Day out in the brown valley

It may appear as a minnow in the school of whales who forage our natural heritage with unfailing regularity but this small example has encouraged eleven such farms to come up in the area. Success is not like a hanging fruit but it is always the tenaciousness that matters the most.   By D N Singh and photos by Debabrat

Although the monsoon is on the retreat, the hills dotting the vast landscapes of the picturesque Koraput district make one feel the nip in the air. Intermittent drizzle brings the pre-winter chill. The districts headquarter town is itself blessed with the look of any hill station in the country. Many hills, create the cascading designing for the sparsely dotted houses and all, run down abruptly to converge into a cluster of paddy fields readying for the next crop.

We had chosen the government Circuit House for the stay. Built way back in 1930, the circuit house is still intact and boasts of the Victorian touches, and the red cement flooring without a single crack even after 81-year create the nostalgia.

Each room or suite is crowned with a huge fireplace and the ceiling of the rooms measuring 20 ft plus reminds of a time when feudal taste was often judged by the height and size of rooms. The same wooden doors, the brass knobs and handles are still intact. Built at a height of 2,500 feet above the sea level this British era structure has a huge backyard. Walk to the end of this garden fortified by huge stones dropping precipitously down to have a tryst with the sleepy town below perched on the niches of hilly slopes.  

It was a lovely tryst with a beauty that smiles through the balloons of solitude in the nights. The cascading paddy fields in moonlit nights create the mirage of a silvery domain. The nursery-cum-garden in the backyard has a lovely stock of herbal plants those can cure many minor ailments.

After having tea prepared with lemon flavored herbal leaves, we left for yet another destination. Driving through the hilly tracks leading up to the Kakriguma hill range, many things were on offer - both good and bad. As we drove, we could not miss the range of hills crowning the hazy horizon, the mask of the morning fog slowly dissolving to expose the baldness of the hills suffered due to the shifting cultivation. But, amidst the remnant foliage, the razed slopes on the hills offered a view which collaged tribal tradition and urban invasion.

The thinning forest patches here and there were a pain to watch. Those hills of Koraput once described to be the picture-postcard beauty of the state, appear uncared by the people who live in them and the ones who rule here. Perhaps, gone are the days when a stroll into the valleys at early dawns presented a nature that wears a mystic smile during the slow drizzle when the paddy fields on the breathtaking scenery. The tribal men and women wearing the leaf caps head towards the fields. The women in colored clothes offer the fantastic contrast in the verdant expanse of the paddy.

Time has changed rapidly in last two decades. The mesmerizing face of Koraput has given way to the intransigence of neglect.  Born of an occasional alliance of the truant nature and human ignorance, the valleys struggle through the septic of depletions.

As we moved ahead aiming at the foothills, we stumbled upon a marked elevation on the left preceded by a very thick cluster of mango trees, like a huge canopy. We stopped there for a respite. On our left we noticed a small cottage like structure, making it hard to believe that in that beleaguered landscape we could find such a relief. The place made us curious to find out what was there.

As we trudged ahead we noticed a septuagenarian man in a white sweater. The elderly man was fairly tall and rather too taller for his wife, and his white hairs were whiter than his sweater. He had a very childlike smile on his face and each time we talked to him. It is a kind of typical post-retirement complex many people suffer from. Both were doing something at a kind of small farm-yard fortified by wire-mace. The lady had something in her face and her eyes from behind the spectacle had a distinct radiance of affection which encouraged us to go nearer. The greeting was warm and endearing. We were asked to take our seats when a bulky young man came out of the cottage followed by a young lady, clad in a traditional saree of orange shade. She was looking more like a typical Bengali woman with her crisp Mongolite facial feature. They were the son and daughter-in-law of the elderly couple, Uma and Biswanath Pradhan.

The elderly man exuded a magisterial delight when we introduced ourselves. Easing our problem they offered us breakfast in that sylvan enclosure we were looking for the last one hour. Then we were led to the backyard of the cottage to discover that the family has a hidden treasure in the shape of a garden that stood like a silver line in the gloom. We were told that it was the brainchild of the elderly lady, Uma Pradhan, who had weaved a dream of a green treasure in this festering sore about 17 years back.

Her unconquerable passion for farming bore the fruit and today the place has become an enviable hub of coffee and black pepper. Now known as the Brown Valley, the mission goes on with the active participation of Uma`s daughter-in-law Pritidhara who has preferred the green hub to other occupations. But their son Sujoy, overgrown for his age, had given up a lucrative job in Delhi and came to help his mother at the Brown Valley, taking an entire load of production and marketing of the produce.

The tale of the Pradhans deserved the mention here for obvious reasons. At a time when human greed is playing the role of a burning nail into the flesh of the forests, Uma Pradhan had well taken on her detractors, weathering the crosswinds from within nature, and proved her point with disarming sincerity and unbounded tenacity.

Uma Pradhan`s attachment with the Brown Valley appeared to be so tempestuous a love-affair that survived many odds and her achievement as a farmer has become an infectious ideal in the area.
It may appear as a minnow in the school of whales who forage our natural heritage with unfailing regularity but this small example has encouraged eleven such farms to come up in the area. Success is not like a hanging fruit but it is always the tenaciousness that matters the most.


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