A youth from indigenous community but savior of many
Devnarayan Mahato, 29, lives with his small family at the bank of Riu River in Madi of Chitwan. Riu River separates Madi from Chitwan National Park and has become the cause of death and worries to more than 50 thousand people of Madi. And Mahato is the savior.
Mahato on his cart. The bridge at the background is under construction since last three years but seems it will never complete.
Hailing from an indigenous Tharu community, he didn’t have formal education. Asked about his literacy, he shyly said ‘1 or 2 class’. Asked why he didn’t continue, he smiled and said because they taught in the ‘same’ (Nepali; same because the question was also in Nepali) language.
He had a terrible childhood. His father died when he was just ten. And he had to leave for India to earn for him and his family. He did every task there from dishwashing to rickshaw pulling. And finally he got back to home after ten years; almost empty handed but with enlightenment that he will ‘do something’ in his own homeland.
Since then, he has been rearing two buffaloes and pulls cart. Pulling cart is not only challenging but a daring task. He has ten friends like him who pull carts at Riu River. The seasonal Riu River has water level up to many meters in rainy season and goes dry during dry months. The River has the fast flow as it originates from Mahabharat peaks. And the only alternative way of transportation for 50,000 inhabitants of Madi during rainy season is to cross the river on carts. And Mahato is one to facilitate those people.
Passengers on those buses also have to opt for the carts to cross River during rainy season.
Mahato doesn’t have much task at the river as the water level has gone down and most of the walkers and bicyclers cross the river on foot. Thus, Mahato and his friends have set up a queue system on which two carts facilitate the motorcyclists and others on crossing the river. They charge 20 rupees per motor cycle.
Mahato, on the day of his turn, comes early in the morning to the river and begins his job. Throughout the day, he keeps on helping the motor cyclists to cross the river and collects nearly five hundred rupees at the evening. With that money he has to fend his family of a son, a daughter along with his wife and also for the buffaloes. His miseries are doubled during other days when he doesn’t have the turn at the river, because at other days he may not even earn single penny if there is no work at the village. Thus he hopes the rainy season begins soon.
Nevertheless, pulling cart during rainy season in Riu River is like confronting death. The water level during this season is very fluctuating. It may rise or go down in no time; thus creating terror to cross the river at any time. Mahato recalls “the water level can go up at any time even when we are at the middle of the river on the cart. It is daring to save ourselves and our buffaloes.” He wishes rain just because he can earn good living from there. All ten carts are operating; means his cart will also be pulled everyday. However, he recalls that unlike nowadays, he will have worse time then the buffaloes. He says- “We pull our carts till the water level is up to our neck (nearly up to 5 feet). We push our buffaloes from many hundred meters up and cross the River with the flow of water. Sometimes we are not sure whether our buffaloes will really carry us across.”
Thus the bicyclers crossed the river. They will also have to rely on the carts to cross the river during rainy season
The cart travelers during those days go wet up to their neck, confronting death every minute; so do Mahato and his friends. Other eight to ten people are needed to push the cart to prevent it from floating and flowing down. The people wait for hours at the River bank with the hope the water level goes down. Sometimes they are lucky, many times not.
However, Mahato and his friends do their best to let the travelers reach destination, ignoring their own death. Madi inhabitants have a faith on those people, all from indigenous Tharu community that they are the bridge over Riu River.
Mahato helps the blogger to cross the River. He even called his friend to help the blogger when he said he couldn’t hold the motorbike on the cart.
(Pics: Indra Dhoj Kshetri)