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Melghat

Ami Mishra

On concrete roads between two states
deciduous trees whose ancestors thrived
in Gondwana land formed this particular forest.
This is the story of that forest, called Melghat. 

Melghat roared of tigers plenty –
bears, sheep, and Mahua orchards.
Separating this valley from the city,
the river Sipna flowed sideward.

At night, fireflies lit up her shore and in daylight, flocks of bathing,
washing, defecating, swimming beings immersed themselves in.

Sipna: a name that it took from the Teak Tree (as it was locally known);
the two were inseparable, during the river’s meandering course,
the trees stood: a loyal cohort.

The Korku tribe, belonging here,
to this magnificent forest sanitary,
ate a staple diet of rare millets and,
shoots of Bamboo in the monsoon,
and mushrooms that grew upon
the alluvial mud, soggy with water.

The other clan came loitering here
with their goats grazing to a pasture.
It is greener on this side, they decided
and the Gwali community settled,
with kith, kin, and plenty of vessels.
 
The Korku tribe and Gwali clan
lived alongside each other
coexisting in this ecosystem,
until one day there came
an army of forest guards!

They were colored like the mud,
so the residents of Melghat
thought they could be trusted.

Melghat, which meant
“a place of confluence”
was now under the prudence
of the forest guards.

The guards told the the headman from the Korku tribe
that the Gwali clan to protect its cattle made a kill 
of the few remaining tigers in this forest.
And they guards told the headman from the Gwali clan
that the Korku tribe poached 
the few remaining tigers for profits.

Mistrust spread/ Hamlets were marked.
Claims were made/ Everyone was troubled,
            The divide was evident!
And the guards’ wishes were granted.

Then walls were built 
and fences engulfed
the forest of Melghat.
Nights were bright
with battery operated white light
that sparkled in the hands of guards.
Tigers were outnumbered
by tourists' cars
who came to see this national wildlife reserve.
The Mahua trees sighed 
as their fruits dried
without turning into wine.
And mushrooms decayed
while the millets turned grey.

Shops were set up
and nutritious millets
were replaced by food in packets.

The empty food packets
of shiny crinkled plastic
joined the course 

of the river Sipna
only to disrupt the flow and
clog roots of the Teak trees.
Fireflies no longer lit up her shore.

About the beings of Melghat,
they found new livelihood options like:
tour guide, shopkeeper, barber, driver and agent.
Some even aspired to be guards
foolishly bright despite the camouflage.
Many couldn't find odd jobs here
and their old food was denied
with no entry to the forest, 
so they migrated in distress
and made bricks elsewhere 
for survival.
Today, when Melghat was surveyed -
they found out that there were
many more tigers and guards
and tourists like us
than Korku/ Gwali peoples.

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