An Exotic Expedition
An Exotic Expedition9 mins 264 9 mins 264
It was the year nineteen hundred ninety-three. I was posted as a doctor in a subsidiary health centre at a village named Budhikomna, in Nuapada district. A purposeless granary was utilised as our hospital’s establishment. The shed in its front once meant for weighing grains, now sufficed as the patient’s waiting area. It had two benches, newly constructed for the occasional patients but mostly utilised by the hospital staff in their leisure hours.
It was a Sunday morning. I and our pharmacist Mr Narendra Panda, a native of the village, with his friend Navida, a frequenter to the establishment, were relaxing on those benches. An intervening free-space of about a hundred feet from the shed allowed a view of the bus-stop across the street. The stop had only two visitors; the state-run bus from Cuttack to Nuapada and a local private one.
Spontaneously and uninhibited, I uttered in an audible voice, “That young woman getting down from the bus looks like my wife!”
Laughter broke out amongst the people seated with me, as I became aware of the loudness of my statement, knowing well that my wife Sarita, was more than six hundred kilometres away, worked at a hospital, in Bari, Jajpur district. I blushed. But my gaze did not move away from the woman in question. The woman had turned towards the opposite side of the road asking something to the passersby. I noticed the long, thick, pleated bunch of hair falling on her back. The familiar clothing assured me even more. Knowing no bounds of happiness, I rushed to greet my absolute surprise. It was her! This was an era before the cell-phones. And I was twenty-six years young!
Due to the courtesy of the school headmaster, a fatherly figure and Narendra Ajna's elder uncle, I was staying in the schoolroom meant for the students of fourth class. Realising my wife’s presence, my staff and Navida quickly arranged to make a partition in that big room to give it a look of a house. We arranged walls made out of bamboos available in the village to construct the bath area, on the backyard. The school was at the northern end of the village. There was enough bushy wasteland towards the western side of the school to enforce further privacy to attend to our needs; a struggling doctor (a couple in this case) of rural Bharat as shown in a classic old cinema.
Our son, Sayam, was yet to see his first birthday. Leaving him with my caring mother-in-law, Sarita had decided to gift me a surprise: her visit! To celebrate her adventurous spirits, we planned another.
The village health guide (VHG), from the small village Pattpain atop Dunguripali hill, had come down to fetch his logistics. Pattpain literarily means royal water or royal rain. It was a strategically established village by King of Khariar, at the border of Khariar and Patana, two princely states in the pre-independent era. We decided to climb to Pattpain with the VHG.
The local women advised against taking my wife atop the stiff hill, citing their fear and uncertainty regarding her abilities. They probably had genuine concerns. Or, since they were afraid of doing the same, their suggestion was possibly out of jealousy or a feeling of inferiority. Both way, we were blissfully ignorant, and at a short notice, everything was arranged.
After having lunch, we started our journey towards Dunguripali hill. On our way, we prayed at the Shiva temple situated at the southern end of the village. The temple was a thirteenth or fourteenth-century monument built with designer bricks. It was under the responsibility of central ASI. We crossed Dunguripali village to reach the foothills within half an hour.
The journey, in the beginning, was beautiful, covered with lush green flora and rocky terrains. But in the sunny humid weather, it did not take too long to get exhausted. The stiff hill was extremely stiff. Sarita was lagging behind. And so was I. Navida and Narendra Ajna were ahead of us and the porter and the VHG were far up. Both of them belonged to the village. Now, at the age of fifty-four, I understand the reversal of our hierarchy under different circumstances. And in that expedition, we had a similar reversal of our positions.
The climb continued. I realised, at the plea of my wife’s exhaustion, I was also receiving the required rest. In every aspect of life, we feel comfortable and get comfort if there’s one who lags behind us. After a point, Sarita started feeling breathless. We were unaware of the remaining distance. Neither Navida nor Narendra Ajna could forecast the same. The localities were too far ahead to answer us. Although the hill was a smaller one, it felt like climbing Mount Everest, without the aid of oxygen and water. We could not conclude which was easier; to climb further to reach the top or to trek down the trail to Dunguripalli village. But man always looks ahead and we climbed despite the difficulties. After every few steps, Sarita would pant out of thirst and would be breathless. Slowly, her pulse rate increased above a hundred, and she started getting palpitation. But after resting for a few minutes she would say, “Let us climb, and let us move”.
Throughout life, I have heard the same thing from her, “Let us move ahead”. I do not know if she is an inspiration or an obstacle in my life’s endeavours and vice versa.
