Reporters Journal
Sai Aditya Pradeep
Naoma Devi

It has been a while and the image of Naoma Devi refuses to fade. We were asked to submit our story ideas by 18thof June and with every passing day the pressure of finding that story mounted. Tolma, I figured, would be the perfect place to find that “interesting story”. Secluded in the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve in Uttarakhand, Tolma is a treasure trove of information.

It was on a warm and sunny afternoon that I met Naoma Devi with the intention of finding folk tales from Tolma for my report. Folk lore and stories have always fascinated me as a child. They enchant and enthrall the human mind and have fascinated me with their encrypted meanings.

Naoma was like any other old lady with a gentle demeanor. She had a leathery wrinkled face and many of her teeth were missing. Her eyes spread a warmth that permeated the air around us. But it was her hands that stood out. They spoke of hard work, years of compassion and tremendous pain.

I initiated the conversation by questioning about her work, and family. She replied in the little Hindi she knew. After this conversation outside her little mud hut she then invited us inside as the evening set in. Dadi, as I started calling her, lit firewood in her chullha to keep us warm and laid out rugs made out of goatskin to protect our posteriors from the biting chill. I was quite adamant on getting that perfect story for my report, and kept bringing up the topic. From this point onwards I shifted track. My first attempt at obtaining the local folklore helped me get a glimpse of the local deities. We spoke at length on the gods and goddesses of the village but the only information I could gather related to the rituals that the villagers performed in their honour.

Naoma DeviThere were four of us seated in the tiny mud hut and by this time everyone started pitching in to try and get a story. Dadiji asked us to tell a story of ours in exchange for one of hers and after much thought Anubhuti (my peer) spoke about Karva Chauth (a fast observed by Hindu women in many parts of northern India) but it was not met with any reciprocity. The first night ended with a hope for a story as dadi had promised one for the following the day.

The following morning I spoke to her with renewed vigor and asked her about stories her parents might have told her when she was a kid, to which she merely shook her head as I stood there expecting at least one brilliant tale. Then I asked her about the relations between the various gods and goddesses from time to time. She gave me details of the festivals the villagers celebrate in honor of Bhumyai devata and Bhagyavati Devi.

imageBy this time Anubhuti was getting impatient as she wanted to do a story on local cosmetics and we split ways. I went to Dadima’s field where I helped her with weeding, and again asked about pahadi kahanis but didn’t get anything out of her. On my way uphill I managed to rip my track-pants caused by a clumsy fall. After about 20 minutes I still had not given up on getting the story. Dadi invited me to her house for a cup of namkeen chai. The next time I met Anubhuti she was telling me how clueless the villagers had been about cosmetic herbs and how she had instead advised the young girls on cosmetic products available in the cities. She suggested anti-wrinkle cream to several old ladies of the village.

imageBy now the group had expanded to seven and all of us gathered in Dadi’s hut for a filling meal of namkeen chai and sattu. The tea tasted like soup and provided extraordinary insulation from the cold. Even now I didn’t give up, and asked her yet again for a kahani as chai time is synonymous with kahani time. This time she spent about an hour explaining to us how Bhagyavati Mata visited some 40-odd villages around that area once every 12 years. As dinner approached, we became especially close to her and when the time to leave approached, she broke down. The pain of her loneliness overwhelmed us. Her silent tears spoke volumes. This touched me deep. After an hour of leave taking, the emotional disturbance gradually sunk in. Here was a woman who had every right to live the family life she desired but couldn’t. She spoke of the difficult choices her children faced and how she was helpless. Her very soft nature overwhelmed me. Here was a woman who had no stories to tell but became a story in herself. Her last words to us were “take care of your life, your happiness and most importantly your family’’. I stood there petrified.

Photo Gallery

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Cartoon Strip
By - Aldrina, Anubhuti, Anjor, Lakshmi
with Ritodhi & Joel
Illustrations - Preeta with Ragini

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