About Anantapur District
Getting to Timbaktu Collective
My stay at Timbaktu
Education At Timbaktu
Children's Resource Center
Pictures from our Timbaktu trip
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July 18, 2007
Anantapur is the second most drought-effected district in India. The region always received very low rainfall but extensive deforestation and destruction of natural resources in the recent decades have played a big role in turning this district into an arid region. The landscape that I saw from the bus consisted of undulating hills, mostly dry and dotted with shrubs.
The region was once home to forests. Anantapur was the summer capital of the king, Krishnadevaraya. While it always received less rainfall, the communities of yore had developed systems to utilize their natural resources in a responsible manner. Several tanks constructed from this era irrigated the region and were in use till a few decades back. These commons were once managed by community institutions but in the recent decades, due to uncontrolled use of resources, the forests that once provided valuable resources to the people are gone.
I got to CK Palli in the evening and reached Timbaktu in a crowded auto with some students who live at Timbaktu. It was amazing to see so many people fit into a single auto, though this auto was much larger than the city autos. In about 20 minutes we were in Timbaktu and I met Subba. I had heard a lot about him Anu and Krishna at Thulir and Mahbu. We chatted a bit and it was soon time for dinner. I was given a room in Nelavanka, a guesthouse there. It was so pleasant outside that I didn’t want to sleep surrounded by walls and ceilings. So I tagged along with the kids and teachers who were going to sleep on the terrace of the children’s residential quarters.
Sleeping on the terrace was such a treat in the hot month of May! Actually I was so determined to sleep under the stars, I refused to move even when there was a strong breeze blowing that soon started tugging at my blanket! I held on to it till someone tapped me and said it made more sense to sleep indoors since it looked like it was going to pour. I came down but still didn’t want to sleep in a room. So slept in the corridor and soon it started raining hard and since the corridor was open, I was getting wet. And then someone brought the cattle to the corridor! I figured I couldn’t put myself to sleep with the thought of cattle around and finally moved to the room.
I woke up to a very beautiful morning – everything looked fresh and there was a nice breeze. Two of the students who were staying there over summer took me up one of their favorite hills. The view from there was awesome! They told me the place would be green in a few months, plants had dried up in the scorching heat. It still looked much greener than the surrounding area. Since it was summer, there were not many children at Timbaktu Badi. There was a training workshop for the teachers. Had breakfast and headed to the Child Resource Center (CRC) in CK Palli – there was some activity there with children working on some bamboo pen stands. There was also a tailoring class being held in CRC.
I joined the kids in sandpapering bamboo for some time. Some of them were sawing the bamboo to get the correct size. Once that was done, the bamboo was sandpapered. Next it was fired to get the cool burnt look. Then a bottom was nailed in. Then they would make some designs on it. Finally it was varnished.
I did a little bit of the sandpaper work. We were to do this in a particular direction, lest the pen stand look all scratchy. It got hot soon and I moved to the library. They have many books, in English and Telugu. Found the book Subba had recommended, Totto Chan and was soon engrossed in it! Subba had told me that this book had changed the way he looked at education. He just loved the easy, fun manner in which Totto learnt. Teachers at Timbaktu have read it and as Ramudu, one of the older students, was telling me, Subba and Kalyani would tell Totto’s stories to the children as bedtime stories. It’s a great book and I think all folks who are interested in education should read it.
Before I realized it, it was lunchtime and Ramudu asked me if our plan to get the Jowar rotis from the Dharani stall was still on. I had heard about Dharani from Mahbu and was looking forward to eating jonna rotti. Dharani is an initiative of Ashis, from Timbaktu Organic, to promote millets. Rotis, dosas, idlis etc are made using millets. It was not too far but the afternoon sun would have made it seem much longer had it not been for Ramudu’s company. The rotis were very nice. I ate them with yummy peanut chutney. It is made at almost all meals, since this is the groundnut region for better or for worse.
All of us sat together and ate, it was fun! Some people got back to their tailoring work, some others to the bamboo work and me to Totto. A few hours later some pen stands were ready for painting and I tried my hand at it. Between them and Totto, I didn’t realize how the afternoon went by. It was soon time to head to Timbaktu. So off we went, again all huddled in an auto. Dinner and early to bed. No rain this time and I slept well. Woke up early and went for a run, it felt very nice to be running in the countryside. Everything felt so fresh.
Sanjeev got there in the afternoon and we spent some time with Ashis at the Timbaktu office in CK Palli. Ashis showed us the storage facility that has been constructed for Timbaktu Organic. They currently had a few kinds of millets – korra (foxtail millet), jowar (sorghum), sadda (pearl millet). We picked up some of these. Back to Timbaktu and soon Sanjeev was hooked to Totto!
Mary and Bablu returned to Timbaktu the next day, after their son’s graduation ceremony, and we chatted with Bablu briefly. He mentioned Partap Aggarwal would be coming that day! I was very happy about meeting him again and sure enough it was fun. Partap, Dinesh, Sanjeev and I chatted for a while at night. Dinesh was talking about unsustainable farming practices, the culture of rice, the problems of monoculture in the surrounding areas.
The next morning, Sanjeev, Partap and I went on an early morning walk together and covered many favorite topics – living in forests / living like you are in a forest, food, farming, toilets, Ishmael. He was reminiscing about Timbaktu of the past when it was very dry and how Dinesh would tend to all the trees he had planted. People would carry pots of water and take care of the plants. He was very happy seeing it so much greener now. He also pointed out how all this was done by involving the community around and not by alienating them.
Sanjeev left for Bangalore that evening while I stayed on to meet Sireesha, who usually was in CK Palli on Tuesdays to attend to pending cases of domestic violence. I spent some time with Partap in the evening and we both went over to Bablu and Mary’s place for dinner. Bablu has been on a sabbatical and Mary is coordinating Timbaktu currently. They regaled us with their experiences. My favorite was how their daughter Duhita, as a child had responded to a question of caste and said “we are Timbaktu ppl”! The chat and dinner happened in darkness since the post-rain insects were buzzing around from light to light and most of us didn’t want them in our plate despite Partap’s and Bablu’s enthusiastic descriptions of eating these insects and how they are crunchy and yummy!
Partap left for Bangalore the next morning and I spent the whole day with Adi Sakthi, the women’s cooperative. They went on a case to meet the husband of a girl who had contacted the legal cell saying he had abandoned her to get married again in order to have a son. I went along. It gave a picture of how things work: things move slowly, one needs to have a lot of patience in dealing with people, and one needs to be cool. The person we had gone to meet refused to talk to us since his father was not around and that was that. The counselor, Zabira handled it very well while at the same time letting him know that he needs to take the summons seriously, else the police would get involved. I wasn’t sure much would come out of it but Zabira and later Mary were both very confident that he would come to talk. And sure enough, there he was the next morning with his father, as I was waiting in the bus stop to go to Bangalore.