Gond Art and the Elusive Tigers of Bandhavgarh

It has been October and the afternoon would get hot as we would return from our many escapees around the forest area. I would have something or the other to write about and would retreat for my shower. Taking a shower is the best remedy for afternoon heat in Bandhavgarh. The air is dry, so the shower would really soothe me. Then it was off to writing after my lunch with Gagan.

The evenings were mostly spent in the pool enjoying tea and sandwiches as Gagan poured over the history of the place and how he does his sales and marketing. “There is a lot of scope to uplift the lives of local forest dwellers and Adivasis of this region. Although they do not want much, one could really improve their earnings and learning by investing in corporate-backed community building projects.” Gagan explained his vision for the forest and how many NGOs have been involved in rural marketing drivers and buildings of small-scale village enterprise in this region. I, for one, was attracted to this idea and pledged that I will involve my management trainees in doing rural marketing and community-based projects in and around a cluster of villages in Bandhavgarh. That would be a starting point along with young people gaining experience in rural marketing. They could also help in getting buyers to buy Gond art and other local artefacts from the many tribes in the area.

Apart from supporting Gond art, Gagan also sells books of some famous wildlife enthusiasts and tiger watchers. These, he sells to the tourists and jungle buffs. Many like the Gond art and take it back home to resell it. Each Gond artist has his own pattern and texture and replicates it repeatedly throughout his drawing or painting. That is his signature. Although they look similar, every art piece has its own distinct signature. These pieces, which are immaculately stored and packaged, are sold for a few thousand. Something to carry back for the guests. Then there are wooden masks and birds carved out from tree trunks. The tribal feel is all around and gives you glimpses of real native art and craft. It is their identity, their culture, their essence and the tribes and villagers of the region have kept it alive for generations. This is part of their distinct identity. Lose this and they lose their purpose.

The light has gone today for the first time in six days, but the inverter backup works wonderfully. As I said, electricity is not an issue in this place. Yes! Finally, today is my last night at this tiger jungle. It has been a smooth ride and very soothing. Just the thing one needs to escape life and begin a journey of rediscovery. Places like this also bring a shift in perception. Tomorrow, I head for my flight back to Jabalpur and then onwards to Delhi. However, I will be taking the forest with me and with that, a hope to return to search the tiger that has still eluded me.

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