Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Phantoms Of The Forest


Monsoon reminds me of an exciting night spent in Hasimara, a tiny Railway Station in North Bengal. It was late June, middle of monsoon in 1982. I was on way to Jaldapara National Park, waiting in the 1st class waiting room to catch a connecting train to New Alipurduar. The eccentric monsoon had caused unscheduled diversions and my train was delayed by five hours. My in laws were coming from Delhi by Tinsukhia Mail and we were to meet at New Alipurduar junction.
 Hasimara station is surrounded by natural forests. The heady smell of thousands different trees, enigmatic jungle sounds assault on the senses. The jade green slopes of tea gardens and unending stretches of virgin forest, criss-crossed by the meandering River Torsha and her innumerable tributaries let out a sense of adventure. The forest is an extension of the wet evergreen forest of the Dooars.
It was about seven in the evening; thunder boomed. The deluge began….The rumbles of thunder were shaking and rattling the windows, doors… the sky seemed to be falling on the rooftop. Raju, my man Friday was sleeping outside the waiting room.
I got up and went to the window: a cool wind with rainwater blew on my face… It was amusing to see the blinking fireflies forming lovely patterns in the backdrop of darkness. Rain water was sloping down the thin aluminum awnings on the empty platform. The flashes of lightening were illuminating the platform once in a while.
Suddenly, a forceful wind struck the electric poles and the station building plunged into darkness. With this, a creaking, yawning sound floated through the air. This filled me with an eerie feeling. I called Raju inside. The Khansama was in the room settling down food-bills. Hearing the scream, he leaned out of the window and spat a gob of betel outside. The rain hissed and gushed inside with a buzzing, swarming noise. He closed the window sharply; he now looked worried.
He hurriedly cleared the table, waving his salam,  he said, ’ It’s a stormy night, Memsaheb, don’t go out of the room. During monsoons, wild elephants come to the station building for shelter; and they love to eat the salt from the discarded lead- batteries, which are dumped just outside the station premises. They come in big herds, damage and rampage the station, and go back into the forest after the rains stop. They are very much part of our station-life.

Hearing this Raju’s body jerked, in a sharp, derisive movement, and he plunked on a bench nearby and quietly pulled his legs up and tucked his feet under him. The waiter gave a small, gurgling laugh, and reached the door. My belly churned with excitement.

“My word! Games at station!”  I murmered.

Smilingly, I took off my glasses and polished them on the hem of my dupatta and heard the station bell --- it offered a ‘souvenir’, gave an unique distinction to the place. There was another thunder, the walls shook...

And almost immediately, a great commotion broke outside the waiting room. We could hear feet thudding on the platform. I willingly rushed out... Raju didn’t move.

I observed some frantic movements in the Station Master’s room (which was just next to the waiting room). The Station Master was impatiently answering the wireless, biting his lips in bewilderment, shaking his head again and again. A strange presence was palpable everywhere around me.

A Railway guard rushed out of the RPF’s room and lit two blank fires in the air. With the explosion, a flock of disturbed pigeons hurled upwards and, settled back. I thought we were surrounded by dacoits or gangsters... and this made me a bit panicky. It was about this time, when a railway point’s man bumped into me and tripped on the platform. He rose and brayed something into my ear. I could hear nothing! He screamed once again,' Go inside, they're almost here!'

The atmosphere turned creepy now. Raindrops in the size of coins were still smacking down on earth. Overhead lightening crackled, forked and ripped up the sky. The lightening illuminated the station building; flickered weakly and erratically for several seconds. And amid this mayhem ----I saw the most astonishing sight.

Terrified by men and lightening, a baby elephant was running on the track. With its trunk stretched up like a scimitar, he was sprinting across…. Railway guards with flash lights and sticks were chasing him. Stray dogs were howling and running behind the crowd. Suddenly, a security guard struck his whip into the fold of the jumbo's knees and the poor calf uttered a huge cry. My face lost its grin; a single lash was enough to silence me.

The fellow was in terrible distress... and out of fear, with a swish of its tail he defecated over that guard’s body. I was elated!! A city upbringing and love for animals hadn’t prepared me to adjust  to such cruelty…. Instinctively, I wanted to rescue that little baby!

The elephant calf was still screaming. His deafening squeals of distress not only drew his mother but, a big herd came to his protection. A huge call rumbled in the darkness … and soon the mother was rushing towards her baby.

Watching the spellbinding drama of the re-union was a treat! As the mother drew closer to the calf, the baby surged ahead like a human child. He went on screaming, panting, trumpeting and peeing without fully stopping. He lurched ahead, tripped, joyously reared up on his hind legs. Goodness, he created such a racket. He was pacified only after the mother elephant wrapped him around her trunk and took her under her pillar-like legs.. A few members joined them and with heads held high, the reunited herd filled the area with symphonies of trumpets, rubbles, screams and roars....

