Beware.. the jungle-7

“Stupid, stupid…stupid,” Aron cursed himself; then realized that he had been more cowardly than foolish. Trusting Maya had been Sid’s folly. But Aron blamed himself even for that, after all he was the grown-up. But to run away leaving the poor boy alone in the jungle with the thugs was shameful by any standards. When Aron reached the town and was among people; the few people who had come out in the morning; he slowed to a fast walk till he reached home.

But Aron could not bring himself to enter the house. He knew now that he could not be at rest anywhere till he had done the right thing.

No rest for Aron

He couldn’t trust most people now, not even the police in the town. Some of them were too sympathetic to the “cause” of the rebels. Maya’s treachery had come as a shock, even though he should have seen it coming. He kept walking till he reached the bus stop and entered the morning bus about to leave for the western big city. By the time the sun was shining bright he was already half the way there.


—-x—-x—-x—-

Sid had been accosted by four men as he made his way to town and these men were very rude. He would have gone along with them anyway, but it seemed to Sid that these men were very angry about something. As soon as they met him, the small man who was older than the others gave him a stinging slap on his left cheek. when Sid raised his arms to defend himself, there was a flurry of fists from all directions till he fell down on his knees. He was ordered up and pushed across the rickety bridge east of the wharf. Soon as they had crossed the bridge, one of the men tied a blindfold on Sid’ eyes. Sid’s sense of direction suggested that they had walked for half an hour to the north at a brisk pace and then turned towards east. Thereafter He couldn’t tell for sure because the movement, though mostly on level ground, appeared to change directions frequently. He did feel the sun on his face most of the time, especially because it kept getting stronger as the morning progressed. They walked mostly east for a long time. There was no way of knowing for how long. Sid had grown thirsty so he noticed as they passed a water body.

He knew there was a water body because they let him walk into it and had a good laugh as he splashed in knee deep muddy water. After that the blindfold was removed. Sid saw that they were walking on a narrow path that had been used quite often. In front of them were hills covered in green and they began to climb up and around the hill in a winding path that led to a valley just behind the green hill.

It was noon when they stopped walking. There were several people going about and a few just sat looking at the procession of five that walked into the village.

Sid had been abducted to a village of peasants. there were small cultivated patches, rising nearly halfway up the hills. He saw sheds that housed cows. There may have been many such villages in the region. But the peasants and their families who quietly went about their work were not the only inhabitants of this particular village.

There were the ruffians who sat about playing cards as if they owned the place.

They were reasonably nice to the locals as reward for being good hosts, but of course there was punishment in store for those who would squeal about them to the authorities.

They suspected that it was thanks to Sid that Dara was in prison. Now they had caught up to the squeal and brought him here to face the punishment.

It should be an example to all.

To be continued…

Beware.. the jungle-6

“Why don’t we rush ahead and make some enquiries,” Sid wanted to ask the police what crime Dara had committed, but Aron never allowed him. “Hush,” Aron said and took him aside. Aron always knew that the kid needed to be guided with a firm hand. “Do you know the nature of charges against Dara? if these are as serious as I suspect, you don’t want to be seen sympathizing with him.”

They walked about for some time. It was still not too late and people continued to shop or go about finishing their work before returning home. Sid was still sulking. Aron hadn’t decided where they were going to put up for the night.

“Hey..Sid.” A woman called out from behind. It was Maya. She stood on the sidewalk near where a cycle rickshaw was parked on the edge of the road. There were a couple of bags on the rickshaw which had earlier contained flower stalks and another one on the pavement. Maya didn’t look at all devastated by the recent events.

Maya stood near a rickshaw

“Hey..” Sid came out of the sulk and walked back to her, “You..okay?”

“I’m fine,” Maya said quickly. “My work at the city is done, so.. I’m ready to leave when you two are.”

Sid was quiet, meanwhile Aron caught up to them.

“Remember, you promised you’ll let us ride back in your boat!” insisted Maya.

Aron spoke up,”Yes we said you could join us when we return the day after tomorrow. If your work is done already you might as well take the bus back.”

Maya held on to the rickshaw for support. She looked at Aron and tears trickled out. She couldn’t look angry anymore and turned away but her shoulders shook enough for them to notice that she was crying.

Tears Trickled out of her eyes

They left the same night. Normally a visit to the big city would have meant substantial shopping for essentials as well as novelties, but they made it very short. Before leaving, they got a great offer for lots of gear for their boat. Aron felt they couldn’t leave without fitting the boat and it was essential if they were to keep up their venture. Before starting, They remembered to make sure that the engine was clamped and the fuel was good and enough. Aron started the engine and let it warm up.

It was past midnight when they were underway.

Sid immediately went to sleep on the floor of the boat. Maya sat with her back against the front of the boat. Aron was at the tiller steer outboard motor and the boat went at a reasonable speed. They reached the wharf north of town as dawn broke. When they got off, Sid and Aron just had a single bag each to carry while Maya had three.

“Let us help you with your bags Maya,” Sid offered, “I can take an additional bag to where-ever you want to go. Right Aron?” Aron didn’t look enthusiastic.

“You guys carry on, I have someone coming to pick me up soon.”

They started on their way through the narrow isolated path to the town. While the area to the north of the river was covered by thick jungle, there was a wooded belt all along the southern bank of the river too. Aron hurried ahead thinking of family, while Sid was brooding and he walked slowly. They had walked about five minutes and Aron was calling back to Sid to hurry up when he heard sounds of voices and running feet. Several men had chased down Sid, the straggler.

Sid the straggler

On hearing the shouting, Aron reacted on instinct. He dropped his bag and ran on ahead at great speed. He didn’t slow down till he broke out of the woods and could see the houses at the edge of town.

To be continued…

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…