A handful of people may not be able to save the planet and redeem it from damage. But Nikita Gaud firmly believes in making whatever difference she can to the environment. Staying at Sadhna Forest, a beautiful Utopian community in a village called Moratandi, just a few km away from Pondicherry, she has dedicated her life to reforestation, renounced all worldly pleasures and decided to lead the rest of her life serving the planet.
In college, she was like any other youngster. During one of her college vacations, she thought that she needed a break and decided to go to Pondicherry. She was looking for cheap places to stay; one thing led to the other and she landed up in Sadhana Forest, a volunteer-based organisation practising and disseminating sustainable water conservation, organic food growing and indigenous reforestation techniques. “From the moment I set foot in Sadhana Forest, I decided that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It was like going back to nature. We lived in huts, used bicycles and public transport as much as possible, turned vegetarian in order to stop supporting the massive factory farms that are a major cause for food shortage on the planet, took bucket showers, abstained from using washing machines and air conditioners and the like. I stayed there for a few weeks and went back home. But my heart was always rooted at the place and I kept going back. I then mustered up the courage to tell my parents of my decision — that I would be staying there forever.”
Just like Nikita, there are many others who kept visiting and then decided to stay on permanently. One is not charged a penny for living there. Members have to work in the fields and cook their own food. “There is no hired help at the home and we take turns to work in the fields, cook food and clean the hut. We depend upon the produce from the fields to survive.”
Another remarkable principle that the members follow is unschooling. “We do not believe in the education system, so none of the kids at the home is formally educated. We teach children only if they express a need to learn. Otherwise, these kids are excellent dancers and artistes. They are all very happy and content with their lives.”
Even though the forest is situated in a secluded village in India, most people in the group are from Israel, Russia and the US. “Apart from me, there is only one Indian couple staying permanently at the home,” says Nikita.
Since its inception in December 2003, Sadhana Forest has completely transformed the previously arid landscape improving the lives of the local people. The underground water table has been raised by 6 metres and 22,500 indigenous trees have been planted, with a survival rate of over 90 per cent. “All the knowledge is shared with local people and the model can be replicated throughout the world. We have workshops in which kids from the village come over to the home. We have interactive sessions and classes. They practise an ecofriendly way of life by living simply,” she says.