Wednesday, June 13, 2012
THE CALL OF THE WILD
There are a whole lot of people nowadays who talk blithely about having an adventure, as easy as having a bread omelet. And they make me wonder what really they mean by “an adventure”. In my experience, the most common meaning these people use it for is to denote doing something slightly out of their everyday comfort zone. This might even involve something as blasé as taking a different route to the office. Or balancing 5 cups of hot coffee in a plate designed for just 4. Or asking out a hot girl on a date. Or a trek in the sylvan dales of a meadow in a large group of intrepid adventure-seekers... So is that all there is to a real adventure? Not in my book…
The point of all this digging into dictionaries trying to define things was a phone call I got from a friend asking me out to a trek they were planning soon. He told me that the people who had signed up till now were around fifteen and would I like to join them? I asked politely what really he was going to do for an adventure in the middle of fifteen people. He said they were planning a campfire, tent stays and leisurely treks in groups laden with more cameras than sense. In my book that’s a vacation, not an adventure. If you really mean and adventure, it should be something tinged with danger, something where you are left alone against the elements and nature. Something where the chance of merely surviving it is enough to leave you with scars and memories. Where Plan B is as fraught with risk as Plan A. And the unspoken thought, ever present in the back of your mind, that might you not return home in one piece at the end of this adventure. Now that’s what I call a good adventure, not this pussyfooting around parks with your girlfriends, as a way of showing you are macho to the girls. An adventure by definition should be something alone, you and you alone, thrown out into the wild. I have had many such solo adventures. In fact the only kind of adventures I prefer are ones where I am all alone facing up to whatever is thrown at me without flinching a bit.
As an example of one such adventure, I am going to share with you something that happened in my callow youth days, which I still look back fondly on. My father’s ancestral home in the village of Kondapalli in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh lies on the fringes of the Nallamala forests a part of the Eastern Ghats ranges. This forest is also home to the famous Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam tiger reserve. In addition to the tigers the forest has a healthy population of leopards, boars and bears as it is a thick undisturbed stretch of primal forest lands inhabited only by tribes called Chenchus in the higher, hilly parts. As befits people who live in close proximity to the forests, breathing the unpolluted natural air and fresh waters, both my cousins (or as we call them dayadi’s), are well over 6’6’’, 6’7’’ in height and well built with huge moustaches, compared to whom I really look like a puny city weakling. They as befits the local scene, ride about in jeeps, carrying guns and talking the language of violence and blood feuds all the time. Its all politics, bombs, ballot-stuffing and kula-gauravam, loosely translated as pride of the clan with them. This was greatly facilitated by their not having to earn their keep courtesy the large tracts of lands, farms and orchards left by our common grandfather which income helped them avoid school successfully to roam around hunting and politicking and fighting- the reason why my mother rarely allowed me to visit my dad’s place from a civilized place like madras. Now that you I have given a brief picture of what the local life looks like lets proceed.
The period I am talking about is my early college years, in 2005, almost seven years ago to the date, when I was a lot more impetuous and less wise than I am now. On one of my rare holidays I decided to visit my dad village to hand over some land tax documents which my dad wanted to deliver to my uncle in person. This was before the subsequent souring of relations due to property disputes between our families and much before they put a contract on my head. So at the period I am talking about it was relatively safer for me to venture into the middle of all those barbarians. The reason I am calling my cousins barbarians is because like the barbarians of old they have a distinct contempt for learning, knowledge and education. They had brute strength and an animal instinct but lacked common sense and I was always the butt of the family jokes for being the learned type- the kind who knows how to spell “library” and actually goes there to read books. My cousins who looked on me as a big softie, boasted about their nocturnal visits into the Nallamalla forest and how they survived being mauled by the big cats there and how city bred people like me will not survive a single night there. Naturally, on behalf of all city bred civilized people I took up the challenge and assented to the bet of spending a night in the deep forest. My cousins might have had a limited local knowledge of how to survive this forest, but hey, I was a bookworm since I was a kid, I had read hundreds of books on how to survive everything, from Coral Island, Treasure Island to the Arctic and Antarctic. No village thug was going to frighten me with tales of “tiger, tiger”.
