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CULTURAL CATALOG SERIES I : STORIES FROM AMALTAAS



WHO AMALTAAS?

Amaltaas is the name of a tree found in the lower Shivaliks of the Himalayas. The women relate their lives with the local ecosystem. A group of women named it as - Amaltaas. The women come together on a fortnightly basis beneath the Amaltaas tree to - speak, share and express!


Clans

Amaltaas is a precious community possession - as it is one of the tallest trees around, it stands for "strength and vision". The women in the group come from the same clan and nearby. The group has a number of adolescent girls who are energised to talk and share their stories. Elderly women lend the creativity as they talk about traditional skills - various handmade products such as jewellery items, fan and other household things.


"When I see these young girls talk and laugh freely during the meetings, I feel jealous. This is because I never got such opportunities where I can express myself and share my problems. When I realised I wanted to do something for myself, I was a mother to two children” - - a middle aged woman shared her experience during one of the meetings.


The women from the clan have always shared the experiences of encountering the wild animals while collecting fodder, wood for cooking fuel and moving in the forest for daily survival.


Snake in the woods

Ramjano, a young girl shared that;

“ Once I went along with my mother to collect fodder for our animals. It was an early winter morning and we could barely see due to dense fog. My mother asked me to hold one end of her dupatta and quietly follow the trail. After sometime when we reached a place with fallen leaves and branches, my mother asked me to collect small twigs and branches, she started collecting the bigger ones. After an hour of collection, when my mother tried to tie the bundle of leaves around her back, she felt some movement inside the bundle. She suddenly dropped it and saw a snake tangled around the cloth she used to tie the bundle. I got scared but my mother, the bravest lady I know, just untangled the snake and let it free to move in the forest. That day I asked her, Ammi, you had all the resources to kill the snake but why didn’t you do that? She said, the forest is theirs as much as ours. Like humans they too have the right to live and move freely in the forests”.


Survival taught Sustainability

“Living in the forest kept us away from the market, therefore creating our own things of use was a matter of survival not choice.”


The women of the forest dwelling community can make anything and everything she or family needs. From building houses to making jewellery items, they can do it all. Taj bibi shares her experience of learning to make shampoo with forest products.


She says,

“ one of my aunts was really obsessed with girls maintaining long hair. Every morning she would go to the forest to collect fallen leaves for her cattle and would bring some medicinal produce as well. At times she would boil the leaves and apply on her hair or would make a paste of the leaves and consume with hot milk. She would forcefully apply the water, paste and other items on my hair as well. Once I asked her, Appi, where did you learn all these things from? She replied, the forest and mother earth taught me to value the resources we have, rather than crib for those we don't have. We can’t go to the market to buy soaps and shampoos, therefore the forest produces natural shampoo for us”.


The Story of Nek Bibi

Long time ago when I was a little forest girl, I used to be very vocal and notorious. I would always accompany my mother to the forest. Every day we would all get up at dawn, go into dense forest for defecation, offer namaaz, have our cup of tea and check on the animals. All the members of the family had their responsibilities to complete but the most burdened one was my mother. I was to accompany my mother to the forest in the morning and take care of my younger siblings. Since the day I was born people started discussing my marriage. At a very young age me and my elder brother had an exchange marriage and I went to my in-laws place soon after puberty. A few months into my marriage, I was pregnant with my first child. During the pious month of Ramadan, my mother-in-law told me to visit my parents. I remember I was in my seventh month when I along with my father-in-law walked all the way to my parent’s place. I was so shy in telling my father-in-law that I wanted to pee or would take some rest and then walk. After some time he said, “ let's take some rest and eat something.” I replied, Yes, sure. Till the time he was eating I went inside the woods to release the pressure. As soon as I sat in the squat, I felt some pain in my lower abdomen and saw loads of water coming out from my body. Soon I realised that I am going to deliver the child here. I got scared and was feeling shy about sharing this with my father-in-law. So, I decided to give birth to my first child all by myself. It was a brave decision and a painful moment for me. After some time, I carried the child in my arms, tied it along my stomach and walked all the way to my mother’s place. When I told this to my mother, she said, “ you were always an independent girl, you never bothered me as a child and now you decided to not bother me even when you became a mother”.


These moments teach us about the powers I hold as a woman and the strength I have like that of Amaltaas tree in the forest.


Credits : WEG Team and Tanya

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