Trip to Timbaktu

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

Ever heard of Timbaktu? No, not the city in Mali, West Africa, which also is an expression that denotes inaccessible wilderness. This is the Timbaktu situated in our own country— an oasis of progress and peace in the drought-prone district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh.

I happened to visit the place when my grand-daughter landed a job with an NGO that worked in Timbaktu. We were told that Timbaktu was all about ‘sustainable development’ but did not quite understand what this amounted to. The smooth highway that we travelled on wound through rocky terrain interspersed with green patches of vegetation. After a while, we turned left on to a rough road bordered with tall trees and thorny outgrowths. This took us to a glade in which the building complex stood.

What we saw was a cluster of single-storied structures that accommodated the staff as well as the guests. The rooms and their surroundings were traditional in style. There was none of the glitz and glamour associated with urban living— the thatched roofs supported by bamboo struts, the white-washed walls, and stone-paved floors. The electricity came from solar panels. There were earthen pots that held cool drinking water. Plastic was discouraged. Though the sun was shining bright, there was no unbearable heat

We went to the dining hall for lunch and found that everyone, oblivious to hierarchy, was sharing the same food. The fare was organic, simple, nutritious and tasty. The children who attended the school on the premises also joined us. No food was wasted. All left-overs were deposited into bins and later fed to the bullocks that ploughed the fields.

At the core of the enterprise was a couple who firmly believed that land denuded and overused could be rejuvenated and restored through sensible and sustained efforts. They established an NGO called ‘The Timbaktu Collective’.

The poor farmers were encouraged to come together and dig trenches to carry rain-water. Crops endemic to the region were planted. The response was encouraging. Women’s Co-operatives were formed, allowing its members to earn a steady income. Then a school was opened for the poor. Next came the empowerment of the disabled through occupational therapy. Shops selling organic products augmented the earnings for the community.

The organization has lived up to one its telling motto: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.’ In Swahili, ‘Timbaktu’ means ‘where heaven meets the earth’. One cannot help echoing Rabindranath Tagore’s words, ‘Into that heaven of freedom, may my country awake.’

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