At the Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur District, nature has been the teacher
Every morning this was the question from their three small children, resentful at being left alone for another long spell of 14 hours: "Where are you going?" The parents, Mary Vattamattam and Choitresh Kumar Ganguly ["Bablu"] found it equally hard to leave—or, truthfully name the places their work took them to. The children wouldn't have coped with names like Chennakothapalli, Mushtikovila or Shyapuram. So they took to saying: "We are off to Timbaktu!"
It had already been a long journey for the two of them to this point in the late eighties. And their goal, however they imagined it, was still afar as the metaphorical Timbaktu.
Adventures of Mary and Bablu are of interest not only because of their current work with nature. Their story is of value to understand, how during the dark eighties when the State lorded over everything, small Indians nevertheless stood up for their convictions and struggled on layers beyond our eyeshot. Mary and Bablu were part of the flux agitating for a fair deal for rural India. They began with Marx, and had doubts rise in their minds. When the took to caring for land and trying to grow food, they discovered the relevance of Gandhi. Utopia however is still very far, but now, the road feels right.
Players in flux
By the sixties, it was clear India was sleep-walking through its Independence. It was not sure of its identity, ideology, politics, economics or statecraft. Every voice and idea was fighting for space. Poverty, shortages and insecurity stalked the land. Sincere people, all wanting a better India, had each, a prescription.
The colonial mind set had not changed. [Many believe it still hasn't]. Bablu tells an amusing story: "My father was an agitator for India's freedom and was thrown in the jail by the British. After Independence his application to join the police force was rejected because he had a 'jail record'. Ironies didn't stop there: my father went on to England to qualify himself for a job in India".
Bablu's childhood through the sixties was in Bombay and Bangalore. He took to the theatre rather than to academics. When he was 20, he met the legendary Narendar Bedi of Calcutta.