Ganesh Venkataraman's second book, Hemalkasa - 22 Hours, 22 Streaks is a collection of essays deceptively independent of each other, but in point of fact attempts to coalesce together aspects of nature mysticism and spirituality combined with a unique ability to comment on India's political, secular, economic and cultural contradictions as a clever sidebar. The slim booklet, just 74 pages with a tail segment of photographs, literally to lend colour and verisimilitude, provides the reader with enough to think about and reflect.
The primary setting for most of the chapters is set deep in the Gadchiroli forests of Hemalkasa in Maharashtra, a few hours' drive from Nagpur, where Dr. Prakash Amte, son of the noted humanist Baba Amte runs Lok Biradari Prakalpa, a social welfare project that encompasses education to the underprivileged, medical facilities through an efficient hospital, animal welfare and an understanding of man's relationship, or the lack of it, with nature. In so doing, the project attempts to develop children in a holistic fashion, where creature comforts, literally and metaphorically, as well as the development of the mind get equal weightage.
Clearly for such a noble cause, there is no dearth of volunteer help on offer. Lok Biradari is directly inspired by Anandwan, conceived and run by Dr. Prakash Amte's illustrious father.
The author, who travels with two of his friends through dangerous terrain in the woods of Gadchiroli, to spend a day at Lok Biradari, experiences the contradictory coexistence of hostile migrants against the peaceful locals where violence and death are an ever-present threat, and even the appointed guardians of the law cannot always be counted upon to tell right from wrong. It is in this context that the haven created by Dr. Prakash Amte for his wards, both human and animal, stands out like a shimmering oasis in a parched desert. Except that this is not a mirage but a shining reality.
One of the more notable, and slightly bizarre, features of this collection is the two chapters devoted to the tragically comatose racing ace, Michael Schumacher. In the context of the book's primary intent this may seem an impossibly irrelevant stretch, but somehow, Venkataraman manages to find relevance in Schumacher's present existence in the nether world, not knowing if his comatose state is permanent or if there is light at the end of the tunnel, and carrying a torch of hope which he finds wherever he turns in the forests of Gadchiroli. One can find fault with the author's overweening admiration for Schumacher getting the better of him, but he manages to forge that link, however tenuous.
Ganesh Venkataraman casts a 360 degree perspective on a subject close to his heart. His earlier work The Madhigattan Encounter was a fictionalised and more fully imagined commentary on India's state of affairs, whereas Hemalkasa is a series of stream of consciousness jottings on a real life project, which opens the reader's eyes to a completely different world where selflessness and compassion rule the hearts and minds of those who run projects like Lok Biradari. Dr. Prakash Amte and his band of followers hide their light under a bushel, and it is timely that someone like Venkataraman has taken the trouble to reach out and record his observations on a subject where few have thus far ventured....