Trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables whizz past this tribal village on the Mumbai-Visakhapatnam national highway every night, supplying food to the country's financial capital. The highway has put Vaishakhare village in Thane district on the map. It has also brought to the village the vegetables and fruits which were once available only in the cities. But the same connectivity has endangered the knowledge of wild vegetables that grow in surrounding forests and have to be foraged.
To preserve the culinary tradition of the local Thakar community of which forest vegetables are an important part, some organisations in the district have been making conscious efforts for the last six years.
On World Environment Day, a competition to collect as many varieties of wild vegetables as possible and cook them was organised at Vaishakhare.
Groups from eight villages in the vicinity foraged for veggies in nearby forests Tuesday, woke up early Wednesday to cook them, and brought the preparations to the competition which was the main attraction of the `Hirvya Devachi Yatra' (The Festival of Green God).
"This community revers nature and believes that god is present in every natural element," said Padmavati Gupte, one of the organisers.
The competition saw 57 varieties of rare veggies on display. In the previous years as many as 72 varieties had made their way to the festival, but not all of them were available this year due to delayed rains, local people said.
A group of women from Singapur village emerged winner, presenting a platter of 41 wild veggies.
"Cabbage and brinjal cost Rs 20 a kg, but these raan bhajis (forest veggies) are free," 60-something Tulsi Pandu Wagh of Bhaangwadi said.
There was a community dance competition, handicraft and rangoli competitions where only forest produce was to be used, and a prize for the `best forest management' by a village.
Eight villages in the area have been granted community management rights of forests under the Forest Rights Act.
"Our intent is to help grow the forest and ensure that rich cultural practices of the community are preserved," said Indavi Tulpule, who conceptualised the event.
Tulpule, a lawyer, said it was a misconception that consumerism was the only way to happiness, and underlined the minimalistic lifestyle of tribal communities.
Mukta Dabholkar, daughter of the slain rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, was the chief guest at the event.