Beware.. the jungle-5

“It is lavender,” Aron told Sid, “This is what they were smelling of.” Sid had never seen lavender before in his life, but knew the name of the flower from books.

Sid smelled the flower

“They must have been carrying more of this,” Sid thought aloud to account for the smell, “In those huge backpacks.”

“That much lavender must cost a lot,” said Aron, “Hey, they even transported it without paying anything. They duped us with the singing.” He started laughing.

Sid was laughing too, “Don’t worry, they are going back with us, so you better take care not to become enthralled by her this time around.”

Aron was thinking, “Remember how they were in such a hurry to leave. They must be delivering a fresh crop of lavender.”

Soon however they put the couple away from their thoughts and got down to the business of unloading and arranging to transport the load to the buyer who would turn the grain to flour. It was a lot of work for the two friends, but in the end it went well. Their work was finished the same evening, so they had two nights to spend in the western big city. As they walked out of the grain merchant’s warehouse, they faced a street full of eateries of different shapes, sizes and aromas. They ordered pulao, biryani, and cheese paranthas; masala chaas and gulab jamun.

Pulao, Biryani, Cheese Paranthas and Masala Chaas

The flavors were spicy and the biryani seemed especially pungent to Sid, who was more used to eating food cooked by his mother at home in the village, or the simple fare that he himself could prepare at his place in the town. He found the chaas, which was only buttermilk with added flavors, to be a soothing drink.

After they paid for their meal, there was a commotion outside. Though the big city was always bustling, the buzz was unusual enough and the cashier at the eatery left his counter and went out to watch. Coming out Sid saw two stout policemen escorting a lean young man. It was more like they were dragging him along, with one of the cops firmly clasping the left arm of the unfortunate fellow while the other cop held the end of a thick rope which was tightly wound to the wrist of the man.

The policemen were dragging him along

The three passed right outside the eatery. The prisoner looked at them and then away as he went. Sid gasped quietly as Aron put a heavy hand on his shoulder. Between the two policemen walked Dara who had traveled with them to the town. There was no sign of Maya.

To be continued…

Beware.. the jungle-4

The wholesaler had warned about the jungle, but he liked the fruit and paid good price for it. To Sid it felt that they were onto a good thing, but Aron wasn’t sure. Aron had spent eight years moving fruit and grain between the town and cities and was more comfortable with movement on land that he knew best. It cost more time and money but fruit and grain had always been transported in this area on tractors and trucks and before that on bullock carts.

The Subversives?

Most people never went to the northern jungle and avoided going even towards it. The stories of horror were multilayered. There was an active insurgency in the area and the jungles were hotbeds of the disgruntled who had taken up arms. Their targets were sometimes off-duty policemen but more commonly informants. They hated snitches and suspected any stranger near their hideout of being one.

There couldn’t have been many of the subversives but the political patronage for such people was strong. They became useful to carry out dirty jobs for the unscrupulous-ambitious. For a specific category of politicians a banner like this was an opportunity to collect the disgruntled around themselves.

The last person killed by a tiger in the area may have been a decade ago, but bullet riddled bodies had been discovered more recently. Powerful patronage meant that police action was taken only in response to specific incidents and not as a consistent policy to rid the region of the scourge.

They felt lucky that they were not accosted on the last trip. Sid wanted to continue their venture and Aron agreed one more time. First thing they would need was a suitable motor for their boat, to take them upstream and also to give them better control downstream. Aron knew somebody, who knew an old hand to guide them with choosing the right motor. The preparations were complete in a few days. Sid and Aron loaded the boat with grain to carry to the western big city.

As they were loading, a couple approached them. They looked like locals and spoke in the same manner. Each carried a heavy backpack which they put down near the boat. As soon as the couple arrived, there was a wonderful aroma in the air. They helped with the loading and the work was completed rather quickly. Sid and Aron thanked the man and the woman, who requested nicely to be dropped at the pier near the western big city.

A couple

The flow to the western big city was gentler and the boat went slowly as they kept the motor off to save on fuel. They were careful to see where they were going but there was no trouble this time.It was idyllic. A gentle breeze blew from the east and the woman was singing softly. Sid couldn’t make out everything but it was a song about the jungle in different seasons.

It took 5 hours to reach the pier near their destination. Though it was about half an hour more than it would have taken a truck to reach the same place if the road was clear, it was certainly more pleasant; and the truck would have cost more. Soon after they reached the pier, the couple, Dara and Maya wanted to leave. Before leaving Maya asked Sid when they planned to go back and could she and Dara possibly join them on the return trip. A date was fixed and then they had work to do.

