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Loneliness, broken by a wedding feast: The people in the trees

What is it like to spend all day in or under a mango tree, alone, in a foreign country many many miles from home?

more lifestyle Updated: May 20, 2018 16:32 IST
Reetika Revathy Subramanian
Alphonso,Mango,Hapus
For Kiran Gharti, returning to Lanja in Ratnagiri four years in a row has meant a job promotion, fluent Marathi, and invitations to local weddings.(Reetika Revathy Subramanian)

Tapendra Thapa, 16, has been living for six months in a bamboo hut he built himself. There is no electricity; no running water; no toilet. Instead, he is surrounded by the 8 acres of mango trees that he protects, in Ratnagiri’s Roon village. Beyond it are green fields that get pitch dark at night; the only sounds from within his dark, 6 ft x 8 ft home is the shrieking of monkeys.

This is Tapendra’s first stint in the Konkan. He ran away from home when he was in Class 8; worked at a Chinese street food stall in Pune for a year, and headed to Ratnagiri in December. All he brought with him were a few clothes, his cellphone and some cash. “I’m not afraid of the dark. But apart from monkeys, there is also a possibility of thieves and drunkards entering the farm,” he says.

So he watches the trees by night, and spends his days making wooden crates and packing mangoes for shipment. His senior co-worker is Kiran Gharti. Returning to Lanja four years in a row has meant a job promotion, fluent Marathi, and invitations to local weddings.

“At the beginning, I used to assist. I didn’t understand the language; it sounded like everyone was yelling at me,” says Kiran, laughing. “Today I can recognise the ripened mangoes by their shape. I’m earning Rs 54,000 for six months now instead of Rs 39,000 in my first year.” The young father ends up saving most of the money; his only other source of income is his family’s rice farm in Kailali. “We live on very little while we are here,” Kiran says. “We cook our own meals. We spend only on food.”

The months of April and May, which mark the wedding season, are particularly exciting for the Nepali workers, who get invited to as many as two weddings a week. “This year, there have been about nine weddings just in Roon village. Some of the Rakhwaldars have become familiar faces, so they come in a group and feast on the delicacies, especially the meat,” says Paradkar, whose brother married in the first week of May.

In the many weeks with no weddings, life can get very dull and lonely, the Rakhwaldars admit. There is poor cellphone connectivity and a lot of time spent alone. “I get homesick and exhausted, especially after sunset,” says Tapendra. “Just thinking of all the time I have to spend here alone can feel lonely. Sometimes, I listen to songs saved on my phone, or else I just think and dream.” Meanwhile, he’s learning Marathi, in preparation of the years ahead.

First Published: May 19, 2018 21:13 IST