The following summer break after Papa’s premature death seemed to be an opportune time to get out of the lingering gloominess and arrange for a short forest trip. On the way to my hotel, the glimpses of the ridges, the hilly serpentine road, and the vista around were calm and serene.
The next day, I waited, but the Gypsy I was to board found no other tourist. Three rangers piled into the car instead of one. To fill the car or they had any other insidious plan, I was unaware of it at that time. And the safari started.
Amidst the wild, they claimed to spot a few rhinos but in vain. It was impossible to cross the wetland ahead. Next, they located piles of elephant dung. Upon examining the freshness of it, they confirmed that the herd was near. They took the Gypsy in several directions to assiduously rummage through and then announced, the herd had moved further into the forest where visitors weren’t allowed. They looked more crestfallen than I did and decided to take me to the watchtower. Fazed by their cloying ardency, I humbly requested them to go back. The rangers exchanged a few glances and turned the car.
With my hands tied and a soiled handkerchief shoved in my mouth, I was knocked down on the cracked, uneven floor of an ancient and damaged temple amidst the woods. I tried harder but couldn’t find a smidgen of conscience in their lustful souls. Petrified, I even forgot to remember God.
A sudden shriek jolted me back to senses. As I looked around, I saw a giant ancient-looking creature advancing on the rangers. Covered in a snakeskin, it was bearing a striking resemblance to a fabled dragon. The rangers began to run away but stumbled over one another. The serpent, flailing its powerful tail as a weapon pursued. However, they managed a narrow escape, and moments later, I heard the rangers leaving with the Gypsy. The creature too dragged itself out of the temple and disappeared into the meadows. A strong current of wind blew through the broken window. As if, the forest was speaking to me in a mysterious voice. Baffled to the core yet, I interpreted it as a sign. Leaving trepidations behind, I freed myself and started walking with my wobbly bleeding feet.
A group of seven local tribal men carrying bunches of woods and hay saw me. Like the seven kind and friendly dwarfs from the fairytale, they too appeared like angels. They took me to their village and nursed me. As I found strength, I narrated to them everything. Mystified, the tribal men showed me the idol of their deity. It was none other than the serpent, which had saved my pride and my life.
Thirty-nine years have elapsed. I have left the concrete jungle and made jungle as my abode to work for the conservation of wildlife and tribal culture. Indebted, that is my bit to return the favor.
Photo By: Unsplash
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