So finally, I visited the forests. They always fascinated me- their blend of wild and still, alluring and scary. Well, that's what photographs and poetry had told me. And experience recently confirmed.
I'd seen mountain woods before, but those tall, slender conifers give out a rather airy-fairy vibe... ethereal grace and whatnot. The forests in and around Chalsa are different- with broad leaves giving birth to shifting shadows, creepers forming tangled screens and muscly roots reaching far into the earth (even peeping through it.) Both are beautiful. But it's always more exciting to have your elemental side stirred. That's what the latter does.
This time, our trip was planned in a way that didn't allow us to penetrate the wild. Elephants, cheetahs, West Bengal has 'em all. But we only noticed bison
and some peacocks around a salt lick. That too was a little marred by tourists. I especially remember one who peed in full view, walked away from the criminal location with forced nonchalance, then asked his wife to wave her red dupatta at the unsuspecting brutes. Spanish hangover, anyone?
Equally striking was a female who kept screaming most ineffectually at her toddler. And actually seemed to revel in her miserable position. If you ask me, these miscreants could carry off the 'bison' tag with authenticity.
There was an exciting moment though, when one of the horned dadas suddenly launched into a run, and covered miles of marshy land within seconds. Mud and water sprayed from its hooves, a peacock shrieked and the crowd went momentarily berserk. For a while, we all waited for some big cat to appear in its slinky-ominous regalia. As you can guess, we learnt not to count our carnivores before they were sighted.
But that's NOT to say my trip was dull. Nossirree. Just Driving down some of the roads sent me into raptures.
I learnt what art sunlight can create by passing through brambles and branches.
Another revelation was the transformation of forests over time.
Morning- Dry vines and leaves weave a film of brown against a dense, intense green. Lighter shades of green emerge in patches, as if to assure us that the wild has its softer side. The sky decides: 'no-matter-WHAT-you-say-about-my-hundred-faces-blue, blue,BLUE-is-my-colour!' The wind secretly ties a rocket to your legs.
Afternoon- Everything is sleepier and more alive all at once. The whole mass of forest is a shuddering, breathing living creature. You want to go for a drive.You doze. Then some gaurdian of your aesthetic pleasures pokes you in the ribs. All it takes is a glimpse of the road. You sit up with a spark lit inside, swearing not to fall asleep now.
Early Evening- The sun, the SUN. So much larger, and red-orange... far too serene for fire, but with a violent emotional undercurrent. Isn't there some song called Tears of the Sun? Or is it a movie? Either way, that's the phrase the evening sun keeps drawing up from my mind. As for the trees- the shades and shapes begin to blend, the bird-calls take on a sudden unearthly quality, the shadows hint at the possible breakthrough of a grey, winding trunk from their depths. Goosebumps.
Late Evening onwards- We made the driver stop the car and turn off the headlights for a few seconds. Oh god, what a thrill! Even when the headlights were on, the darkness of parts beyond their reach was heightened, taking the interplay of light and shade into a whole new dimension.
Of course, with a wealth of the earth's whims to choose from, we visited areas other than forests too. But to avoid an epic blogpost, I will have to skip it all. Because I want to talk about the place I was staying at. And now that I've entered this zone, my fingers have already begun typing, preparing ground for an ode on the Fireflies.
I discovered them while walking by the tea-gardens within the resort. At night. At first, I saw only one, which made me squeal anyway. Then I noticed another. Ooh, Lucky, I thought. Then I saw them all. Slowly floating out of the tea-leaves with curious ease, as though gravity is a myth. Spun out of the stuff that dreams and trances are made of. Edges of stars that have broken and drifted away, mingled with earth and weed. Dotting the night air. Glimmering so faintly; no brightly, no. You never reach a conclusion. And then you stop trying, because you aren't sure whether you'll ever come so close to believing in the mystical again. And you want to savour the moment.
Dear Mother Nature is infallible, but the human company we kept was pretty damn interesting too. Travelling with us was a family friend (we'll call him SB)- a lawyer with NO pretensions of the stiff upper lip that our legal biggies adopt so happily. Apart from his constant (and never tiresome) stream of repartee, his greatest contribution was a Mask.
It wasn't spooky, and it wasn't monstrous. It was... shocking. More twisted and vile than anything usually considered human. However, it had a smug leer that you might have easily have seen on your boss, or on a man in a dark alley. Now we went OVERBOARD with that piece of work. Of all people my brother easily looked the most repulsive on donning it. Something about the way he stood hunched. And he must be having expressive eyes 'cos there was a real glint flashing beneath the rubber folds (eyelids) sprouting a fountain of grey hair (eyebrows.)
One of my funniest moments was when he walked out, mask et all, and calmly sat upon a bench by the walkway. At that time, a troupe of college students had just landed at the resort. There was a girl walking past the bench. When she saw that monstrous figure sitting there in the darkness, she did a smooth 180 degree turn and just took off. Soon enough, there were shrieks and yelping renting the cool silence. Choosing the perfect moment, Piku moved away wordlessly, leaving the rest to figure out things for themselves.
In 15 minutes, we found the students huddled around together on the lawn, and a FURIOUS debate was on- concering ghost vs. prankster. You'd be surprised to hear the petrified passion with which some argued for the side of ghost.
Another hilarious incident occurred on New Years Eve. A stage had been erected just outside our cottage, and performances were going on (ranging from Badi Mushkil Hai Khoya Mera Dil Hai to Tuni'r Ma and Poran Jai Joliya.) Guests were moving about freely. By the time a round of introductions had ended, we found ourselves with an elderly couple (we'll call them Mr and Mrs Pleasant) in our cottage. Though the possibility of invitiations was dubious, it all seemed cool to me in the start. They were both dapper and benign in appearance, rather given to smiles. But by slow degrees, they unravelled a peculiar core.
The real fun started when the man referred to himself as SB's childhood friend. Apparently, they had met only once in 88, when both were far from blossoming buds. Moreover, at that time- SB had found the wife in great consternation because Mr. Pleasant had slipped off somewhere without warning.
No sooner did the words 'childhoood friend' escape the man's mouth than I saw SB's eyes gleam.
SB to Mr Pleasant: Achha, I remember meeting your wife for the first time. She was crying because you were lost.
Mrs Pleasant: (Mildly) I was crying, really?
SB: (Still talking to Mr Pleasant) Kintu bolun toh, do You remember My wife's name?'
Mr. Pleasant: E baba, I can't say I do remember... oh dear... what was it again?
Mr. Pleasant: Hemangini Hemangini. Tai, na?
Mr. Plesant: What? It's not?
SB: It's Debjani actually.
Mr. Pleasant: Oh. Uhh...
SB:But Now it's Shaitani. That happens to all wives. That's why I'm travelling on my own. (Note: SB's wife- named Itu- was staying back in town with her ICSE-inflicted daughter. The family is fully functional)
Mrs. Pleasant to me:
(Wishing to thaw the discomfort but unable to break free of the name chains)
You look just like our Sraboni.
SB: But her name's Sraboni too!
Mrs. Pleasant: Shotti? No, you're just teasing.
SB: But now it's Poushali. (Note: This is winter. December=Poush in Bengali.)
That's when Mr. Pleasant decided to use his connections and ordered some very good fried fish and Black Dog. That's when SB decided to spare him. HAP-PPEE New Year everybody :D