Another herd of elephants, in the mean while had broken down the fences and other deterrents in the platform building. The trumpets of the calf had made them aggressive. It was a scary thing to watch these elephants ransacking the station building.  The guards, and some travelers dementedly started throwing stones at the raging pachyderms …there was pandemonium all over. A section of red-brick wall, next to the station master’s room collapsed in front of my eyes, a huge tusker came and kicked it hard…Their lives are ordered, predictable; things are either done or not done, according to their own rules and laws of jungle.

There was still something intriguing about the darkness. I stood nonplussed…The forest officials arrived in a short while and took charge of them.

That was the first time, I saw these exuberant creatures from so close. I developed a special bond with that calf because it was through him, that I was given a window into the emotional lives of elephants. It was a sheer joy to watch those mighty phantoms....

Someone said--'Joy is an emotion that elephants have no shame to display.' ---- I don't know who said it...but it is so true!!
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Incessant rains have created a flood-like situation in several areas of Siliguri in Darjeeling District and Terai and Doaars area of Jalpaiguri District. The water level of Teesta and Torsa is rising and flowing above the danger level---- The news triggered some memories...

42 comments:

  1. All animals have an emotional life Panchali. Just that human beings fail to realize it . Sad! Lovely post!

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    1. You are right, Jayashree. In fact, animals are more emotional according to me!!Thanks for the visit and comment. xoxo

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  2. wow u had a great experience of the mighty being , Indeed these things can happen only in India though :D , the elephant rampage ...
    Indeed the joy of reunion can never be expressed in words :"Joy is an emotion that elephants have no shame to display"..grt lines ........
    lovely post :)

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    1. Yes, Saikat...it was such a wonderful experiences that even after so many years it keeps haunting me. And those days North Eastern part had narrow gauge lines, so the station building, telephone/wireless system etc were also not that sophisticated.
      Glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks a lot!

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  3. Beautifully narrated. Was like watching a short film!

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    1. Thanks Deepak for being here and for your time. I am glad you enjoyed reading the episode...:-)) Thanks for the encouragement....!!

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  4. WOw, I would love to have one of those experiences with a animal out there in the nature where they belong..

    Elephants are very intellingent animals.. I saw a program on wild life where two babies got swpet in a river and the herd of elephants did everything to get them out .. they ran downstream and found a place where they could get in and make a wall.. waited for the babies to come and caught them ..

    Bikram's

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    1. Good to see you here, Bikramjit. Well, it was honestly a wonderful experience!! Animals possess unique mental attributes, they've minds of their own...:))Even more interesting is, how their minds perform the tasks essential for survival differently in different ecological niches...hence, we find behaviors of animals in jungles are so different from the caged ones!
      I am a great animal fan...hence, love to read n talk about them :D
      Thanks so much for being here with your interesting comment. Hope to see you more.

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  5. What a build up of a visually and phonetically charged story! You have amazingly captured the wet, rambling mayhem rising to a crescendo as the story progresses to its climax. You are quite a painter!

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    1. Umashankar,

      Feels good to have you read this story. A performer needs an appreciative audience.:))
      Your comment has made me smile. Thank you for your appreciation. I am happy you could relate to what I wrote...

      I hope I see more of you on these pages... :))Thanks a ton!

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  6. Wow! Loved the story. I immediately got transported to the place. I didn't knew that they go for the salts in the lead-acid batteries. It shows how little is my knowledge.

    The way the mother elephants protect their calf is a treat to watch. The heart of the most hardened criminal will melt on watching the elephant mother and child interaction.

    I have been charged by elephants, however, I cannot blame them. I have seen how tolerant they are. Amazing creatures they are. Gentle giants.

    I am documenting the human-elephant conflict in many places. It is a long term project, hopefully I can complete it by 2013 end.
    I will link up this post to my diary.

    Sabyasachi
    http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/

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    1. Sabyasachi,

      I am pleased to share this... readers like you are such a blessing. Thanks for coming by... :)))
      Wow...you're doing a great job!!I am thrilled to note that you are going to link this to your diary :))
      It feels so good to have you here..stay in touch. :))
      Thank you very much!

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  7. I like this. They should have taken the man along with them who whipped the baby.

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    1. Rajesh...
      You said it!! Believe me, I wished the same!!But, after everything was over, I did give him a piece of my mind...!!!
      Glad you liked this...hope to see you more :))
      Thanks a ton!

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  8. What an experience, I can see the event unfolding in front of my eyes as I read them. I am an animal lover too but have yet to come across Elephants in such close range. I hate those who hurt animals, I feel like hurting people who hurt animals.

