After visiting the Megalith here, I walk the farther fields. The fields are dry. There is not much cultivation going on here. Some distance away I find a busy site. Lots of men are gathered in the area. Some are loading stuff on to their cycles. Others are carrying heavy loads on heads. People are climbling out from below ground. It appears to be a mine of some sort.
As I get nearer, I find black sand. It is in fact coal. I casually take a couple of pictures. One man says that the mine is not too deep. I am in the middle of composing a picture when I am interrupted rudely.
‘What are you doing? Who are you?’
This man is the only clean man to be seen here. Everyone else is black with coal. He appears to the foreman around here.
I tell him I am from Bangalore and a tourist. ‘Just visiting Bihar,’ I add.
He continues his rudeness. It is clear that I am not welcome here. I put aside my camera and make a quick exit. The scene here is quite hostile.
I return to the village of Pankhri Barwadi. I find some interesting wall paintings and I request a group of women to take pictures. I am allowed to take some snaps but one guy gets suspicious. He inspects my bag and its contents.
‘Are you from NTPC?’ he asks.
‘National Thermal Power Corporation.’
The truth slowly begins to surface. It appears that the coal mine was discovered by the villagers and NTPC is trying to make it its own. Talks are currently underway but NTPC is not giving the villagers a good deal. Mining may become a big operation in these parts in the coming years but the green freshness of this countryside will give way to black grubbiness.
‘They are giving us only ten lakhs for one acre. The land is worth ten times that,’ tells one villager.
‘How much do you make these days?’
‘One trip to Hazaribag can get us as much as Rs. 500.’
In this village I find many cycles loaded with sacks of coal, parked by the road and ready for the night. Cycle stands don’t work with such immense load. Hand-axes or wooden poles or stacks of bricks are used to park the cycles. The trip commences late night to escape the heat of day. From here, men push their cycles on sloping ground all the way to Hazaribag some 25 kms away. The cycles are loaded with as much as 100 kilos of coal. All night they push across the hills. When they reach Hazaribag it is 8 or 9 am. When they return, they queue up at the mine for their turn to get loaded for another night of hard work.
‘There are other mines around here. Don’t visit them. If you do, they will surely take you for NTPC. The crowd here is hostile.’
With this final advice, I take leave of the village folks of Pankhri Barwadi.