Having grown up in Mayurbhanj, Odisha, the famous Similipal National Park is not far from my home.
The place where my grandparents reside is a small picturesque village-Kusumasole, and I like to visit there often. The nearest town is located about 25 kilometres from the village. It is a secluded retreat from the concrete jungle’s hustle and bustle. When I was a kid, I would spend a lot of time in the village with my family, especially my grandfather.
The stories my grandfather narrated to me often fascinated me. “The land around us was mostly forested. Teak trees would grow in thousands and jackals would howl as they hunt. A lovely aroma of night jasmine filled the air, and bright stars twinkled in the night sky,” he would say.
Furthermore, he recounted an incident when about 100 dacoits came in the dead of night to rob villagers and disappeared into the thick forest. When I was a child, my grandfather would often point out that there used to be huge vultures that ate cattle carcasses. As a bird enthusiast, I asked him, “Where are the vultures now?” The old man would sigh and reply, “The vultures all perished because some miscreants poisoned the cattle, so the vultures ate the poisoned cattle and as a result, they did not survive for long.”
Over the years, he has witnessed the forest disappearing.
The forest’s disappearance also led to the disappearance of teak trees as well as jackals and twinkling stars. During my visits to the village over these years, I noticed ‘massive’ changes in its development. Dwellings originally made of mud are receiving a new makeover into city-style apartment houses. Murum paths have been replaced by cemented pathways. Year by year, trees are disappearing. Construction of houses increases; lands are converted into farms with cultivation crops. In the village, rather than cycles as the main vehicles, you now find ALTO and SUVs parked. Each year, the size of the ponds in the village decreases.
It’s hard to believe how there was only one school and one Anganwadi in the village and the numbers haven’t changed. The institutions like schools and Anganwadi centres lack basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. There are no emergency medical facilities in the village, such as PHCs. There are no proper basic amenities related to health care and education, while the only development is the reduction of forests and the building of houses and farmlands.
It is disheartening to know that all these years that I have visited the village, it has changed in a negative way. The villagers are also impacted by climate change. The forests of the past brought rain and protected the village from extremes like droughts and floods. A change in rainfall patterns causes drought-like conditions and does not bring farmers the profits they expected.
Interestingly, the remains of the past forest can still be seen in one corner of the village. The Dwarseni devi or ‘Protector of the village’ resides here with her figurines. The villagers were taught to protect the native flora and fauna located in this patch and it is considered a sin to destroy anything within the area. We learned people contextualize this area as a ‘Sacred Grove.’ The locals called it Thakurani Thana, which literally means Dwarseni devi’s home.