There’s something absolutely unique about this book. When young, many of us feel the urge at some moment of disillusionment or dissatisfaction. We want to get away from it all, to lose ourselves in some remote corner of the world—desert, forest, or perhaps an unknown, faraway town. Yet how many of us were actually able to realise this fantasy, even in part? And how many such places have managed to exist in the world today?
Further, how often does a book make you feel, as you read it, that you are entering a new territory, richly imbued with elemental power and immensely fascinating? And, should one undertake such a journey, even between the soft covers of a book, how many times is there a guide to accompany him, exploring, elucidating with delightful levity, albeit with deep knowledge and sensitivity about the intricacies of the people, their language, their customs, their habits and traditions?
Madhu Ramnath, author of this book, is not an anthropologist by training. Yet, his passionate engagement with the adivasis of Bastar, his obsessive interest in their way of life, his personal devotion and commitment to the people and their concerns, are all akin to those of a dedicated student of other cultures and societies. With one big difference: there’s nothing academic about Ramnath’s immersion in, or his love and fascination for the world of the indigenous people of Bastar. His record of living in their midst is empathic and keenly perceptive—so that for him, as for the reader, the process of coming to grips with this unique way of life is in the nature of a constant maturing.
Thirty years ago, while gazing at a map of India, Ramnath tells us, he was delighted to discover “a large swathe of the country in Central India—conspicuous for the paucity of roads...