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    1. Akshay Kumar G,
      So pleased to have you here!Anecdotes of animal behaviors are always intriguing and compelling. I am glad to find another animal lover in this forum.
      Actually, I wanted to give that fellow a few lashes in return...but, naturally I couldn't.... But, did give him a mouthful!!

      Thanks for your visit and inspiring comment. Hope to see you more here!! Thanks a lot!

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    1. Welcome to my space, Sushma :))
      All's well that ends well :D
      Now since we have met, would love to have you more on these pages :))
      Thanks!

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  10. ..so very beautifully and yet realistically narrated, Panchali, that I was almost living the whole tale! Simply loved your post due to my love for nature and your wonderful writing skills..:)

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    1. Amit,
      Thanks for that encouraging comment. Perceptibly, when their trumpets synchronized in matching tandem, I could breathe!
      I am glad you could live in the tale. It is a gift to me, one I appreciate deeply.:))
      Do visit again. Thanks a million.

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  11. The life time opportunity indeed. All of these posts are worthy having some standards.
    Great job!

    More jobs available at Indian Job Vacancies at http://www.indianjobsguide.com
    Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for the info...Indian Jobs Guide.

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  12. Dear Panchalidi,

    I remember this one, moved me a lot :)

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    1. Dear Ghaz.....

      I knew, you would....thank you!!!
      xoxo

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  13. oh so sad ...how can anyone be so cruel. Yesterday I saw a man in my area hit a stray puppy who had entered his gates. I just couldn't resist and gave it to him .

    The way u've narrated I could almost see everything :)

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    1. TTT ! I was waiting for you to come and read this! Happy that you came in....and didn't disappoint me :)))
      I really don't understand how people can be so cruel...but, SPCA is very active now, u know. When ever you find people hitting stray dogs, you must report to them immediately. I have done it many times here. These guys now know me so well...:P
      Thanks for sharing and for your empathy. Do visit again.
      Thanks again.

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  14. I read it in a single breath! Gives me goosebumps...

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    1. Thanks for being here, modishashank :))Welcome to my page!! I am certain you enjoyed reading it...since you read it in a single breath! I am thrilled to my toes:))
      Do visit again...please:)

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  15. I feel so sad that animals suffer and that it is so easy for us to inflict cruelty upon them without a second thought. Though, I am personally a little afraid of the gentle giants, I can never dream of any harm coming to them. And, the calf! Poor thing -- Just how our own child will feel if separated from us.

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    1. Rachna...
      These gentle giants can really get arrogant and rough when threatened!I am glad this affected you....it's nice when a reader can assimilate the message at the end.. :))) It is a gift to the writer, and I appreciate deeply...
      Thanks a LOT!Do visit again, please.

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  16. This is a lovely story. what an experience :)

    love
    http://www.meghasarin.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you Megha for being here. Welcome to my space. :))
      Happy to know that you enjoyed reading this...shall check out your blog soon.
      Thanks! And please do visit again :)

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  17. That was so brilliantly written. It was written with so much authenticity, so much emotion and so much love. It gripped me, it thrilled me, it soothed me and it endeared me. The joy and love of the mighty phantoms brought delight to my heart and a smile to my face. Beautifully narration of some wonderful memories.

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    1. Raj! Its a pleasure to see you on my space... :)) I am so glad this blog found an echo in your heart.I don't know you well enough yet. But indications seem strong that you are one of the animal lovers!! The 'tigers'convince me more :))
      I am pleased you enjoyed. And I am not saying this merely as a polite response. I really AM pleased you liked this!! Thanks for the encouragement, Raj.
      Hope to see you more on these pages..:)

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  18. A brilliant narrative as always, di!

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    1. Sudeshna! My Captain's approval is very difficult to obtain, hence your comment is precious, my dear.
      Thanks a LOT for the visit and the encouraging words.xoxo

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  19. It is raining here as I am reading this post. That must be one incredible day for you and the narration was so engaging, exciting and beautiful. When you write I wiped my glasses with dupatta, I could visualize it...

    Thanks for a beautiful read!

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    1. Saru,

      You had the correct ambiance to read this story!! I love your comments... they are extremely stimulating.Happy you enjoyed reading this...!
      Thank you for the time...hugely obliged :)))
      xoxo

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  20. What a riveting narrative. The entire scene played out before my eyes!

    Wonderful read, Panchali.

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    1. Purba, I am glad you 'caught this post'.. :)Thank you for the compliment... :))))Really appreciate!

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  21. Panchali this is an awesome narrative. It appeared as if it was all happenning in front of my eyes. Loved reading it.

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    1. Thanks Usha for the wonderful feedback.!! Much obliged.. :))

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