A few days back the navi mumbai edition of a leading daily carried a half-page report on a NGO being run by a lady. The article mentioned that the lady was a dynamic person who had spent more than ten years of her life to set up an organisation that worked for the preservation and cultivation of ayurvedic and other medicinal plants. Her organisation was situtated in one of the hills in Navi Mumbai and reportedly she also extended help to the tribals who were the original in habitants of the hill. The article mentioned that herbal medicines were provided to those ill and facilities for a naturopathy centre ,yoga centre were also available. Pure ayurvedic medicinal plants and medicines were available on sale.
Reading the article, my mom got very excited. She loves plants and gardening is a hobby she has maintained for a number of years now. If we had the space, our home would have been over flowing with plants of all shapes,sizes and colours, as it indeed did in Delhi! She is also fond of learning about alternate medicine. Naturally the combination of plants and ayurvedic medicines was too hard to resist for her. This place just had to be checked out. So on the weekend, we got our car out on the road and began our hunt for this NGO.
I wasn’t too excited about this expidition. “How does this lady expect us to find her NGO if she doesn’t provide a telephone no. or an address.” I told my mother. But Ma was sure that it wouldn’t be that hard. “How big is Navi Mumbai? She had given the name of the hill and the name of the township. We’ll ask a few people and find it. “ my enternally optimistic mom replied. Not wanting to kill her enthusiasm, I decided to not get hyper about the lack of a proper address and just enjoy the ride. Worse come worse, we take a round trip and get back home,I told myself.
We reached the general area mentioned in the article and began asking people for further directions. The first three persons we asked were clueless. If you live in a city that has a non-existant original population and consists almost entirely of people who have come from all over the country and settled there, it is rather difficult to find directions to an old hill on which tribal villages have been situated since centuries. Luckyly the forth man we encountered seemed to know exactly where the NGO was. He gave us precise directions to reach there and as we were thanking him and moving ahead, he slipped us this line” Why do you want to go there madam?? Its quite far from here and that lady is from Congress.” Paying no heed to him, we continued on our journey, extatic that finally someone had been able to point us in the right direction.
Around 35minutes later, after conquering a rather steep hill with round, winding roads( its amazing what all you will find hidden in nooks and corners of this city!) we found ourselves at the gate of the NGO,facing a large board with faces of Sonia Gandhi and numerous other Congress I members plastered on it. We weren’t too impressed with that, but since we had already reached our destination, we thought it best to at least check out the place.
We walked in and found the lady. She, along with another lady, was sitting on a large swing under the shade of trees, gently swaying with the movement of the swing and enjoying the cool breeze. They were talking to a tribal woman, who quickly disappeared on seeing us. We introduced ourselves briefly and told her we were very keen to see her plants. The lady looked at us in surprise( not too many people make it to her place, I take it), mumbled two sentences about how she grows plants and supplies them to drug companies like Himalaya and then abruptly left us mid-way through the conversation to answer her mobile phone( A pain is what they are, I tell you!). As she went on and on about “Congress I’s plan”, we patiently waiting. Realising we were waiting for her to finish, she told us “Why dont you go to those two boys there? They will show you all the plants” The two boys we were sent to were extremely busy. They were sitting on a large table set on one of the lower levels of the mountain, listening to “Dil Da Mamala Hai Dilbar” on full volume on their mobile phones (I repeat:A pain is what they are, I tell you!). Honestly, after exchanging one sentence with them we figured out that they were interested in introducing us to anything. ” Its all here Aunty. Take a walk down the hill on that side and you will find the plants. See? Right there. Just follow the tracks. If you want to see lemon grass then thats the plant behind you” Now you don’t tell someone who has been gardening for some 25 odd years, what lemon grass is. And if you do, be prepared for the consequences. Mom was royally ticked off. We didn’t travel all the way to be shown lemon grass!! Mom and I thanked the boys( for what I don’t know.) and started walking back towards the exit. On the way out mom quickly peeped into the so called clinic and came out looking totally disappointed. No medicines, no furniture, no apparatus and no patients. What kind of a clinic does that make?
We walked out of the place, waiting for the lady or the boys to say something to us. They couldn’t have cared less. The lady continued yapping on the phone and the boys had gone back to listening to the latest bollywood numbers.
Ma and I went back home extremely disheartened. All our effort and enthusiasm had been for nothing. Something about that place didn’t add up. How can the person who spearheaded a project be so disinterested in introducing its activities to visitors? Why would someone who want to make the good work being done by its organisation known to others deliberately not publishe names/addresses/tel.no.s in the newspaper? If the NGO claimed to help tribals, why were there no tribals visible on the premises? How was the NGO providing medical help through the clinic, when the clinic didn’t even exist? If the NGO only supplies plants( as mentioned by the lady), and doesnt prepare medicines, then does it expect the poor tribals to eat the plants raw or process them to make their medicines at home? The lady claimed to be working amongst the tribals, admist their villages, then why couldn’t we spot a village in the vicinity?Not a single thing about this organisation seemed right. To me it looked like one of those organisation that exist only on paper and are a sure shot means of making money for those heading it. The lady didn’t seem to care for the project or the people. All she seem to care about was “Congress I plan” and the business she generated by selling the plants to drug companies. ”I am certian that it was a full fledged business in the garb of an NGO. I have always had serious reservations about polititians,especially those who supposedly run non-profit, non governmental organisation. The meeting with the lady only re-confirmed my reservations.
The only thing good that came out of our disasterous visit was that we got to see a completely new side of Navi Mumbai. I knew we had a few hills belonging to the Sahyadri range somewhere, but had never explored them. The hill itself was beautiful. Peaceful and quiet. A good change from the now familiar concrete jungle that I live in.