At the entrypoint of Dakshin Khairbari Jungle on 6th January, 2018, one of the coldest days of Dooars. I went at least 14 times there, sometime with my family, sometime with friends and colleagues, and alone. The forest is now thin, and the wild animals–tigers, leopards, dwindled. The tourists from all corners of India came to visit the park. They took pictures of the forest, scattered plastics, and went back home and talked to relatives and neighbours about Dooars’ beauty. Look intently, and you would easily find the variegated trees, shrubs, undergrowth bushes of medicinal properties. Some bushes were in full bloom, others were dry and wild with huge foliage–all green, and a musky odour if you would stir them choked you. In the midst of the forest, some old trees died, and still stood high. Perhaps they were waiting for the axe of woodcutters for their funeral. Bushes of shrubs, undergrowth plants, resting under the shade of the tall huge trees. Lay here and there brown patches of withered grass lands. Enter the forest in a scorching day, and be welcomed by its serene cool air and tranquillity, rustling of the leaves, and humming of the bees. Even at noon you could hear a whirring sound coming out somewhere from the depths of the forest. It was late afternoon. The sun declined in the west, and the rays lost effulgence. Yet the sky and the earth gleamed with a rosy hue. The long leaves of the Saal, and Sheshum glistened. And the rivulet running on the west fringe of the forest all orange purples. With the passage of each minute the jungle became gloom, and dour, like the faces of the Munda women. A layer of mist hazed the distant lines of tree tops, and the air was heavy with dew. The jungle looked eerie, with the tapestry of mists, laced the trunks, twigs and foliage. The ground underneath was strewn with dry leaves. I walked and and the leaves made khosh khosh noise. The tall trees were silent and still. Some languars jumped from one tree to another. Parrots fleeted over my head and sat on a leafless tree, and chattered. Two peasants made a fire with the leaves and baked their hands and legs. On the outer fringes of the forest the cows grazed, and mooed. We went at the entry bar and drank tea. The sun already set, and the darkness began to envelope the forest. It was too cold, and we shivered. Tourists after the day’s picnic returning to the parking area. Their drivers made fire and baked themselves and smoked and gossiped. Within half an hour this area too would be deserted. Elephants might come, and the peasants living by the borders of the forest getting ready for the night’s ordeal. They were in continuous fear, and made some unique mechanisms to drive the mahakals out of their yards. by bursting crackers, beating drums, and making ulooo ulooo, especially by women folk.
Coming home in holiday is both pleasure and pain. Plesure as my village is serene and starlit, and laziness marks the days and nights.peasants all poor, and their talk circles around daily living chores.Freed from city’s noise and hurry, false promises and myriad injustices, pigeon holes, nauseating smell of garbage heaps, filth and squalor,cheap police, squatted shop keepers, demoralised humbugs,papers full of filthy stories of corruption and politics. Pain I feel hearing sudden demise of many a familiar faces, some neighbours, some near and dear ones, long forgotten. Almost each time I visit home I hear the news of some funerals,Hindus, Muslims were they. In my infancy I spend wonders with them.Stories of brave men, ghosts, witches–all so dear to my heart I sucked. Usually the place of the tales was the front yard of our house.Peasants gathered after sunset and sat on the cart and began the story. I tiptoed there and with a chadar I covered myself and heard the strange stories of the Sahibs,indigo cottages, their hunting and disciplines. Especially the evening when stories of ghosts I heard, my heart shrank and I sat still and was often accompanied home by an elder and when walking I looked back and felt the sound of the footsteps of haunted me.I walked,he walked. I stopped he stopped. I often gasped and reached home somehow. Among childhood stories one was of particular interest. I was eight or nine. There was a marriage ceremony in our neighbourhood that night. I came outside of our house for urinal. It was ten pm or so. A group of the bride party asked me to accompany them to a pond or river for nature’call. I accompanied them to our river, five kms away from home, by the outer side of the village. Meanwhile I was nowhere. My parents and uncles began a search in the bushes,nearby water bodies, in the adjacent mango and banyan groves. But they all failed to trace me. Mother began walllowing. She thought I was carried away by “huloo”, a local variant of ghost. Later more people joined in the search with fire and knives. But of no avail. And during this shock, the neighbours saw me accompanying the strangers of the night from the river side to the village. I was snatched away from the party and the bride men were showered with torrents of abuse.They all asked forgiveness and our neighbourhood forgave them. Reaching home,as it was a wintry night, I was shivering and my mother folded me with a warm quilt,caressing me again and again, her lost child came home.