Dreams Do Come True
Dreams Do Come True
An empty wall, black, huge, in the hallway of the office for the ‘Society of Conservation’ (SOC). As Geeta moved past it many thoughts crowded her mind. Will the assistant director approve her proposal? Did she make a good pitch through her presentation during her fourth semester? Was she finally going to make it upto her first dream? Geeta intended to be an ecologist and had studied a course in Wildlife conservation with a renowned institute in Karnataka for two years. Now, she was ready to upscale herself by extending her last semester project work so that she could dive into a full - fledged career in wildlife conservation and she had chosen SOC for doing this work. SOC had a grand demeanor and was located in the interiors of Tamil Nadu state. She was never able to decide whether she liked the state more or her work. Being the southernmost part of India, Geeta was particularly fascinated by its close proximity with Puducherry. Even economically, she felt it was a viable city to build up her career. And the most interesting attraction for her was the historical essence that the state offered, thanks to it being ruled by the Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyans.
Geeta’s love for elephant conservation had also begun in Tamil Nadu when during her stay in Karnataka for her course, the students decided to go for a weekend outing to Anamalai National park. The weather was very enjoyable and overall it was a well-planned trip for two days. But when Geeta came back she was disturbed. And that disturbance bore the seeds for her love for her elephant conservation. The trip which was meant to be a pleasure trip turned out to be a turning point in her growth as a sensitive person! An unfortunate event took place on the second day of the trip when the group visited the Anamalai National Park. Karthik, one of the kumki elephants in the national park was jabbed to death as he escaped into the wild by breaking of the chains. The locals who had witnessed the incident mentioned that two other wild elephants had killed him as he entered a territorial conflict with them. Geeta’s group was a bit terrified with the incidence and being wary of traveling in the park they decided to break for lunch. One of the caretakers in the national park, Kalyan babu offered to greet them at his home as they were students and he loved interacting with the youth.
Kalyan babu had arranged for basic food in his simple, roof thatched house. As the group entered, they were offered coir chairs and mattresses to rest. The meal was a blend of some light snacks that included bonda served with sweet and sour tamarind chutney at the beginning followed by rice and Ennai kathirikkai kuzhambu (a stuffed eggplant preparation made with lentils, tamarind, and vegetables). As the group started eating there was complete silence. The room which smelled prominently of the curry leaves witnessed a war of the senses that created a long-lasting imprint of the underlying subtle flavor of mustard seeds blended with the perfect spicy punch of the dry chilies in the kuzhambu on their minds. For those not fond of eggplant, Kalyan babu very hospitably arranged for sambar ensuring that no one would return empty stomach. A bit later a woman came to serve freshly fried crispy udad dal papads and also brought along another empty serving bowl for each person. Everyone waited in anticipation as to what was to come next to fill that bowl while relishing their main course. Almost everyone was having a finger licking experience and just then, to everyone’s happiness, the empty bowl was getting filled with hot wheat payasam garnished with dryfruits that let out the distinct aroma of cardamom. The orangish hue garnered by the use of saffron in the appropriate amount made the sight gratifying and very soon the ‘just filled’ bowls were emptied. It was indeed thoughtful of Kalyan babu and his wife to have made a really balanced meal for the group that completely tantalized them!
As it was the second day of their weekend trip and they all worried about reaching back to Karnataka in time to be able to attend the course lectures on Monday, everyone decided to leave from Anamalai after the lunch. Needless to say, the amazing lunch had induced a sense of laze in them and so they waited anxiously for their bus driver to pick them up from the back side of Kalyan Babu’s house where their bus was parked which was also the rear gate entrance to the Anamalai National Park. Thankfully the group did not have to walk much after a tiring excursion which had almost consumed more than half of their day. In about fifteen minutes Surya, their bus driver, arrived, and the group bid bye to Kalyan babu thanking him for everything that he had done for them. While boarding the bus Geeta’s close friend and classmate Shanti suggested that maybe the group should give something to Kalyan babu as a token of appreciation for his hospitality. Everyone quickly agreed and they contributed 50 rupees each. Fortunately, one of them had an envelope and so they could write a nice message on it. Deepak, the organizer, and coordinator for the trip then handed over the envelope to Kalyan babu. Kalyan babu was really happy with the group’s gesture and told them to visit him again and then the group departed.
As the bus started moving some members surrendered themselves to the sleeping goddess while some others stayed awake enjoying the scenic views of long stretches of the greyish green pine trees that lay on both the sides of the road. The weather was cloudy thanks to the approaching rains and Surya had to struggle to find his way through certain patches on the road where there was heavy fog. By the time they all returned back to the hostel, it was 10 pm in the night and everyone headed to their respective rooms to take rest and sleep as early as possible so that they could wake up in time for the next day. When Geeta entered her room she saw that Rashmi, her roommate was still awake, and she wondered why. Rashmi was a student in the bio-engineering department on the campus and preferred to sleep early. Just then Rashmi’s phone rang and Geeta understood. Rashmi had recently gotten engaged and her fiancé would usually call her at night as he worked in the U.S. As much as Rashmi liked talking to him, she would be very irritated with the fact that her sleep was getting compromised which affected her work. But it was the initial phase of their relationship and so Rashmi did not mind talking to him as there were no other means of getting to know each other better as it was an arranged marriage.
