Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Jungle Talk

Navtej Sarna

LIFE with Subedar Sahib was fun for those two days. I remember him as he stood in the circle of light and warmth thrown by the bonfire in the thatched dining hut. The flames danced in his eyes and threw vanishing shadows on his stern face. All the tables in the hut were set meticulously. He and the waiters knew that the jungle lodge was lying vacant and nobody else would be coming to dinner. But the ritual was a pleasant act and somehow added conviviality.

Beyond the light and the fire stretched the Gokarna safari park, scarcely out of Kathmandu. Twilight had changed to night and the jungle from the friendly being of light and shade to a demon possessed of unknown mysteries and never to be revealed secrets. Shadows of a hundred legends walked its paths and visited the timeless rock hewn temples.

Subedar Sahib watched carefully as the dinner was served. Scarcely was a glass sipped than it was refilled, a gastronomic desire so much as hinted than it was fulfilled. And then he began to talk… in a soft monotone… he talked of the leopard that came from the distant hill and sat by the little statue of the devi of the jungle.

He looked out of the door of the hut into the inky darkness and his eyes were full of awe and respect for all that is wild and untamed. We huddled into ourselves and took surreptitious, reassuring glances at the comfort of the bonfire.

Then he took us away from the warmth. On cane chairs we sat in the night. The chairs gleamed ghostly white in the moonlight and the seven sisters came alive in the night. The tea was a rich mixture. The cook had a large stock of spices and few appreciative guests.

The hushed monotone told us how Ravana had mediated timeless decades in a deep cave. Yes, right there…. Our eyes followed in the pointed direction. We saw only the high protective wall of the lodge crisscrossed with creepers and heard the monkeys in the trees above. And the Subedar Sahib walked us to the gate. Drugged by his monotone and bewitched by the night we followed. He drew back the thick wooden gate and threw a switch.

A strong searchlight woke up the night. A herd of spotted deer looked up, scarcely more than supernatural silhouettes. They watched and began to move. The searchlight went off and we returned to our world.

In the morning the horses took us to the friendly corners of the jungle. The legends had vanished and Subedar Sahib was again the jolly guide. The monsters and gods had stepped back into eternity.

Somehow, I preferred the night.