Pesose: Of folktales and reality deep inside Kali Tiger Reserve
A long time ago, deep inside the Kali Tiger Reserve, in a cave high up on the hill outside the village of Pesose, a villager entered, only to never return. Perplexed and concerned, the villagers discussed amongst themselves. “Would he have gone to stay there as a sadhu?” one asked, while another questioned, “Do you think there is a ghost in there who might have consumed him?”
The discussion went on for a few days, before one brave villager took on the challenge to go explore the cave. As he stepped in, others waited with bated breath. Days turned into weeks, but there was no news of the second villager either.
The murmurs grew stronger this time with the common consensus that there must be a ghost inside. They were still hoping to find the truth, as a third villager refused to believe the myths and went to figure out the truth for himself.
As the story continues, the third villager was also never seen again. Even though the villagers never returned, there was always a brave person (or was he foolish) who attempted to get into the cave. And like this, 12 people entered the cave, only to never be heard of again; and hence the cave is popularly called Barah Dhunali (12 people) cave.
A popular folklore among the villagers, they believe the story to be true. But perhaps there is some truth woven into the lore considering that the cave is a home for bears. (Remember Jaani Dushman? Just that a human doesn’t turn into a bear; this is real life where bears attack humans without having to deal with curses)
Situated in the Castle Rock Range, Pesose is located by a stream and the villagers are blessed with water throughout the year. There are 13 families in the village, living with legal rights to their land, practising agriculture in an area of 10-12 acres.
Although it sounds like a picture-perfect life, the lives of villagers are fraught with dangers of living in the forest. Their crops are continuously destroyed by wild pigs, Sambar deer and porcupines. The biggest danger though are neither the deers, pigs or porcupines but the bears living in their surroundings. One person from every family in the village has had an encounter with a bear sometime in his/her life. Hence, the villagers don’t dare to get out after it’s dark in the fear they might be attacked.
The hills all around the village are ideal bear habitat, given the caves and rocky areas preferred for roosting. Bears feed on insects like termites but are also partial to fruits and tubers. They are especially active during the flowering season and the jackfruit season. The smells attract them, and this is the time when encounters are the most. Also, when bears are pregnant or with their cubs, they tend to be naturally more aggressive.
Bears rarely attack except when taken by surprise. Being short-sighted, they get startled by a sudden encounter with a human and hence attack. Most attacks happen in forest edges when people engage in forest based activities like collection of firewood, etc.
Situated 20 kms away from the nearest village, the people have no access to medical facilities, schools or a market. In the monsoons, things get worse and they are completely stranded as the roads leading out get flooded. Hence, in the eventuality of a bear attack, they are left to fend for any wounds with whatever medicinal plants they can find in the surroundings.
The distance to the nearest village also hampers their chances of social interaction. Girls from neighbouring villages refuse to marry the boys of Pesose, fearing the bears and being far away from connectivity.
While a lot of city folks often exclaim over a cup of chai, relaxed in their lounge chairs that they would love to shift and stay in a forest, it’s not as rosy as it seems. A forest, part of a tiger reserve, is home to the biggest carnivores and lives of the villagers are anything but easy. They struggle to survive, to make ends meet, and in the case of Pesose not to encounter bears. With no news of them reaching the outside world, they keep ‘bearing the bears’ silently.
Compiled and written by Meghana Sanka