The Optimist Citizen

Painting walls to resurrect ghost villages to life

The Wise Wall Project: Project FUEL uses its visionary concept of life lessons to bring life to the forgotten village of Khati in Uttarakhand.    

Far away, on your way to the Pindhari Glacier trek in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, you would find the village of Khati – a cluster of huts, obliquely hidden in the misty hills. Veiled, Khati’s vision of the world has been almost blurred, unreachable. Expect the trekkers who cross its land, Khati remains hidden – an unseen and a lifeless existence. No road connectivity, lack of electricity and basic health facilities, Khati’s unfortunate destiny – shaped by its location – had made life difficult for local inhabitants.

A view of Khati | Image courtesy: Project Fuel
A view of Khati | Image courtesy: Project Fuel

But one might wonder why is an unknown, almost unseen, remote village been talked about here?

In March, Uttarakhand and the surrounding states witnessed the vibrancy of Khati penetrating through the mist that had enveloped it. The monochromatic, gloomy aura set by its lifelessness was incarnated to a new sparkling light – rendering the ambience lively, and colourful. The village’s vivid culture and beauty manifested itself on the colourfully painted walls of the houses. In no time all of this art caught the eye of the urban world situated far away from it.

It was exactly what the Wise Wall Project had aimed at.

Wise Wall Project, an initiative started by Project FUEL seeks to collect and present rural wisdom through art. It accomplishes this by documenting the life lessons, experiences, and values of rural inhabitants in the form of paintings on the walls of the houses of the inhabitants of the village.

The first edition of Wise Wall Project was conducted in a village named Saur in Uttarakhand. Saur was also called the Ghost village because it had a high migration rate, leaving behind few in the village. The reason can be attributed to its remoteness and lack of livelihood opportunities in the village. The Wise Wall Project brought glory to the village and made a massive impact in terms of generating more opportunities for livelihood and education.

The first Wise Wall Project in Saur Village of Uttarakhand | Image courtesy : Vibhor Yadav
The first Wise Wall Project in Saur Village of Uttarakhand | Image courtesy: Vibhor Yadav

Post the success of the first project, the Wise Wall Project made its way through the mountains, to Khati in Uttrakhand. Khati was chosen because it was the last village of the Pindhari Glacier trek. Decorating the village through art and making it livelier would increase the amount of engagement of the travellers with the village. With captivating art draping the city,  Khati will now be a place for longer stay and a rich source of rural knowledge for the travellers. It was also easier for the team to conduct this project in Khati because it is a close cluster of houses, unlike other scattered villages in the region. The team found Khati to have a rich history and traditional knowledge and hence wanted to celebrate it through art. The team mentions that the amount of hospitality that they received from the villagers was incomparable and hence this made their experience throughout the project even more beautiful.

The work of Project FUEL in Khati under The Wise Wall Project | Image courtesy: Project FUEL
The work of Project FUEL in Khati under The Wise Wall Project | Image courtesy: Project FUEL

This project was conducted in collaboration with The Hans Foundation – an organization that works with and supports numerous partners who specifically to cater to the needs of the underprivileged people.  The organization currently is active in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand on an integrated village development programme that addresses the problems of education, menstrual hygiene, water supply and electricity. Hence, the Wise Wall Project envisioned to bring greater visibility to the challenges faced by the villagers and the way the foundation is catering to those.

In the month-long project, the enthusiastic, creative, and explorative volunteers – 40 in number – went around the village and interacted with residents to collect their stories, experiences, and life lessons. These vivid stories and life lessons were then beautifully painted on the walls in the Aipan style, which is a Kumaoni style of art that has patterns comprising of a combination of lines and dots. This art form is considered sacred and auspicious by the community and one can find the floors of the houses decorated in this style. Poornima Sukumar, a wall muralist and an integral part of the project mentions how she stumbled upon this art form in a book that spoke about the art forms in Uttarakhand. “Everyone in the village had stories to share, the entire process made me connect more with them. We tried taking their life lessons and then imagine ways on how to represent those life lessons using elements since painting a human form on the walls was considered a bad omen by some” says Poornima.  

Deepak Ramola, Founder of Project FUEL, interacting with a volunteer | Image courtesy : Project FUEL
Deepak Ramola, Founder of Project FUEL, interacting with a volunteer | Image courtesy: Project FUEL

Deepak Ramola, the founder of Project FUEL and the mind behind this project believes that this would bring greater visibility to the village, the lifestyle of the villagers and their challenges. Getting noticed by the national and global audience would lead to reinforcement of the process of resource provision for the village. He feels that the immediate need of the community is road connectivity which will lead to greater access to other facilities like education and health services. An extensive project like this would somehow acknowledge the existence of such a place and hence make it more visible to the urban audience.

Image courtesy : Project FUEL
Image courtesy: Project FUEL

“It was indeed a life-changing experience to be away from the usual lifestyle filled with use of gadgets and technology. It is the spaces like Khati that enable us to go back to ‘conversations’, create avenues for us to be in the moment. What this project also brought for the team was an inspiration to be grateful for the resources that we have (and not take those for granted),  acknowledge the fact that there are people who live without these and are still so gracious and kind. The point is not to show sympathy or pity towards the conditions of the community, but to celebrate the fact that there is another way to be alive – the way such communities are living.” says Deepak, a gasp evident in voice resonating his vision for a livelier Khati.

As a part of the project, the team also did photo documentation of the indigenous craft work, costumes and cuisines of the village community. This will be followed by the making of a documentary film on Khati, which will be released by the end of this year. You can contact Deepak here to know more about the work of Project FUEL and their work with The Wise Wall Project.


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