A flowering shoot

When Sid came back on board, Aron showed him a flowering shoot he had picked up from the boat. It was about a foot long and bluish in color with a wonderful, uplifting smell or so it seemed to Sid.

To be continued..



Beware.. the jungle-3

As the boat speeded down the stream, Aron felt slightly sick. Aron was thirty two and had a family to care for. To him Sid was just a kid looking for adventure and to make money in the bargain. Aron needed some money himself and had had enough of transporting fruit and things for other traders. “Was this trip a mistake?”, Aron was thinking.

Aron

Definitely he would not like to get onto this boat again any time soon. But he had to get off it first.

Sid, twenty three, still felt good about this job. They hadn’t met with anymore difficulties after the encounter with the crocodile at the sand bar. Another hour perhaps and they should be taking the load off the boat. They were good apples, the best. He hoped to make some money on this and many more trips. Why the other traders don’t do the same, he wondered.

Sid & Aron

It was past midnight when they reached the wharf. Two of their friends had gone to sleep waiting for them. They had brought along carts to carry the fruit to town.

Arriving at the wharf

The next day when they sold the fruit to the wholesaler at the market in town, they could see that they were on to a good thing. After the financial matters were settled, the wholesaler offered them snacks and tea and in the chit-chat that followed found out the route which they had taken. The wholesaler shook his head sagely and then shook the finger of his right hand in Sid’s face. “Beware of the jungle, my boy,” he said, “Beware..”.

To be continued…

Around the World

Every time there is a shooting at a school, a mall or a store at the USA, people around the world wonder how come guns are so easily available there. The president can’t face the truth and deflects attention towards mental illness. But if that were the reason for so many shoot-ups then the presence of such mental illness would have to be endemic to the US. Its a situation where Americans have to either decide to take the obvious solution or to let it grow even bigger, till nobody can overlook it.

The most common reason why we can’t change is because we have been identifying ourselves by a previous decision we made; such as the right to bear arms.

Because we can’t believe we can ever be wrong; a past turn we took has locked us into not going back to it and we are trying to find another way to where-ever it is we want to go now. But there is no other way. The right to bear arms is fine for the police and the security forces. It is not normal for people who live in a community.

By the same logic, it is also not normal for a nation to keep arming the world. If you have taken the lead to supply arms to the world, and now there are others in the race to supply arms, it is surely not going to result in a beautiful, happy world. The world is not big enough for all your arms and it is bound to burst, sooner rather than later. All of us that can’t see it may have perfect eyes, but closed minds.

So it seems the world has a leading country, a hero of the past, glorified by action in world war-II, the champion of the free world and all this enhanced by Hollywood. Then we have the followers, countries looking up to it for policy directions, again due to reasons of the past. These followers are somewhat uncertain by the unpredictable actions of the present administration, but are hoping that things will go back to being normal in 2020. Things, however can never go back; they always have to find a new normal.

Much of the rest of the world are made up of the slighted. People that feel they have been slighted by the cold war, or those that were scorned for poor human rights records. These countries, now resurgent, are also driven by their own past experience and are now seeking to dominate, to prove that they were right.

There are of course those that live in the shadows of the world. Whom the light does not reach and nor will these words. They have their own strong beliefs and fears. They believe they have been kept away from their inheritance of the world. They survive by doing shady deals. They also fear that the Satan is trying to change the nature of their youth. To prevent this, also perhaps hoping to regain their inheritance, they are prepared to blow it all up, secure in the false knowledge that their version of paradise, jannat, is indestructible. They do not see that the earth is the only paradise we have.

If we look at the faces of the children of the world, the innocence in our own children’s hearts is reflected there. If we could just shrug off the baggage of the past, throw it down and walk back to the wrong turn; and take the route that is correct. Confident in each other that it is the right thing to do. If we could look at each other with fresh eyes, as equals, and live with all shades of people that make up the world. This is our paradise.

Beware.. the jungle-2

As you guessed correctly , Sid decided to use the power of the quick and smooth flowing river to bring fruit to the town. Fresh oranges and apples grew beyond the brown hills to the east in orchards near the big city.

There were orchards
and more orchards

He imagined he would load the fruit onto a boat or a barge and steer it to the little unused wharf north of his town. Moving apples from the wharf to the market in town would take only an hour by carts.

Sid’s friend Aron bought an old boat that was just right for the job and got it repaired. Sid made a deal for a ton of fruit and arranged to get it loaded onto the boat and soon they should head downriver with their precious cargo.

