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  • Writer's pictureLokesh Sahu

Somewhere, in the forests of BaigaChak…(Part 2)

Part 2

As I lived in with Kandawaani, as part of my research project with the University, I got the opportunity to acquaint myself with the ever-changing form(s) of the forest life of BaigaChak. This account is a small fraction of that life which I could manage to live for a brief while. I can NOT claim that I have known it all but this is my humble effort to convey whatever little that reached me. Through this piece, I am putting together the various plant species that I encountered in my everyday life at Kandawaani i.e. kaanda (Tubers), bhaaji (Leafy Vegetables), and a few other species.

What intrigued me was that most of the edible forest plants, fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves, etc. that the Baiga obtains from the forest are also medicinally beneficial. The Baiga's karma says, 'dawaa har laage baai, saaton indri judaave' (the kaanda is like medicine, it helps in connecting the seven senses). This, for me, blurred the distinction between food and medicine. These little blurrings incept an imagination - what if, the Baiga's lifeworld is much more than the one, hitherto, (re)presented by the modernist discourse of development as 'backward'.

This photographic tour, as I want to call it, isn't exhaustive however, it attempts to convey a certain sense of the Baiga’s aatma nirbhata through their forests. The forests that have sustained generations of the said community. In times of difficulty - be it drought, poor harvest, sickness, etc. - the forests become a source of respite for communities like these. I often feel: 'the adivasi isn't poor yet, it will be rendered poor the day it loses its forests'. Perhaps, perhaps, the best way to enable the Baiga's sense of aatma nirbharta is to let the forests be.

The illustrative descriptions are as follows:

(I) kaanda (Tubers)

In my quest to understand the ecological significance of kaanda in the forests of BaigaChak, I had once interviewed Dr. Suresh Babu (Ambedkar University Delhi). From this interview, held as part of my research project with the University (2017-19), I gathered that kaanda are an interesting indicator of the forest's health i.e. the bigger the size of kaanda, the better the health of the forest as the size of kaanda reflect the quantity of biomass in the soil. The women in Kandawaani would often recount the old times when the kaanda used to be available in abundance (both in terms of size as well as the frequency of occurrence). The forest still hosts kaanda but they have now become more scarce.

The months from April to June (Baisakh to Jeth) are hot summer days. Around this time, the bela of the kaanda dries up and is mostly lost to the forest fires. Thus, it becomes difficult to locate kaanda at this time of the year. While the Baiga have their own mechanisms to locate the kaanda, even during dry months, they are preferably dug out from July to September (Sawan to Asadh) when the shoots reappear and the soil becomes soft due to the rains (which make digging convenient). Rain spells during winters (December to January), is also a preferred time for digging the kaanda.

For regeneration purposes, when the kaanda is dug out, a small part of it (particularly 'mudi', the part from which the root expands) is left behind. In this manner, the Baiga cares back for that which sustains it.

A). Dunchi - It is usually small in size. It can be eaten raw, boiled in water, or roasted in the fire. It has particular use during childbirth. When naara budri is used to cut the umbilical cord, a certain paste is applied to avoid a possible wound i.e. the ash from a burnt dunchi is mixed with graded powder of an earthen pot. The paste is believed to have healing effects. The kaanda also satiates hunger i.e. it can be a good enough substitute for a meal.

B). Koinjaar (or Safed Moosli) - It is small in size, and white in color. It is consumed either in its raw form or the powder of its dried form and is believed to possess medicinal value.

C). Kadu Geet - It is slightly bitter in taste thus the name 'kadu'. It is thus elaborately boiled. The process which removes the bitterness is laborious. It is naturally available in the forest but very often, the Baiga also cultivates this one.

D). Rataal - The bela of this kaanda bears fruit called rataal (which has a tinge of purple in it). The root along with the fruit is eaten. Other than the kaanda, its fruit is also believed to have medicinal values i.e. the fruit is boiled and eaten by lactating mothers for enhancement of breast milk.

E). Lorgi - It is usually large in size and weight. It can't be eaten raw. It either needs boiling or it can be roasted in the fire. It is also believed to have medicinal values i.e. it helps with body ache and dizziness.

F). Rabi - It can be eaten raw, boiled in water, or roasted in the fire. White in color, it can be as long as 18 inches. It may also be cooked with Mahua flowers which adds sweetness. It has medicinal value i.e. it is believed to enhance one's appetite. It also helps in treating a scorpion's sting i.e. powdered form of the kaanda is applied on the sting.

G). Kochai - The leaves of this kaanda are consumed as bhaaji while the kaanda is cooked before eating.

H). Nirbheesi - While the other kaanda are consumed as food this one, in particular, is consumed only for medicinal purposes. It has to be processed in particular manners and consumed in regulated amounts, else it can be troublesome.

I). Bechaandi - Usually round in shape, and white in color, it is slightly bitter. The bitterness is removed through a laborious process i.e. the kaanda is cut into small pieces, packed in a bamboo basket, and placed into the river. Over the night, the running water of the river washes off the bittnerss. The following morning, the kaanda is retrieved from the river and is boiled. It is then ready for consumption. It is also believed to have medicinal value.

J). Kaadia -

K). Kaache Bhaaji Kaanda - The leaves of it are consumed as bhaaji.

L). Sedhu - It is usually long, and it requires a lot of digging. It has a tinge of orange on it. It is eaten only after boiling. It can be substituted for a meal as it is good at satiating hunger. It is mostly found in the deeper parts of the forest where the vegetation cover is relatively higher. It is also believed to have medicinal values.

