The Mad Face

On the bank of river Triyouga, the northwestern border of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, I was taking a long rest after rigorous fieldwork. Barefooted on the sand, scattered worksheets and a clipboard with a pen. The cold evening wind was drying sweat from my wet shirt. Sun was about to set. From a distance in the direction of sunset, an image of an old man in a very tired way of walking was approaching me. I hardly see a gamchaa on his head, a very loosely fitted shirt on a dhoti with a pair of flipflop.

The blurred image came in front of me with a welcoming smile on a wrinkled face. He greeted me and ask me about the motive for visiting the village. With a welcome back smile, I answered his curiosity. A student from another district working on my thesis, living there since last week. I simply asked him about his destination, he might have some other curiosity or he was so tired to continue his walk. He had a seat just beside me and ignoring my question, he asked about my lodging. I was confused that either he was ignoring the question or he didn’t hear. After my answer, he nodded his head and allege that he knew the owner. Thereafter our conversation took a small leap and started talking about random political views.

Every time I drove him to the topic of the management of reserve, he shows dissatisfaction and tried to escape from it. I was quite surprised about his behavior. Which is just opposite to that of other villagers that I met earlier. With a little bit of friendly conversation with him, he opens up. He started with the threats of the crop from wild animals to the threats to their lives. Suddenly he started yelling “well everyone living here is in some sorts of threat, some with their crop yield some with the property, and some even with their lives.” I was quite amazed by his changed expression. He smiles back and mumbled in himself “sir, what will you do about it?”. A silence without any answer in my head. My eyes were fully concentrating on his smile, teeth stained with betel nuts, dried lips. He released a long breath and turned behind with a pointing look towards the barren field. He pointed his middle figure to the field “look at the field, Sir here used to be wheat in this season a few years back but nowadays this land is barren.” I stopped his sentence in the middle with my reason for people going abroad and shifting their job. He nodded his head in disagreement and said, “how these poor people go abroad? These lands are barren due to the threats of wild animals. They used to guard their crops against wild animals by camping whole nights of cultivating season in the field. But nowadays due to the terror of wild elephant, they leave their land unguarded even most of the villagers let the land barren.” He turned to me and gave me a sarcastic smile, he numbed my mind with a line, “because life is more meaningful than the crops, isn’t it?” He added, “crops and property are only a small problem in this area”. He gave a big evil smile on his face which drew all my attention to his next sentence, my eyebrows came closer, wrinkled my forehead, and put my left ear slightly ahead. The old man with a giggling laugh and an easy release of the sentence, “here the life is in danger, people die in the name of conservation”

A pause in his face with a slight glimpse of anger on his face, “we don’t know whose fault is this the economically poor system? The compelled management? The poor people living there? Or the animals living inside the reserve?” After this, he laughed at me and pointed me, and said, “sir! You can do nothing.” He put his flipflop on his feet and walked ahead shouting loudly that he wanted to kill the management, wild animals, and the locals and burn them down. I was very bumped by that old man. I watch his every activity and heard every sentence he yelled until he disappeared from my sight.

Two young men were observing us from our behind. They came to me after his exit and both of them smiled at me. One of the men said that the old man had gone mad. The other man added, “he had been mad since his poor house and field was raided by a herd of a wild elephant. He had only one granddaughter with him and he could not save her life in that conflict. Her treatment failed and she left him. He did not get the actual compensation amount, panchayat claimed half of the compensation. After that incident, he had gone mad.” The first man showing pity on his face to the old man and seriousness for me he said “Sir, you have seen a mad face of conservation when applied erroneously”.

Write up: Pawan Rai (Intern- Environment Protection and Study Center)