That decided we had a very early dinner and packing a little food and water to last me the night or till whenever they turned up to bring me home, we hopped onto the jeep and drove away into the forest just as dusk was falling. After going a long way (it seemed to me), they stopped below a tree where there was a “Mancham” (a rope cot like thing) fixed high up between thae branches and wooden pegs driven into the trunk of the tree to climb up to it from below. I was shown how to climb up to the safety of the Mancham and my food packet, water bottle and a long handled stainless steel torch was handed over to me. My younger cousin laughingly added that it was still not too late for me to change my mind and return, but I shrugged and said I was ready to go through with it, like the rite of passage gone through in all native tribes – to prove I am a man’s man. When they offered me a rifle to keep with me (for tigers, they said), I refused- I didn’t know one end of it from another and the only thing I would probably shoot would be my own foot. I just accepted a machete from them, for this was a weapon I could really use, when and if a stray leopard climbed up my tree- for it would be manlier to face the leopard, man to man, at close quarters than shoot it from behind a hiding place. This was what I told them- although my own ears didn’t believe the lies coming out of my mouth. But hey, I was in for it and no sense in showing fear, now that I was here, was it? Anyway they went away warning me not to sleep too deeply as anytime a python might drop down from the branches above and coil around me to strangle me and swallow me alive. I braced my back against the tree trunk and looking into the dark forest started my nightly vigil - to prove my manhood.
I don’t have a very clear remembrance of what I saw during those lonely hours spent up that tree. There are no individual remembrances- just a jumbled mishmash of memories of the deepest darkness which even a torch light cannot penetrate. If a leopard or a tiger came for me – it would practically have to be standing before me for me to see it- the jungle was so dark. And I remember being afraid to open the chappati packet as I feared that the animals might be attracted by the strange odor and turn up to investigate. I even took only small sips of water, to hoard it as I was not sure where or when I would get more water to drink. As the loneliness steeped in, I realized what they said about evolution- that the discovery of fire is the greatest discovery of mankind. Light in the dark, dispels all our fears. The absence of light magnifies them, so that we are forced to use our ears like never before, especially for city bred people used to hearing only sounds of hearing electrical devices. Even after so many years, I still can’t forget the total concentration of my mind on my hearing faculty, when the darkness prevented use of my eyes.
As the hours passed by I somehow must have dozed off till I was woken up with a start by a jeep horn. My cousins had returned after getting a nice blast at home from my aunt for leaving me all alone in the forest. My aunt and uncle hadn’t believed that I had volunteered to spend the night in the forest and had blamed my cousins for playing a practical joke on me by abandoning me in the forest and had sent them to fetch me back before anything happened to me. It was a little over 11pm by my watch when they came for me, so I refused to go back with them saying that I would complete my task and only come in the morning. But my cousins, begged, cajoled and threatened me into going back with them- even promising to agree in front of everyone that I had won the bet. It was midnight before we finally reached home and I saw electric light with my eyes so long accustomed to the darkness of primeval forest. And of course the next day, I told everyone there the story of the leopard I had frightened off by shining my torch light in its eyes and shouting in a loud voice. They might not have believed me, but I half believed it myself- I told the story so convincingly.
So that’s what I mean about having a real adventure- something which creeps upon you un-announced and takes you by surprise. A real adventure is something in which you are not aware that you are in the middle of one until days/weeks/months later. Then you suddenly think back over that time and say “gosh! Wasn’t that a grand adventure”? Those good memories are the ones you would prefer to be left with rather than the spine chilling fear, the soul sapping exhaustion and overall mental fatigue to the point of where you wonder whether you would ever survive this experience. Fortunately for me, I am a pretty tough type- though others call me stubborn and I kept on going long past the point when others in my place would have given up and retired to safety- for as they say- courage is something you blame on, when you don’t know any better about your motivation.
So tell me, what is your idea of a real adventure?
(P.S.- For more details on the forest I spent time in : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nallamala_Hills)