Geeta quickly freshened up and decided to make herself a hot cup of coffee as was her nightly ritual on days like these when she was physically exhausted so that she could stay awake for an hour or two. Today was ideally not the kind of day where she should have exerted herself by writing her personal journal but then when the thought of doing it struck her, she could not push it away. Geeta made her way to the small kitchen in common mess and kept the water for boiling. She preferred her coffee semi-strong with some nutmeg powder in it. Her mother used to give it to her whenever she used to go back to her hometown in Mumbai. As the sugar began to dissolve, she added some milk to it and let the mixture simmer for about two to three minutes. Geeta then added coffee powder and let it boil for a minute or two with a pinch of the nutmeg powder and her coffee was ready. Just as she started pouring the coffee in her mug, Rashmi came over to the kitchen and complimented Geeta for the consistently amazing coffee that she would make no matter how late at night it was. As usual Geeta offered to share the coffee with Rashmi and as usual, she agreed to it. Both of them then headed towards their room ensuring that the kitchen lights and gas stove was turned off.
As they both sipped their coffee, they started talking about their respective weekend. Rashmi had worked in the laboratory on both the days and thus had a compensatory leave the next day. Fortunately for Geeta, the early morning lectures were canceled and she had to go to the college only in the afternoon. As Rashmi started speaking about Vijay, her fiancé Geeta found herself thinking about Karthik and how brutally he was killed in the wild. She was lost in the oblivion for a millisecond and Rashmi was quick to notice it. When she asked Geeta the reason for being lost Geeta shared the incidence with her. She also shared with Rashmi that elephants have been declared to be endangered in India and that a program named Project Elephant is being run by the Ministry of Forests in collaboration with the Government of India to save them. Observing Geeta’s passion to understand more about elephants in the wild driven by her curiosity that night to understand the reason for Karthik’s death, Rashmi commented to her that maybe she had found her calling. Geeta wasn’t very sure of what Rashmi said but nevertheless, she decided to work on a project pertaining to conservation of elephants for her fourth and last semester. It was 3 am at night and they both started feeling sleepy. As Geeta rested her back on the bed she realized that although she did not pen down her thoughts in her personal journal that night, her time spent with Rashmi who had encouraged her and given her a direction to think for her project was indeed productive. Within no time they both fell asleep.
The next day Geeta went to her college as per the schedule. She decided to bunk the first two lectures and find the possible information that she could get elephant conservation so that she could have a conversation with her professor about her decision of working on the subject. She learned that an effort to protect the endangered species of Indian elephant is being made by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Government of India under the aegis of ‘Project Elephant’. She was happy that it would be easier for her to perform in-depth study as Karnataka, the state where she was studying, and the nearby states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have a collective population of 44% of the elephant population of India, with the specific numbers being 6049 in Karnataka, and 3054 and 2761 respectively in Tamil Nadu and Kerala as recorded in 2017. The thought of Karthik’s death was on her mind and she started exploring the literature for understanding the causes of territorial conflicts between elephants. Interestingly she found that the elephant community was matriarchal wherein the females and the offsprings lived together leaving the males in isolation. Of the different species known the African and Asian consumed extensive amount of food and other natural resources for their survival which often led them to come into a skirmish. As she continued reading, she realized that destruction of the natural habitat, poaching and being forced to live in semi-natural surroundings resulted in low-birth rate and increased the mortality of elephants. She felt that it was good enough information to begin a conversation with her professor and decided to approach him after the class would be over.
After an hour-long lecture, as the students dispersed for a break, Geeta quietly requested some time from her professor for a conversation. She then discussed her interest in the subject and to her happiness her professor approved to guide her through the process. For one entire semester, she worked very hard going across the government offices, research institutions and NGO’s across Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. To her refuge, her entire project received a full scholarship from the University of Karnataka and so her traveling and other expenses were taken care of. She carried out her work through a survey- based approach and at the end of six months when her fourth semester and her college life about got over, she had accumulated so much information that it was too much for a college dissertation project. Her professor was so proud of her that he wisely advised her to use only a small part of the information for her dissertation while advising her that she should approach some other research institute with a more detailed project made from the remaining data. He had also managed to call the assistant director of SOC for the final presentations of all the students as an external examiner so that everyone could get the required exposure.
It was no surprise that Geeta topped the college in the final exam and received many accolades for her work. As per her professor’s advice, Geeta then made a presentation of all that she had achieved in the area of elephant conservation and what all she intended to do and approached SOC. And to her surprise, she got selected for an interview.
As she waited for her turn to meet the assistant director, these happy memories gave her the much-needed boost for the interview. After an hour she called Rashmi: “I got it, dear”. I am going to live my dream of working in the area of elephant conservation. And I am beginning my career with SOC! I cannot ask for more. Thank you so much for that heartfelt conversation that turned my life around. I need to hang up soon. Need to call up Sit and give him the news. All the credit for me being able to reach here sincerely goes to him. Had he not been there, I would have never thought of approaching SOC. Will call you later. Bye.”