M). Daang - The bela bears fruit called daang. It can be eaten only after it is boiled in water, roasted in a fire, or cooked as a vegetable. The fruit as well as the root both are eaten. The fruit has medicinal value.

N). Baada - It is usually huge and round in shape.

O). Biraad - It is usually round in shape. It is white in color and is effective in quenching thirst. It can be consumed only in a raw state and only the smaller ones are consumed.

P). Bachh - It is high on medicinal value. Very often, it tied around the wrist of children who consume it by sucking upon it. It flourishes around rich sources of water or moisture.

(II) Bhaaji (Leafy Vegetables) & Other Species:

A) Bramarkaas Bhaaji - It grows around rocks, in the deep parts of the forest where the vegetation cover is relatively higher. The leaves and the stem are cooked in combination with a tangy substance. It has high medicinal value and is one of the most valued species amongst the Baiga.

B) Chench Bhaaji - It is one of the most frequent and regular parts of the Baiga's meals. Women store its dried leaves in large quantities. It is thus eaten throughout the year, especially in months when there aren't other options. It is cooked in combination with a tangy substance. It is preferred to be eaten with Paij, which is made of kutki (millets) or dhaan (rice) or loda (maize). Paij is highly hydrating as it is cooked in high proportions of water thus, it is particularly favored in summers as it also helps with thirst. It is looked at as something light in between the meals.

C) Chakoda/Charotta Bhaaji - Upon the arrival of the first monsoon shower, it grows on its own. It is usually found in leveled and open fields. It is consumed throughout the year, especially when other options aren't available. Occasionally, tea is made from the power of its roasted and mature seeds. It is preferred to be consumed with paij. In fact, paij is always consumed in combination with a bhaaji (of any kind) however one of the most frequent and favored combinations is that of paij and charotta bhaaji.

Note: The rightmost image is that of paij (safed kutki ka paij) served along with murai ka saag (dried radish).

D) Amta Bhaaji - The leaves and the cover of the fruit is tangy and red in color. It is always cooked in combination with other bhaaji like Chench or Charotta. Otherwise, it is too tangy to be cooked on its own. It keeps the body cool in summers.

E) Purpuri Bhaaji - Seeds are used to make ladoo and roti while the leaves are cooked with a tangy substance. The attached image is that of its seeds.

F) Kachnaar Bhaaji - The flowers of this bhaaji are cooked and then consumed.

G) Mungaa Bhaaji - Leaves, fruits as well as the white flowers of this tree are cooked as vegetable. It is highly nutritious and has medicinal value e.g. it helps with poor appetite, Jaundice. It is often recommended for pregnant women to help them with their iron intake. The Baiga also makes tea from its dried leaves which heals cold.

H) Koilaad Bhaaji - The leaves are cooked as a vegetable but they can be consumed only during the summers. The leaves are not fit for consumption during other seasons. It was earlier available only in the forest but in recent times it has been widely domesticated as people grow it in their fields or backyards.

I) Pataali - The fruit is very small in size, and very tangy. It can be stored after its sliced halves are dried off under the sun. The dried pieces are then used for prolonged periods of time. It is often used to add tangy-ness to food.

J) Sihaad Phal - The liana Mahilaain bears the fruit Sihaad which is pod-like. The seeds (which are soft) are roasted and consumed as a delicacy. The leaves are used for cooking, ornamental purposes as well as for storing and serving food. The leaves also have ritualistic significance for the Baiga.

H) Bedara - It is cooked as a vegetable and eaten with rice but it is recommended to eat this at regulated levels. Too much of it can upset the stomach.

I) Kat Semad - It is cooked as a vegetable. It is one of the fast disappearing varieties and is being increasingly replaced with hybrid varieties of the same. However, traditional varieties are richer in their taste.

J) Chaar (Chironji) - The fruit of Chaar is small and black in color. It is usually liked by children. The seed called Chironji is also consumed and has a range of medicinal values. The tree produces gum which also has medicinal value. Chironji are popularly called the almonds of Central India.

K) Kekad & Machli - On days when there isn't much work (particularly itwaar), the women (along with children), or men, collectively go for catching fishes and crabs. The activity requires collective labor thus it becomes more than just a mundane chore.

L) Phulchuhi (Surteli Phool) - The plant Phulchuhi bears red flowers called Surteli Phool which are eaten by children as they are sweet and juicy.

M) Mahua - The local brew called Mahua is prepared by fermenting the dried flowers of mahua called tapka. People from within the community (including young boys and girls) camp in the forest (in the night), as the tree drops the flowers sometime after midnight (till the early hours of the morning). The flower is also used to make delicacies like ghugri (sarai seeds cooked in combination with mahua flowers for sweetness). There are many more uses of Mahua. It is a very integral part of those living in and around the forests of Central India.

N) Rasa - In the forests of BaigaChak, as the locals say, there are seven varieties of the honey bee. One of these seven varieties is called Rasa. The honeycomb in the photos posted below is from the same.

O) Pakdi Bhaaji - Only the soft leaves of this Bhaaji are cooked as a vegetable and thus this bhaaji is available to people only during spring. The photo on the left is of the tree from which the leaves are obtained.

P) Dobe Bhaaji - It is found near water sources like rivers or ponds. The leaves are cooked as a vegetable.

Acknowledgments: The people of Kandawaani gracefully allowed me to stay with them and shared their knowledge through which I have managed to present this description. I would also like to thank Swarnima Kriti and Lokesh Sahu who offered their help in giving shape to this description.

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