-lovers, apart from its other draws. Of course, Bhalopahar would love to have more and more people around them, as Barin Ghosal, President of the project, said, “Bhalopahar should appear much more interesting and lively rather than a mere backdrop hermitage. It must look invigorating, bursting with activity, and attractive to visitors who in spite of many petty personal problems come to enjoy stress-free life and think of participation as well.” Inside Bhalopahar, it doesn’t look difficult at all.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017