Prakash Amte: Generations of generosity
When I was a kid, my grand mother would tell me mythological stories where there would be gifted teachers in Gurukuls who taught their students how to shoot, swim, solve societal problems, dance, sing, fight and figure out their respective strengths. These were places of thatched hut roof huts among thick forests thriving with animals of all kinds coexisted with the humans. Even the most ghastly beasts succumbed to the learned sages. Being raised in a city where I am even afraid of a stray dog, the thought of wild animals living with humans seems like a magical kingdom only for the stories.
When I first heard of Prakash Amte and about his friendship with leopards and lions and his young grandsons’ ease of handling everything from rattle snakes to wild beasts, it almost seemed surreal. He is part of a multi generational gene pool that has dedicated themselves to the lives of the unforgotten. His father Baba Amte was a pioneer in giving home to lepers, Prakash Amte in provides healthcare for the of the tribals and his niece Sheetal Amte (who is an INK Fellow) to creating a smart village for the lepers and less privileged. Here are a few things that I really admire about Prakash Amte
1. It’s a family calling
To date, three generations of Amtes have committed themselves to live in the most remote parts of India to serve the needs of those who the civil society has chosen to forget. And none of them have any sense of sacrifice or social work driving them. It is as natural as breathing. Each of them enjoys what they do. When you witness a group of people carrying a man whose head has been half eaten by a tiger on a loosely stitched together stretcher walking for days and you do something that makes the man walk back home, the sense of satisfaction that fills you could not possibly match owning any number of homes or cars. Prakash Amte has such a strong air of contentment about him that it rubs off on you.
2. Sense of humour
He has a wicked sense of humour. He usually wanders around his home in a pair of shorts and cotton vest. Many a time an important visitor would go to his home to write or research about him and mistaking him for the household help, ask him to let Dr. Amte know they would like to see him. He would simply nod, go inside, wear his shirt and come out and shake hands with them. I can only imagine how embarrassed the guests might be and how the cheeky Prakash Amte would have a chuckle at their expense.
3. Family time
When I asked Sheetal Amte to tell me a few things about her uncle, she has a lot of things to say and one of them was that he is extremely fond of his grand children and makes sure that he plays a lot with them. He spends a lot of time with his tribal family as well and serves as a judge for any disputes that may arise and his decisions are accepted with a lot of respect.
Now, what do others think of him? Here is a funny story that was told to me by Kiran Khalap, who was the one who originally introduced me to Prakash Amte. He told me bout an incident that was narrated in Prakash Amte’s Marathi book “Prakashvaataa” “Paths of Light”
Suhasini Mulay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suhasini_Mulay) was shooting a film in which Negal, Prakash Amte’s friendly leopard was acting.
So he drove Negal to the shoot sight in a Jeep attached with a trolley. As he drove back, news reached him that a difficult delivery of a baby was at hand. He jumped out and ran into the hospital. Suhasini Mulay’s driver was dumbstruck and said: “What an amazing driver! He can drive, manages a leopard AND helps with deliveries”. All because of his simple dress! The driver must have been shocked to see that a driver who looks just like him could do all these things!
Prakash Amte can pass off to be a driver, cook, household help, a silly grand father, a prankster and behind the scenes be a fair judge, a surgeon and a Magsaysay award winner. Behind the simple look lay a great mind and a generous spirit. I loved spending time with him and his wife and hope to visit him and his wild friends at his home soon.