Around a year and a half ago, I happened to visit Amodagarh near Seoni district approximately 22 kilometers away from the district headquarters. A rocky terrain with little streams passing through the hills, surrounded with swathes of bamboo, Mahua and deciduous trees, this spot is believed to be the original locale of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book – the hypothetical cradle of Mogli, according to local narratives that have evolved over the years.
Mogli’s little den in the Satpuras
Seoni district known for its breathtaking, picturesque beauty and landscape is most famously known for Pench National Park, housing the Pench Tiger Reserve. tourists, wildlife researchers and photographers from all across the world visit this region from October through May – the peak season when one is fortunate enough to catch rare and mysterious glimpses of nature. Tiger, spotted deer, bison, peacocks and a variety of birds, along with beautiful uncommon flora such as the Ghost Tree, Palash, Kevati, Sagon and Bamboo together contribute to the natural capital of this region. It is believed that these woods in and around Pench, offer the scenic landscape of the Jungle Book stories penned by Kipling, who refers to Seoni’s jungle as Seeonee at various instances in his tales.
One might reminisce fondly the different characters from the Jungle Book– Mogli’s brothers (Akdu, Pakdu), Chameli – the Mother wolf, and Leela, who were the protégés of ‘Sarpanch’ who chaired the sabhas of Seeonee’s wolf pack. It is fascinating to take note of Kipling’s prophetic imagination back then which today translates into concepts of decentralized governance in India’s villages characterized by gram panchayats and gram sabhas. Kurai, one of Seoni’s eight blocks that houses Pench National Park, is one among the numerous rural peripheries of the country where gram sabhas led by sarpanches precede the ‘need for development discourse’ as mandated by participatory approaches to development. The stony and cragged rocks through which water flows in the trenches canopied with rich vegetation- Amodagarh, is believed to have been a common hideout of Mogli and his gang.
Ethnographic beliefs and popular culture
Through his stories, Kipling tried to convey the moral essence underpinning the utopian significance of harmony between nature, wildlife and human beings. The Hindi adaptation promoted by NFDC has several episodes which have a seeming resemblance to the terrain of the Park, its surroundings and forests. If local knowledge is to be trusted, Amodagarh is one of the extended peripheries of Kanha and Pench National Parks (in Mandla and Seoni districts respectively) and is the original inspiration that stimulated Kipling to unleash his imagination and creativity. Overtime however, owing to population spreads, expanding villages through the forests, this celebrated picnic hotspot now exists at the fringes of these parks which are believed to converge through the jungles of Rampuri.
The title song, ‘Jungle Jungle pata chala hai’ created by Gulzaar and Vishal Bharadwaj through the landscape will resonate with people visiting the park, stopping by at the Pench river segregating Seoni and Chhindwara districts on Tiger safaris, evoking similar emotions of familiarity with the landscape. In the simulation directed by Fumio Kurokawa, Mogli is often seen deliberating with his friends in his own solitary confinement trying to unravel the existential dilemma of finding himself somewhere between his ‘friends from the wild’ and ‘mankind’ at these locations of Pench, according to various vernacular versions of the narrative. These popular perceptions have evolved over the years, shaping into different anecdotes for which indigenous knowledge is the only available evidence.
It is captivating to notice how people of the district talk about Mogli’s provenance and have a sense of belongingness to the topography of the region.
Interpretations and conclusions however differ. While some people believe Mogli was found somewhere in the vast Satpura ranges of Madhya Pradesh, others state it was Pench and its surrounding peripheries, where the character was built in fiction.
Brand Mogli: Revival and Recall
The local hotel industry is replete with instances of creative derivation from literature. Bagheera Retreat, Mogli’s Den, The Jungle Home, are a few privately owned hotels around the park which render a rustic and authentic appeal to tourists and visitors.
The Madhya Pradesh Department of Tourism owns the Kipling’s Courtyard, situated very close to the Turia gate – from where Tiger safari vehicles queue up. The hotel is beautifully canvassed with Mogli’s portrayal, and screens several wildlife films focusing on ecological conservation and wildlife protection. In December 2013, the district administration launched the Mogli Souvenir Shop at the Kipling’s Courtyard– a convergence model linking self-help groups to the formal markets, and providing market accessibility to artworks and handicrafts, pottery and bamboo products.
Various projects have promoted the local brand of Mogli so as to generate adequate recall and visibility quotients through means of communication and by focusing on invoking Mogli’s memoirs through building infrastructural capital. Mogli Rest House and Pench Meeting Hall in the district for official purposes, along with Mogli as the brand ambassador of different programmes under the aegis of IEC (Information, Education and Communication) activities –are some of the key areas through which the administration promotes its favourite aboriginal of the jungle.
Additionally, the district consistently pursues several educational endeavors and promotes its indigenous literary heritage by organizing the annual Mogli Bal Mahotsav jointly facilitated by state and district administrations. Held during November- December of every year, Mogli Bal Mahotsav is a three day educational expedition for students centered on environment conservation, ecology and wildlife education. Nature trails, nature walks, tiger safaris and group activities are organized for students from across the state initially screened through various school level essay competitions. The students are usually divided into three groups namely, Balloo, Kaa and Bagheera, incidentally ‘Mogli’s best friends and mentors, according to Kipling’s works.
Thus, serving as an important method of creative pedagogy for children, and reviving memories of their favourite character from these mighty jungles.
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