Jungle Trek. Night. With friends who respect Nature.
With the engine flicked to neutral, the only noise from the jeep was of a couple of loose nuts, a break pedal getting squeezed for a desperate grip on slippery rocks, a cautious shifting of gear to rein in the glissade, and a muffled rattling of a couple of annoying tools hidden somewhere deep in the vehicle.
The rest was pure forest.
Cicadas, frogs, night birds, owls, elephants which were far away… The night was abuzz with the cries of the hunter and of the hunted.
We clattered down as a single strand of bated breath; five pairs of eyes keenly focusing on that shifting patch of forest that the dim light from the jeep revealed from moment to moment.
Something would happen, we knew, something would appear suddenly from the dark. “Before you spot the first animal in a forest, a hundred might have already seen you (and avoided your meat)”: I shivered remembering the jungle saying.
“There!” The jeep stopped.
For a moment, there was a blur, a panic, and unnerving silence; for the first time that night we heard our heartbeats soar above the cicadas; we swung towards our left, swung back right, wondering where the driver had picked the contour of a black animal from a black forest in a black night like this.
He put the high beam on. Deer! A tingle went down my spine.
A pair of tiny golden lights were fixed on the bosom of darkness, and above it, I saw horns branched out, disappearing to become night.
We were both stung by the sudden, unscheduled meeting in the middle of the forest. We froze in the masquerade. Then sensing danger, he ducked his head, turned quickly and leapt back into the dark foliage behind him and disappeared. Once again we were left alone.
Half an hour later we were rapping on the door of a forest guard office. I took leave of my friends and went to the edge of the crude path to take a leak facing the dark woods. I wanted to check how ‘pee on dead leaves’ would sound like against the deafening silence. I waited with a smile for the music to begin.
Instead I heard a window flicked open behind me. “Hey, what are you doing? Quick! Get back on the jeep. A herd of elephants attacked us a minute back.”
I heard a movement ahead – the sound of plants getting crushed under heavy feet. “Manu, run!” my friend yelled at me in panic. My legs went numb. I stood there on the edge of the wood from which an elephant would emerge any minute.
I don’t remember who pulled me back into the jeep with rude force. Perhaps I was saved to tell you now that a night trek in a jungle has no parallel in the world.
I’ll boldly take one more chance with ‘peeing on dead leaves’ at the edge of a jungle path.
The best bar in a town. Evening. Alone.
The arduous trek under a punishing sun, the unrelenting mountain that I almost climbed and then finally gave up without knowing that the summit and a glorious sunset were just round the corner, the brooks I forded, the loose boulders of an ancient fort on which I sat for hours wondering where the remnant of an ancient dynasty which is mentioned in a tourist brochure had gone, the jostle in crowded buses, the rattle in auto rickshaws, the pitch of the boats, the churning in the stomach, the retching I resisted, the bland tea I had for breakfast, the bun and kadali plantains I had for lunch, the last minute change in schedules, the blister on the feet, the profuse sweat trickling down through the nose and my chin, the melting tar…everything…everything is behind me now. As it is evening.
I am a newborn. My failures of the day are behind me. So are the insignificant advances I made in the day. I desperately need one thing now in the evening: An ablution in a bottle of beer.
I strut down the stairs, toss the key over the counter and ask the staff cockily where the best bar hotel in the town is. See, how surprised the receptionist is! Half an hour back she questioned a worn-out man who lumbered in, in his soiled clothes under a mop of tousled hair, asking for the same key.
Nights change people dramatically, my lady.
Here I sit in one corner of the bar; here I watch the world go by peering at it through a beer glass. I will soon see little drops of indistinct perceptions, vague instincts, fuzzy experiences I hardly noted during the day, slowly run together in the wake of a beer, to assume the shapes of wonderful stories. Half a writer is born here.
I wait with stars in my eyes as the bearer fills my glass with amber.
One million bubbles dance in sheer nirvana – bouncing up hungrily to witness the glorious moment when my parched lips would touch the rim, rolling back to the bottom to report home in crazy mirth about the long ride ahead, rebounding at the touchdown, bouncing up again to see whether it is time to begin their ride – like those little impatient brats who had been promised a wonderful evening – to nourish the deepest cells in my body, to shake them up and to pulsate along with them in a heavenly dance.
I can feel the excitement here. Every atom in my body throbs along to welcome the amber drink whose merry racket in the glass they could perhaps hear from the other side of the wall.
Wait; let me take my first sip.
I have heard gruesome tales about people who have died between their first sip and the lip.