This is a story of Chhotu. His name contradicts his age, but not his identity. Even after being around for fifty decades, according to him, he is still a child who finds peace sleeping in Mother Nature’s lap. One often comes across some people who are extraordinarily disciplined in their life and routine. Chhotu strives to be one of them, waking up at 4 a.m. every morning; irrespective of the scorching heat or freezing cold (both of which occur more commonly in Rajasthan than one might think). He religiously sleeps on the Chabutara (a common platform for the villagers to hold discussions and meetings at the village’s entrance) and not in his house throughout the year and mostly without the luxury of a bed in order to avoid a sound sleep. The logic? “Gaonwalon ki suraksha adhik jaruri hai. Mujhe isi mein aaraam milta hai.”(The safety of villagers is of prime importance. I feel at peace doing only this.)
Pic: Chottu with his Tea Stall
Chhotu Dabai’s life epitomizes simplicity in all terms. He owns only two sets of traditional clothes, a worn out shoe and a Sanfa (a type of turban made from a long piece of cloth by wrapping around the head). But what makes his personality even more interesting is his ghumti chai ki dukan (a movable tea stall) with a very noble objective behind its existence. Wherever Chhotu sets up his tea shop, he treats that place as his home, which means he sweeps all around the area to keep it clean, plants trees all around his shop and nurtures them till they show some significant growth. He also maintains some 10-12 Chinkas (lower half of earthen pots or small plastic tubs hung on trees for providing water to the birds) around his stall. Chhotu’s rather considerate way of life has not only made the village cleaner and ecologically sustainable but has also developed a sense of community work and peaceful co-existence with nature among other villagers, a sort of mini Green Revolution. This selfless service continues as long as it takes for Chhotu to transform yet another surrounding into a beautiful miracle. When he is sure that the trees he planted and the birds sheltered will continue to flourish in the care of the other villagers, he moves his ghumti chai ki dukan to a different place and works his magic all over again. Chhotu’s contribution becomes evident when one takes into account the past two decades of sincere hard-work and affection that Chhotu has harboured for Mother Nature, covering most of the village in his endeavour, and planting thousands of trees.
Being part of a well-to-do joint family of 28 members does not provide him any sort of peace of mind. It’s the joy of serving Mother Nature that keeps him going. But it’s not always been easy. When he started off, Chhotu was one of the earning members of his family. His family wanted him to be more profit-oriented like the rest of them rather than an environmental hero. As a young man, they wanted him to go to the city and lead a better life. But Chhotu was determined to stay in his village and make it a better place to live. He tried desperately to make them understand his thought process and way of life, but much of it went in vain. Even the villagers thought he had gone crazy. But he was eventually accepted for his views and practices by his people as they saw the fruits borne by his efforts. Not only was his family on his side now, but Chhotu Dabai also earned the respect of the other villagers through his dedication and good deeds.
Ramkaran Singh, another fifty year old villager, shares an interesting insight about the perception that the village had of Mr. Daban, and how it has changed over time. “Chhotuji ka kaam pehle ajeeb lagta tha. Wo gobar uthate, ped lagate aur us dauran chai ki dukan par koi nahi hota tha. Par aaj hum sabko unke prayason pe naaz hai.” (Initially we found Chhotu’s work to be a little weird. He used to collect cow dung, plant trees and nobody would attend to his shop during that period. But, today we are all proud of his efforts.)
The seeds which Chhotu Dabai sowed single-handedly have now thousands of hands nurturing them. He listened to his inner voice and stayed in the village to open his ghumti chai ki dukan and is more than content to have made that decision. Today, he has extended his duty from his dukan to generating awareness among the villagers about the benefit of living in harmony with nature. He asks them to treat trees and birds as their own children and nature as their mother. His efforts have led to the plantation of numerous Peepal, Sheesham, Desi Babool, Neem, Bar trees and positioning Chinkas on these trees all across the village, providing a new lease of life to the village of Laporiya.
Article written by Grassroutes Fellow, Pankaj Kumar, who was mapped to GVNML in Rajasthan. Pankaj worked on designing rainwater harvesting techniques across Laporiya and Tonk districts that the NGO serves.