Published: Updated On – 09:34 PM, Sat – 8 October 22
By Dr YL Srinivas and Sneha Varghese
Hyderabad: Motivation is often sought in the pages of hardly -touched self-help books with suspicious ‘click-bait’ (or rather ‘pick-bait’!) titles that have pages and pages of sermonizing and quick fixes, making the reader who seeks practical answers and real experiences lose interest, and give up halfway on their resolve. Books that can narrate true stories, inspire action and win hearts are rare; more so, one that tells the tales of the innermost villages and jungles of Central/Western India.
Ashutosh Salil, a serving IAS officer of the Maharashtra cadre and award-winning journalist Barkha Mathur, have brought together seven awe-inspiring stories of real life unsung brave-hearts in their book, “Being the change: In the footsteps of the Mahatma” – a result of their extensive experiences with personalities who have braved not just the forces of nature, but also the formidable opposition from the very people they sought to help. These stories show that lack of funding, discrimination or harsh conditions cannot weather their will and ability to serve the poorest of the poor, through humility and selfless service.
All seven heroes (and sheroes) chosen by the authors, belong to various regions of Maharashtra, each working in various fields – medicine and healing, conservation of forests and ecology, social empowerment and education. Sarp Mitra Bandu Dhotre of Chandrapur is a friend to far many more than just snakes – his organization called ‘Eco-pro’ tackles environmental issues, fiercely protecting the land and its pristine flora and fauna. The story of the “one-rupee doctors” – Ravindra and Smita Kolhe, from Bairagarh is well-known – but did you know that the humble, unassuming Smita we know today is a far cry from the fashionable and wealthy Smita in her youth? Or that the couple decided to have their own child in Bairagarh (where they carried out their work), a village that had no medical facilities, despite serious medical complications?
The friendship of Mohan and Devaji, and their role in establishing democratic self governance among tribal communities, and spreading awareness about tribal rights, in the Menda Lekha village deep in the Gadchiroli forest, has been documented well. Matin Bhosale, the rebel from the outcast Phanse Pardhi tribe, proved how education could change the destinies of many. Couples like Satish and Shubhada Gogulwar of Desaiganj, and Ashish and Kavita Satav of Dharni, are true role models for today’s youth – though they came from great wealth, they chose to serve the poor as one of them, gaining their confidence and trust, despite their initial reluctance.
When one’s parents have accomplished great things, the pressure to be as good as them, if not better, is great. But what is more important for the couples – Digant and Anagha Amte, Aniket and Samiksha Amte, of Hemalkasa, Maharasthra is to manifest their Gandhian values and famed grandfather Baba Amte’s teaching in their life, by working with the Madia Gond tribe.
All their stories are filled with detailed accounts of specific incidents that turned out to be turning points. Though the narrative does stray in places, with details that seem too extensive for the reader to swallow at one go, the essence and purpose stay consistent throughout. Anecdotes – such as Bandu Dhotre’s brush with the bureaucrats regarding coal mining and the ‘ghotul’ incident in Menda Lekha village – provide relief to the otherwise grave undertone that apprises the readers of the deplorable living conditions of rural tribal communities and their hardships. The spin on the protagonists’ personal lives add a touch of authenticity and flavour that convinces us that these people we read about, are real people, leading normal average lives, with the same challenges and dilemmas that we all face, except for the fact that their existing conditions and further tough life choices have made these everyday issues which we take for granted, a thousand times more challenging.
The book has been written in simple language, keeping in mind both mature, older audiences and also young, impressionable minds, who will be the ones to carry forward this legacy of Gandhian thought and selfless service. The change in the writing style for the seven different stories, though subtle, seems a bit off the mark, and could have been avoided with slightly crisper editing.
While we have heard of several philanthropists who have changed the lives of others for the better through their charity or corporate social responsibility activities, what sets this book apart is that it recounts the journey of those who started with nothing— and continue to have nothing of their own. Their contribution cannot be measured in material terms; their goal has always been to make tribal and rural communities self-sufficient and on par with the rest of the country – gently leading them towards ‘atmanirbharta’ long before it became a watchword.
It is difficult not to feel touched by these stories of change, and overwhelming when one thinks of the huge degree of transformation brought about by the sheer grit and perseverance of one person – the book is almost a mirror that we hold up to ourselves, questioning our conscience, as to what we have done so far in our positions of privilege, convenience and comfort. It is a book that can cause an avalanche effect, triggering several more heroes and sheroes, to take up the causes of the downtrodden and marginalized, in their own karmabhoomi.