HUMOUR: DECCAN HERALD/JUNGLE TALES


Deccan Herald, Friday, October 24, 2003

Jungle Tales
What people call a forest resort, SHEILA KUMAR calls home. And it’s not always roseate dawns and birdsong, she reports wryly








Okay, let me play fair. I started out mentioning roseate dawns and birdsong…I get both, in plenty. The twilight zones here are something Van Gogh and Gaugin would have loved: dramatic washes of carmine red, flaming orange, acid yellow, cobalt blue. The birds are exotic ones, rocket-tailed drongoes and the like and the birdsong, sometimes it is so loud, you wish you could find a knob to switch it off!

Which of course leads you to wonder just where I live. I live in the jungles of central India. There, I’ve finally said the ‘j’ word. I’ve moved away from the concrete jungle of the city to a jungle, period. When my army officer husband got posted to Jabalpur, I was fairly sanguine about the move. I’d been to Jabalpur earlier and a nice mining town it is, with the mighty Marble Rocks on display just about 20 kilometres away.

We moved and I discovered we were not stationed in Jabalpur proper but on the verge of an overgrown lushly verdant area called Khamaria. The quarters added to the surreal feeling…it was a 16-room barrack modelled like a railway compartment, accessed through a long corridor; not the most restful of residences, I assure you. Doors were forever warped and refused to close, which meant you used a complicated system of closing many doors to go to the loo! Add to it, a cement floor which was a work in progress (i.e. constantly crumbling), ominous gaps between ends of wall and false roof; taps that could never be rid of their addiction to dripping, and you have a far-from-comfortable situation. At least, you sitting in Bangalore don’t, but I do!

However, having been an army brat and then graduating to army wife, I tried to take it all in my stride. Every season brought along an invasion of insects.

Humungous crickets everywhere in the monsoons, giant roaches that flew, the teeniest frogs skittering about in winter, snakes of all lengths and colours dangling from trees in the compound, slithering on the sides of the road, mosquitoes all the year round, langurs in summer. And what langurs… they arrived in an army of a bakers’ dozen, led by a huge thug with one hand missing. I have watched horrified as they have torn my guava tree from limb to limb, plucked my not-yet-fully ripe mangoes, plundered my jamun trees, made mocking faces at my hysterical dog…and then, calmly loped away with a satisfied air.
Night-times were a cacophony. Civet cats would prowl on the roof dislodging tiles with noisy abandon. During season, mangoes would fall from overhanging branches onto the roofs with gunshot sounds, shaking my already shaken nerves further. Monkeys invariably used my roof as their raucous nightclub.









Little by little, my composure began to go the way of my cement floor. I’d look up to admire a graceful formation of birds flying back to their nests and realise on closer scrutiny that it was a colony of bats, big bats. A spotted owl and sometimes his wife, locked eyes with me every evening when I was out on my walk, and I’d detect a look of sympathy in that unblinking gaze, at times. Once, I stooped to admire what I thought was a tightly-whorled rust-coloured flower in my garden and discovered it was rust-coloured insects packed in tight formation. 

I’d gotten used to the horned toad that had taken up residence in my bathroom but had to constantly look out that I didn’t trample it underfoot…. it wasn’t the toad under the harrow, it was a harrowed me! Scrunchy sounds underfoot on the road usually meant you’d ended some snail’s already short life. Shoes had to be shaken in case of lurking scorpions. I’d gotten used to sleeping all year round under a mosquito net rather like one would do on safari in darkest, deepest Africa but sitting down on the aforementioned long veranda to read a newspaper also meant stray mosquitoes raised vicious welts on your exposed limbs.

And when it rained, it rained. And then rained some more. Then some more. To cut a miserably wet story short, it never stopped raining till the waters got into the vestibules of ...I mean the rooms of the quarters. And the day it stopped emulating the Biblical Flood, my neighbour Bina saw a monitor lizard in her compound. I offer this statement to you without comment.

Now for the ‘Above All’, as they say in Hindi movies. The other day, I happened to be alone (husband out on tour), having sent the staff away early. When I went to get myself dinner, there on the kitchen floor was a giant crab, waving its nightmare-inducing pincers straight at me. Now, did I ever lead you, gentle readers, to believe I was living beside some water source? No, I didn’t simply because I live in a land-locked area. So what was a crab doing in my kitchen?
Actually, I have given up asking such metaphysical questions. I realise that life lived here is surreal. And you don’t ask for reality in surrealism, now do you?







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