When she could not climb anymore, she started crawling. She was begging for water. But our stupidity had suggested us to give the water container to the porter. And now, he was too far up. The other two started climbing fast so that they could send back some help and water. Now it was just the two of us, struggling on our own, a great romance of loneliness and fear. Fear of death was not out of question. As doctors, we were familiar with death. Once she regained her stability, we did not stop. We moved ahead; painfully ahead. And the help returned.
After taking enough water, we felt better. Knowing the top is not too far, we were extremely relieved. It felt like achieving the unachievable. And finally!
It was not a big valley. The plane lands were not enough for housing and farming. The small houses, twenty in number, looked comfortable in the lap of the mother, the hill of Dunguripalli. The VHG, Navida and Narendra Ajna were waiting for us. All of us were tired and so was the day. The twilight welcomed the comfort of dark night, without an intervening evening. We neither had energy nor time to explore the landscape and observe the natural walls surrounding three-quarters of the village.
The Anganwadi centre worked as a guest house. They offered a large amount of tea and an even larger amount of puffed rice. Given our situation, anything was enjoyable. We cherished the rest and relaxation. In an hour, the dinner was served. It was a sizeable portion of rice with a good amount of country chicken curry. We were meat-eaters back then and enjoyed it to our soul’s satisfaction (I do not accept the term non-vegetarian as there is no human who does not at all consume plants and plant products). By eight o'clock we were ready to sleep. The whole village was in slumber by then. The VHG, who too had a tough day, bid adieu.
We reduced the flame of the lantern to its minimum. After flashing our torchlight at the surroundings for a while, the four of us retired. There were two rooms and we, the couple, had the luxury of a rope woven cot. The cot was about five and a half feet in length and three and a half feet in width. Why do people make dimensions so small? Wood was not in scarcity; at least not there! Do they believe small cots are more romantic?
Nature was more romantic than the couple in its lap. There were so many sounds, which certainly were not sweet songs of birds. Some were periodic in nature and some, more constant. An owl’s hooting was the only sound I could recognise. I assumed the constant ringing sounds to be of Jhinkaries, a buzzing insect. The periodic sounds were very different and possibly those of wild animals; some docile and some fearsome.
But, within a moment, everything changed. It started raining heavily. The cold wind came through the breaches in the small window, rest from under the door. With every passing moment, the rain intensified. Previously the sky was so clear. It was unbelievable, how fast the clouds covered the hill and started pouring. The sound of rain in a small valley is a memory of a lifetime. It was amazingly different! It felt as if we were placed within the sounds of thunderclaps. The sound of the rain resonated as if it were confined in a sound machine. It still remains inexpressible!
But soon everything changed to another sound play. The rain suddenly stopped. The wind became calm. The air stopped entering our room. The flashes of lightening paused. And no thunderclaps were heard anymore. But that did not stop the sound show. This new profound sound was that of a large number of waterfalls banding together. The profuse rainwater was falling downhill, surrounding the three sides of the village. But again, the sounds diminished as dramatically as they had started. I am not sure who slept first; the hills or the couple it sheltered.
The next morning, we woke up early, feeling extremely fresh. If the sound was the charm of the night then the sight was the magic of the morning. The hills on our right looked brighter than the village and we presumed the sunrise to happen from that direction. Lo and behold! It was just the opposite. That was the west. The tall walls were reflecting the sun in front of it creating an illusion for us. The sun rose from the opposite side that was free from hills, to give us a jolt and correct our sense of direction. And suddenly another magic happened. The valley went dark and we all were drowned in thick clouds. The visibility was far more compromised than the winter mist of the coastal planes. But again it got cleared to let the sun sign bright on the lush green vegetation all around.
We visited the tiny village houses. They did not speak any different language. We could communicate easily. We learnt a little, about their economics, sociology, rituals, aspirations and problems. After breakfast, we prepared to return fast. The villagers of Budhikomna must have been worried for us because of the rain, we presumed.
We started. This time we took the path through the north-east direction along the side of a stream. That route was a gradual slope, longer in distance and through the two villages, Kamkeda and Nuagan. We walked long and reached the village Kandetara and then walked another three kilometres and entered the village of Budhikomna from the opposite direction; the very same direction from which Sarita had entered the village, a few days before. We reached the hospital. The revenue inspector Reddy Mousa, Mausi and family were waiting for us with intense anxiety. So was Mr Narendra Panda’s elder brother. All of them felt great relief after seeing us. But the ones who became the happiest were Lalubudha, the world’s tastiest aluchop maker with a broken femur, his blind wife and family.
This exotic expedition that we undertook twenty-seven years ago still remains in our memory as an experience of a lifetime.