The darkness in the jungle was torn apart by the hoots and howls of the nocturnal creatures. The Moonlight was playing hide and seek with the clouds. They tried to tip-toe through the shadows that looked like trunks and the tree trunks that appeared as shadows. Suman and Ravi trampled through the jungle anticipating the forbidden pleasure of watching an English movie.
“Ley*, Suman, no problem isn’t it?”
“Guru*, why are you scared, we aren’t going very deep into the forest. Just walk quietly till we find a suitable place!”
“This is the first time for me, hope nobody finds it out!”
“Nobody! Ha-ha, everybody will hear you if you shout like this!”
“sh…, do you hear them?”
As they approached the clearing by the lake, Suman and Ravi heard conversations. They didn’t walk all the way to get caught by forest rangers. They hid behind a dense bamboo thicket. Those weren’t the rangers. There was a big vehicle parked by the lake. Those ten to twelve men were discussing something and were pointing hands at the lake and at the sky.
“Who are they?”
“Ravi, please keep quiet, that looks like a terrorist group!”
“Shit! Am getting scared! See, I avoided the village Jathre* and agreed to accompany you, Now Ellamma* Devi’s curse has come upon us!”
“Shut up, I want to listen.”
“They are pointing fingers at the sky, are they planning to drop bombs from the sky?”
“They are not dressed like terrorists, but who knows…!”
“Om Namah Shivay, Om Namah Shivay…”
“What are you doing Ravi?”
“Praying for Shivji’s recommendation! so Ellamma will show mercy on us!”
“They don’t look like terrorists, campers or tourists, what are they doing in the middle of the forest at this hour?”
“Have they driven into the jungle to watch something like us on the mobile phone, Such a big group…. AAH, AAAH”
“something is biting me, here!”
Ravi pointed out somewhere between his legs.
“It’s the bamboo shoot! Idiot!”
One person from the group of men looked in the direction of Suman and Ravi and they started sprinting backwards.
“Ley, today is the final Jathre* day, people are so busy, what do you say?”
“Okay, but a little earlier than last time, I’m scared of the shadows in the moonlight.” said Ravi.
As dusk fell, the serial lights on both sides of the streets started twinkling. Ellamma, Ganesha* and Mahadeva* sparkled in their colourful LED forms blocking the roads. Loud Speakers shrieked devotional songs on the rooftops and the sound travelled inside the houses and beyond. The main road that lead to the temple was overflowing with temporary shops and the elated villagers. Both the brave young men set out on their ordeal into the jungle shouting at each other to be
They came to a sudden halt when they heard a loud trumpet. Or, were they trumpets? A herd?
They waited to detect the exact direction of the herd’s movement with the sound. Time stood still, and so did the earth. Did it? The herd didn’t seem to make any progress.
They chose an alternative path and hurried towards the clearing. They heard people.
Those men were discussing something again.
“Why are these people following us every time?”
“They were here before us!”
“So, are we following them?”
One of the men spoke, “This is the predicted spot. Thankfully the impact on the cities will be limited to the sound alone.”
“Yes, vast area of the forest will get burnt, the villages around may suffer the heat, but the meteor isn’t large enough to cause a massive destruction.”
“Hopefully it gets burnt in the atmosphere.”
“That is just a hope, but if our calculations are correct, it is impossible, the elephants and the other animals in the jungle will definitely get killed, and the impact will be felt in the village adjacent to the jungle.”
Suman and Ravi couldn’t understand much of what they heard. They understood ‘elephants’, ‘get killed’, ‘village’ and tried to comprehend the issue being discussed.
They remembered the men pointing hands at the sky frequently on the other day. They guessed something vaguely and the very idea of it made them shiver.
“I didn’t expect Ellamma to curse the entire village. This is all because of you Suman. I am aware of the goddess’ power!”
“Stop sobbing! Did you hear that, the village and the forest are in danger and these people are thinking of not doing anything about it, because the city is safe. That goddamn rock will burn this place to ashes. You and I Ravi, can stop it. This is the time to prove ourselves, we can save the village, the jungle and the elephants! Think!”
Ravi looked up, “I see a star falling already!”
“Ley that’s a firefly! Just imagine, if we succeed in this, your father might even get you the Pulsar bike that you always wanted!”
Ravi looked up again, he started day dreaming, nay, dusk dreaming.
“But how will we do it, just the two of us cannot stop a star or whatever it is called, from falling.”
“We have to think, now let us go back, we have no time to waste!”
“Suman, aren’t we watching the thing, on your phone…. today either?”
Before the infuriated Suman spoke he saw something monstrous appearing from behind Ravi.
It was a wild elephant. He was sure Ravi would wet his pants if he knew this.
Suman didn’t move. The elephant was running towards them. Ravi could hear it and to Suman’s surprise he whisked himself behind a bush. The elephant let out a strange cry.
“Ravi, I want to kick that reckless elephant, both of us are planning to save the forest, and this thing is trying to scare us!’
“Look at its size, do you think it is easy to kick such a huge animal and escape without getting hurt! You will become history Suman!”
The elephant ignored them and ran in a different direction. Suman and Ravi almost passed out when they saw a big circle of ten female elephants there.
“what guru, Forest dance aa?”
“Sh… The calf, I see a calf in the centre, it is hurt and it is not able to move!”
They waited patiently for the wild herd to disperse with the injured calf.
Suman and Ravi left the forest many hours later with sleepless eyes, an unfulfilled wish and a successful plan to save the village.
“Ley Suman, do you have the plan ready?”
“Look at this” As Suman showed his phone, Ravi jumped back,
“Hey, not now, not now, my dad is at home!”
“Shut up! Am talking about the star that is going to fall, it will take three months from now!”
