“Literature throws us many great heroes. Real life invariably outdoes them”- Wilbur Smith
Bachhan Singh Batola, 75 years old belongs to Ukhimath, Rudraprayag. He is an environmentalist and loves nature; therefore he makes sure that his surroundings are well taken care of. He has planted about 15000 thousands trees in his village and around his house. To get to his house, one has to walk across a narrow pathway beside a stream and into the forest; away from the village. The narrow path with lead you towards a small temple and then to Bacchan singh humble abode.
He is perched on a small bench outside his hut and his face lights up seeing the familiar faces. He comes over to greet us, and is joined by his wife, a small petite old woman but with a cheerful face. He introduces us to his daughter and granddaughter as we settle down on the small bench beside him. His wife makes tea for us in the small fireplace inside his two room hut. It’s not every day that he sees a lot of faces, and so he is delighted by the company.
His hands are always dirty, because he is always occupied in his work, the roughness and the wrinkles on his hands translates a story of a man in love with nature and his plants. He is short in height and walks with a hunch, old age has had a toll on him but that does not deter his spirits as he walks past the huge trees and plants that he had planted himself. His eyes lights up when he talks about the trees and plants that he had planted, talking about the different species and variety and his voice is happy. The kitchen garden outside his hut has about 10-15 different varieties of plants and flowers. He has planted lemons, vegetables and fruits and also some of the seeds that HelpAge India gave him. HelpAge also provides him with worms for compost which is made outside his hut in a small pit.
For someone who has done a tremendous work and worked his whole life for conserving nature, he is quite upset that he doesn’t get the same help and recognition as the other farmers get, who don’t put in as much efforts as him. He has approached the state nursery a number of times but have returned empty handed. He wants to continue planting more trees and plants, but because of age and mobility issues he cannot travel and work as before. He does however make the best with what he has got and what is available to him freely.
One of the common and menacing problems faced by the farmers in Uttarakhand is that of monkeys who eat most of the produce and wild swine’s that come and destroy the fields completely. There is also a problem of wild bear attacks on women and children, which is also a major concern for these farmers, and not to forget other wild animals of the forest.
However, there hasn’t been a single sighting of a wild animal near his premises even though he stays right in the middle of the forest. He says that “ maine janwaro ko to sudhar diya hai, but insaan ko nai sudhar paya”, in regard to the fact, that it is not the animals that take fruit from his field, but humans as soon as he leaves his place.
When asked about elections and what kind of leader he would hope to win, his voice drops down and he speaks with a heavy heart. All he wants is a good leader who is just and does right by the people by providing equal opportunities for all and helping the farmers, especially the ones who are actually making a difference. His daughter is mentally unstable and her husband died in the disaster that hit Uttarakhand in 2013. The government paid 2-3 lakh rupees but that is not enough to fill the void of their son-in-law. Their granddaughter is everything to them, and he is doing everything he could for her future. His son is married but he doesn’t talk to them or maintain any relations nor help them in any way. Bacchan Singh’s wife stays with their daughter in the village and comes every day to make food for Bacchan Singh and then in the evening goes back to the village on foot. He stays in his hut, where he does farming and takes care of the cows and makes a living to support his family.
Life in the mountains is difficult, the climate conditions are extreme, and commuting is problem, as one has to go on foot most of the time since transportation vehicles don’t run so frequently. Since mountains are scarcely populated, therefore one has to travel quite a distant to make basic purchases. Some villages are extremely remote without proper roads and one has to travel on foot to walk to a nearest place for the next available transport. HelpAge India runs its Mobile Healthcare Units (MHU) even in the most remote of villages in Uttarakhand, providing free medicines and blood tests for the elders of the community. Bacchan Singh and his wife is also a beneficiary of HelpAge India and come regularly for check-up and collect their medicines.
It is a humbling experience, when you realize that through your work you are touching so many lives and feels good that no matter how small a contribution, you can actually make a difference in someone’s life far away that is extremely grateful. Every contribution made, goes in helping old destitute old people who genuinely need your help. As we bid Good bye to Bacchan Singh Batola and his family, I am reminded of the simplicity of life, of kindness and hope.
“Man is not himself only…He is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources…He is the land, the lift of its mountain lines, the reach of its valleys”- Mary Austin