By the time they finished with their business in the eastern big city, loaded the boat with the fruit and started back, it had gotten dark. A gentle breeze blew from the hills, Sid and Aron were tired but happy as they allowed the boat to go downstream with the flow. Each had a long paddle to help them steer as well as to keep away from any obstacles; not that there appeared to be many. They sang as they watched the water take the boat along almost effortlessly.

“What time do you suppose we’ll reach town?”, Aron asked.

“Three more hours I guess, maximum four.” This was the first time they were going by boat, but Sid knew it had to be shorter than the winding land route, which used to take nearly nine hours. Water would take the best path down.

They would never know whether they had drifted off to sleep, both of them, when there was a sharp lurch and the boat turned around slightly so that the part of the port side was facing the water running down while the front or the bow rested on a grassy bar. It was quite dark and they hadn’t seen the ground ahead before running into it.

Quickly both friends dragged the boxes of fruit away from the grounded side of the boat. They checked to make sure they were not taking water. Then Sid leaped over the gunwale into the shallows to attempt to push the boat off the sand bar. The boat didn’t budge.

Aron pushed a paddle into the ground as Sid pushed the boat with his hands into deeper water. It moved ever so slightly.

Upriver, something was waiting quietly. At least Sid could feel something even as he used all his strength to push the boat away, as Aron used the paddle, both shouting as they worked. Then the boat shifted. It was quickly moving into the fast flowing river.

Sid tried to hold onto the side and as his left arm slipped off the fast moving boat, he felt Aron grab him. As Sid pulled himself into the boat, Aron pointed down in the water where Sid had been a moment ago. There was a crocodile in the water.

Just the top part of the crocodile was visible. It was a big one too, not that they had seen any before. Sid had only heard people talk of crocodiles and other wild beasts when they wanted to prevent their children going near the river. He hadn’t believed any of it before now.

They couldn’t afford to relax their vigil now before they reached the town. Each with a paddle, they stood near the bow to keep away from ground.

To be continued…

Reading, Listening & Living

The great thing about reading, or perhaps even listening, is that you get exposed to different ideas, people, cultures and language styles.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a popular and beautiful story that appears to show the reader that unlimited powers are available to her, if she wills it.

Dan Brown‘s The Da Vinci Code while giving the reader puzzles to solve also brings the divine close enough to touch physically, or so it seems.

Reading or listening to Jiddu Krishnamurti can draw the listener from the mundane to the stillness deep within him.

The Courage to be disliked: How to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness by Ichiro Kishimi has a very long title that tends to turn people off, yet the book contains powerful ideas that have gained following, especially in Asia.

But we should not be surprised when Paulo Coelho’s second (or third) book does not uplift us or if we have trouble completing it; nor if Brown becomes boring or if after a very still and peaceful evening, we wake up to find that we are struggling with the mundane again. Now you may decide to open The Daily Stoic…., by Ryan Holiday which has a meditation for everyday or remember (as Coelho says) to fight the good fight.

The hidden hazard in being an avid reader, or listener is that if you like an idea a lot, you risk being led by the author to places you may not like. It starts with liking ideas from an author, and saying yes to them all, so that you forget that you still have the power to say no. It is important to remain in touch with your own feelings so that you can quickly turn back whenever you notice that you are at the wrong place.

Better to regain faith in oneself and to avoid leaning for support on the author, who is herself on a journey of search and discovery through life. This journey is one of struggle that changes most, if not all.

We struggle at work, on the road and perhaps also at home. Some of us may struggle on the battlefield at national borders. Notice that often this struggle is for (or against) ideas, people and cultures. These are the kind of things that we are exposed to when we read and listen. When we read, we are receptive to the idea, the person and the culture. The challenge is to remain positive during the daily struggle, as during the reading.

Positions of Weakness and Strength

When you want something too much, the first thing you are prepared to give up are your principles, even though you may have held these principles for a long time. The USA badly want the troops out of Afghanistan.

US wants to strike deal with the Taliban

But when the other party finds out how desperate you are, they will punish you and charge you for it. So there are bombings even when you are talking peace. The other side knows that they have you in a tight place.

Trump’s withdrawal from Afghanistan ignores a dangerous threat

Why Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever

Taliban bomb Kabul even as peace talks are on

What India is attempting in such times is perhaps the best way ahead. India is trying to hold, consolidate and strengthen what she has rather than let things drift out of any semblance of order. It is high time too, especially with the US deciding to leave the neighborhood in a worse state than it was when they walked in first.