“oh! Okay, okay”
“Nobody knows about it”
“Then how do you know?”
“Because I am the one destined to save our village, tonight we will go into the jungle to find out the way!”
“I want to know the details of your plan before venturing into that animal zone again.”
“Fine, here it goes. Do you remember how the elephants tried to help the calf that was hurt?
We are going to kidnap that elephant calf from the forest!”
“And get trampled by the whole herd, so we won’t survive to see the sky fall!”
“Do you want to receive an award from the president or not?”
“Ok, Ok tell me guru!”
“We shall hire a pick-up truck, go to the jungle and kidnap a baby elephant. The entire herd will walk to the village in search of the calf. The villagers will get scared and run…”
“Run inside the forest, we can’t kill our folks to save the elephants!”
“Ley, listen completely, our folks will run to save their lives, elephants will be safe in the village, villagers will be away and even if the star strikes, only the forest will get burnt.”
“Your plan sounds great, but I have a doubt!”
“Suman, won’t it be difficult for elephants to get adjusted to life in village!”
“Stop it and be serious!”
“Ok, Ok, so how are we going to kidnap the calf?”
“This is where I need your contribution.”
“I guess I know, I saw a movie Suman, where they dig a pit, big enough for the calf to fall, the elephants cannot reach it.”
“Are you talking about the bore well types, we are incapable of lifting children out of bore well holes, how can we lift an elephant calf?”
“Not that deep, deep enough for the elephants but not for a pick up truck or a crane!”
“You got brains too, Ravi!”
“Have you made the arrangements?
“Yes, I sold my sister’s bangles. I cannot convince my family if they find out. My track record is very bad!”
“Never mind, they will be so proud of you once we save them all from the meteor. By the way, it is called a meteor, you need to know the appropriate words. It will be useful during media coverage.”
“The pick-up truck has been booked. The crane will be ready as well. How are we chasing the older elephants from the place before the kidnap?”
“This rescue operation is planned by Suman, No chance of loopholes guru. We may have to do the ‘kidnapping’ a week in advance. Even if the elephants wait for four or five days, we will have two days’ time to bring the calf to the village.”
“Sounds Perfect, you think like a pro. Is there anything to be done before that?”
“You should keep the plan to yourself and act normal!”
“I almost forgot to tell you Suman, I have informed Naga and Tejas as well, we may need help with the kidnap.”
“OH! Why didn’t you check with me before sharing, we may have to share the credit with them!”
“Don’t be afraid guys, Suman and I have been frequently visiting this place, we can walk through the jungle, eyes closed!” Ravi proclaimed.
Tejas asked, “How many calves have you kidnapped so far?”
Suman glared at Ravi. The boys marched in silence till they reached the spot they had decided to dig the pit in. Naga, Tejas and Suman started digging while Ravi was given the job of checking the surroundings.
The boys had hardly dug a one-foot deep pit when they heard the sound of anklets.
Ravi was the first one to sweat.
“WHO ARE YOU GUYS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
They all stood petrified. It was a rough female voice. They scanned the area with their phones’ flashlights but could see nothing.
“What are you doing in the middle of the jungle?”
“Who is this?” Asked Tejas, pretending to be courageous.
“It is me, Shankaramma!” The lady flashed in front of them from nowhere. Shankaramma was wearing a bright yellow saree, a big red bindi, and a garland of flowers on her hair. She gave an eerie smile that made the boys freeze.
They have heard stories about Shankaramma. She collected firewood from the forest in the night. She was known to have met many ghosts in the jungle and Ravi’s grandma once said that Shankaramma was a ghost herself.
“Om Namah shivay, Om Namah Shavay…”
“Ley Ravi, why are you doing a midnight Pooja now?” Shankaramma Screamed.
Clever Suman wanted to make use of Shanakramma’s knowledge as well. She might be of some help. He quickly put his arms around his friends and discussed intensely.
“Suman, you look like Rohit Sharma discussing his plans on the ground!” Shankaramma spoke.
“Are you guys planning to build a cricket pitch or what? The elephants will start playing football with your heads! Mind you.”
“No Akka, we are here to save the elephants!” Suman.
Suman explained their plan in detail, Tejas was weeping already whereas Naga and Ravi stood tall, their hands crossed, sharing a proud smile. Brand new Pulsar bikes were speeding in their minds and each one had a pretty girl as the pillion rider.
“By the way Akka, Rohit Sharma is our vice-captain, Virat Kohli is the captain.”
Shankaramma’s bloodshot eyes peered through them, “Nonsense, who said the sky is falling! This is my province; no fire can harm this place! Don’t you guys dare to talk about this again!”
She signalled the red wood smugglers that these boys are of no threat, and continued talking to them, “I have hundreds of ghost friends here, they are the saviours of this jungle!”
“No human is allowed inside here, you won’t go back alive if you don’t listen to my words!”
She rambled around shaking her hands vigorously, letting out strange sounds in varied frequencies at uneven intervals.
Suman and his gang didn’t stand a choice.
The boys had planned to meet in Tejas’s terrace. They were in different stages of recovery after the fearsome encounter with Shankaramma. Their only hope was prayer. They didn’t let any of the villagers know about it.
Suman broke the silence first, “I could have listened to my mom!”
Ravi followed, “I never helped my dad in his shop!”
Naga said, “I will quit drinking if I were given a chance to live!”
Tejas pointed out at the sky, “Hey look!”
The boys stood close to each other and witnessed a spectacular show of star shower. They all knew what to do if they survived it. Will there be a second chance?
Ley, Guru: Words used for addressing a male friend
Jathre: Annual village carnival
Ellamma, Ganesha, Mahadeva: Hindu gods