The Timbaktu mission:
In January,'89 Mary and Bablu got married. In November that year Mary, John and Bablu pooled their funds to buy 32 acres of derelict land. They called it Timbaktu, for want of a better name [-was there one?]. 'This we shall green', they told themselves. As it always happens at moments of such resolves, wise counsels descended upon them. Mollison, Fukuoka, watershed development and afforestation were their new drivers.
Timbaktu will be a commune devoted to nature. It will seek to attract individuals who believe in the primacy of nature. They will live without the frills of life but with the most commitment to enable nature to regain a foothold. They had little money but a clear vision. But they had resourceful people like Simhachalam and his wife Sashi. These two had been Mary's comrades in Srikakulam and moved in with her to Timbaktu. Bablu says, "Without these two, who are of rural stock, we would not have dared to start Timbaktu, let alone live on it,"
The 32 acres lie almost two kilometers from the highway. No road to it existed and only an informal one does, now. Electricity is not available. Around it are several hundred acres of barren wilderness. There were hills in the backdrop that had been denuded. Between recurring droughts, need for firewood, and the local cattle that graze them to a close clip, the hills had no chance.
Land as teacher:
"First thing that happened was that we began to lose our arrogance, because the land dared and mocked us," says Bablu. They realised they must cooperate with people to get anything done- lectures won't do.
The land they had bought had been a meeting place for herdsmen. Instead of fencing its property in, Timbaktu began friendships with them. Mostly they exchanged stories and in the process gained a lot of local lore.
It is not as though the poor in India are unaware of the need to care for nature[Not so, the well-to-do, though]. But they need solutions for living out their daily lives; work for any distant goal had to be fitted within their tight time-table. Over months, there was an accord on some measure of cattle control. With that agreed, nature got its break. The hills began to regenerate and trees began to display their crowns.
There were results to see in just one year. In the protected areas grass production shot up. They could send away cartloads of grass. Next year they managed to get over 700 acres of hill sides under grazing control. Herdsmen were drawn in further and taught fire-patrol, prevention and fighting. Everything was kept informal and corrected as and when needed. Timbaktu's own acres however were planted with greater design, the Permaculture way.