You and your family were going through a rough patch. Your second sister had to be married off. Your first sister was sent back home by her in-laws and was told to return only when the promised dowry was paid. The moneylender was sitting on your head demanding full repayment of all the money borrowed from him.
Your father’s drinking problem added to your woes. But you also felt sorry for the old man knowing he was trying to drown his helplessness in cheap alcohol.
As forest guide-cum-drivers, you and your father were making enough to just about make ends meet. Then the pandemic hit. Both of you lost your jobs. Income dwindled and debts rose.
You kept hoping that tourists would return to the 500-sq-km Bhadra Tiger Reserve and you would get your jobs back. But nothing happened.
You began to wish you had completed your graduation so you could become a government guide. Government salary would’ve been a certainty. Working for a contractor meant you got paid only on the days you worked.
One day, you and four of your equally impoverished friends went into the forest, hoping for a relaxing break from all your nagging troubles. You knew that entering a protected area without permission was wrong. But you just wanted to go fishing for a couple of hours. Anyway, keeping an eye on every inch of the vast reserve was impossible. No one would know.
You knew a secret rivulet, a safe place for a peaceful, stress-free outing with free fish thrown in. Being close to the boundary wall, you could’ve easily jumped over and escaped should the need arise.
The plan worked. The five of you dipped your fishing hooks in the water and waited, each holding a glass of liquor. After a while, one of your friends got up and disappeared behind a dense thicket to answer nature’s call. Suddenly, he shouted, “Guru! See what I have found.”
The four of you ran towards his voice. There you found the skull of a dead elephant, its tusks intact. The poor animal might’ve slipped and fallen through the gushing stream and met with a horrible death, you thought sadly.
But your current problems trumped sympathy. You formulated a plan that would pay off your debts. The five of you sneaked the tusks out and hid them in your house.
“You know you should deposit all discoveries with the forest office. We’ll be in trouble if we get caught, putta,” your mother warned. But you didn’t heed her words. Your family needed the money.
As your mother anticipated, you and your friends did get caught and were arrested while attempting to gather price and buyer information from the market. After all, you were poor, powerless thieves not rich, influential ones who could escape the long arm of the law.
Guru – a term used to address friends informally.
Putta – an endearing term in Kannada meaning child or son.