Deep inside the dense forests of Malkangiri, Chittaranjan perched himself on a machaan erected on a gigantic sal tree. The elevation at which he was seated lent him the advantage of surveying a broad panoramic view through his binoculars. At six in the evening, with the darkness creeping slowly and the air laden with humidity, Chittaranjan felt like meat stuffed in a boiling black pot. This forest was to be his home for a long time.
‘I can see people wandering there, across the rivulet,’ he blurted, pointing to a distant spot to the far right. Nearly a week after he started his job as a Forest Guard, had he noticed movements of any kind. It could as well be his first opportunity to report the presence of intruders, poachersand smugglers. It excited him.
‘Seven of them.’
‘Seven! Pukka?’ His companion asked.
‘Pukka,’ said Chittaranjan as he focused his lenses again.
‘Lost their way, maybe.’
‘Look – seems like they will camp there.’ Chittaranjan said in a hushed tone.
‘No permit. No camping.’
‘There is an open patch of rocks and a decrepit house with burnt walls nearby – ‘
The man with the booming voice broke into a chortle that rent the silent night.
‘It’s not wise for seven people to be even seen together. Never.’
Chittaranjan stared at him with a mix of dread and apprehension.
‘Haven’t you heard a tale about these hills, Chittaranjan babu? It is a century old. A bunch of British officers and their Indian naukars had transgressed into this wilderness and camped at the spot where a Bonda tribal chieftain lived with his wife and young son. He was the protector of the forests. He resisted them. But those bastards, seven of them, got inebriated and attacked him. They raped his wife, set his house on fire and burnt everyone alive. The shrieks of that boy echo in these hills even today.’
Chittaranjan stiffened as the eyes in front of him now glowed piercingly bright.
‘Ever since, if seven persons dared to enter these interiors, they had either mysteriously disappeared or were found dead.The locals here know better. You don’t come here in a group of seven – even by mistake.’
A blanket of nausea engulfed him. The words and sounds seemed to dissolve into nothingness.
Two days later…
‘A team of poll officers is suspected to have been ambushed by Naxal activists. There is no trace of them even after 24 hours,’ said the Forest Officer, turning off the crackling radio. ‘Did you notice anything that night?’ He asked Chittaranjan with an officious expression.
‘Yes,’ said Chittaranjan feeling a lump in his throat. ‘It was the mysterious Curse of Seven.’
‘Where did you hear such tripe from?’ The Officer snapped at him.
In complete detail, Chittaranjan narrated the tale as told by the villager by his side. Oh, what was his name?
‘Have you been drinking yourself to delirium?’ scowled the Officer. ‘I did not send anyone to keep you company.’
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