Forgotten Three Days - Part 1
Forgotten Three Days - Part 114 mins 334 14 mins 334
One fine day of November 2014, my cell phone vibrated with a scrolling text “Dipti Patra added you”.
Though I had a client right in front, somehow managed to sneak at the WhatsApp screen and was amazed to read the group named “UCE 94”. With opening of the screen, the cyber world transported me to the brick and mortars of UCE (University College of Engineering), Burla campus with flashbacks of 225 batch mates. 20 long years was enough in erasing many names and even few faces. A tingle of sensation ran through my body.
Might be I was in the sixties and it was increasing every day. I mean to say, my count as a member in the WhatsApp group. With progress of time, entry of a new member, posting a recent snap and little bio-data caused euphoria in the group. For the first time I chatted live with my college friends, spread across the globe, UK, USA, Middle-East to East-Asia whom we abbreviated UBI (Unfortunately Born in India).
UCE 94 made Global Village, a reality.
The requests for adding a batch mate made group administrator, Dipti Patra, a highly placed State Government official, exercising all sorts of discretions before adding a new member as count was nearing 100 mark, the maximum limit for a WhatsApp group. With increase in the list of waiting members, it was decided to delist silent members for the more vibrant members, waiting in queue, to step in.
A poor banker posted in SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) Department hardly finds time for family, leave apart spending Quality Time. After a lot inhibition, I started participating in the group chats of Engineers, with colourful profile images from across the Globe. It was difficult to match the activities of my technocrat friends, placed highly in their respective Organisations.
Forwarding a “Good Morning” and “Good Night” written on a colorful background, the easiest act to claim one’s deserving right to be in the group, was strictly banned. To be in a group of highly dignified technocrats, on 03rd May 2015, being a Sunday, I started posting the sequence of dropping Dibakar Munda, a Mechanical batch mate, to his village, accompanying from College along with another batch mate.The group provided an uninterrupted platform for nearly five and half hours, starting from 2:00 PM, without any cross talk. The intermittent posts were on and around my narrations. The group connected easily to the incident and Arun Mahapatra, a batch mate posted:
3:38AM, May 3 - Arun Mahapatra: Abe sabu tate tataka hei sunuchanti … (Hey everybody is listening with awe …) The story ended with the following chats …
7:48PM, May 3 - MANOJ DAS(USA): Arabinda ... wonderful real life story and beautiful narrations made my Sunday morning. Now, Banaj to start Bhatli expedition.
8:02PM, May 3 - BANAJ(UK): Arabinda has a photographic memory, lively imagery, so we must wait for him to narrate Bhatli trip.
(Shaded portions are the group chatting on and around the storyline)
Monday kept me away from the group up to following weekend. Again, the sword of eviction from the group hovered, until I was on holidays to Odisha and had ample time to go through each and every post of the group that suddenly the following transactions occurred…
3:18PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Banaj you asked about Bhatli Trip. But do you remember the background? How come I was a part of it alongside youself, Niranjan, Pulu and Shashikanth? Let alone Bhegnath, the obvious Raju Guide of the trip.
3:51PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Nobody knows how it started. It was just Makar Sankranti holiday for 2 consecutive days. Duita Pagla basiki katha hau thile, Niranjan and Bhegnath. (Two nuts were discussing, Niranjan & Bhegnath).
Someone in a whim proposed for a walk through the jungle very next day. I think we all were sitting around and thought why not.
Shashikant or Pulu had a watch with a compass that gave us all the confidence we needed, that we wouldn't be lost.
3:58PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Might be you are correct! But ‘am not sure if ‘was interested for the trip. Even today with very flash of it I got a chill running down my spine.
4:09PM, May 11 - Surjit: Banaj and Aurobinda it shows in teens, mind does not work cent percent. Ha...Ha...
4:27PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): We had borrowed bicycles to ride up to the dam and then left them there with the forest guards when jungle became too dense for cycle, right?
4:36PM, May 11 - SABYASACHI: I know the jungle Cock meat you had at forest guard's house in the night while it rained heavily. You were lucky to stay back otherwise it would have been difficult to stay in the jungle ... right?
5:00PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Who told you Sabyasachi?
5:05PM, May 11 - SABYASACHI: I was also invited in that trip but I excused myself to which Bhegnath was very annoyed.
5:05PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): For half a day's trek, we had just a few chocolate bars and some Maggie and little onions, to travel light.
5:09PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): First few hours Arabinda paced like Rambo cleared the bushes for the group, proper jungle adventure. By lunch time all that energy gone.
5:11PM, May 11 - PROF. PANDEY: Which jungle Banaj?
5:12PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): From Hirakud dam to Bhatli.
5:18PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Shashikant was the navigator and carried a Map from hostel for direction. But little did we know that the angle is useless when reference point is unknown.
5:23PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Arabinda please carry on. My fingers are aching. Even, I will be busy with meeting all through the afternoon.
5:29PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Shashikant saw some bear droppings, paw marks and beamed with glee and excitement. Arabinda straight to the point, seeing a danger, cried, "Abey Bhalu achhanti ye jungle re! Mote agaru kahinki kahilani?" (Hey, there are bears in the jungle! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Bhegnath cool as a cucumber "misi kari chila’le bhalu mane pala’me bo... (Shouting aloud together will make the bears run away ...)"
5:33PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Bhoka re prana adha ... gote jaga re Bhegnath kahila arrey ye phala khaa’nti. (When we were half-dead with hunger ... at one place, Bhegnath pointing at a tree told the fruits being edible.) He climbed and shook few branches, some dry fruits fell down. We happily collected them.
5:36PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Dozen or so fruits. Bhegnath told about the inner seeds taste good. Breaking the seeds got a rice size inner seed.
5:38PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Bye now guys. Arabinda and Pulu, please continue.
5:38PM, May 11 - Lamay: Bhega ra bheja kama karu na thila ... (Bhegnath had lost his mind ...)
5:39PM, May 11 - HARESH BHAI: We will wait for Aurobinda ...
5:40PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): No, not at all. Because of Bhegnath we could get out safe.
5:41PM, May 11 - Lamay: Joking Banaj. I know Bhega was smart boy. Auro where are u?
5:42PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Pulu majhire kahila mutibi. Taku samaste hadkeile, mutibu kan be... dekhuchu pani nahi ... kahila mutibi. Bhitare rakh, body absorb kari naba, Sosa lagibani. (At one point on Pulu’s asking for a break to urinate, the group thundered, don’t you even think about urinating ...Here we have a shortage of water and all you want is to drain it out ! ... Keep the fluid inside, body will absorb it and you will feel less thirst)
5:45PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): When light started fading Shashi’s excitement dropped. Then the danger dawned on us and all of us felt helpless.
8:05PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): When we were losing hope, Niranjan heard a faint rhythmic noise. After little more walking deeper into the jungle, it was bit clearer, there were some woodcutters. Bhegnath asked them for route in their language. They said something in Sambalpuri that Bhegnath only understood.
8:08PM, May 11 - NAYAN DAS(UK): This is superb man. Were you mad to venture into the jungle?
8:09PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Go ahead Arabinda ... I am not habituated writing with mobile ...Even, I am exhausted recalling ...
8:12PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Hey Banaj relax! Honestly, being a better student, I thought you would recall much more than I carry. Going through the above lines I am sorry to say, though you have not added fat, unlike most of us, but have accumulated lot of dust on those pages of those yesteryear. If you don't mind, let me start from the beginning but assure to splash more light on the darker parts.
8:13PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: In a small meeting, might be in Shashikant's room, Bhegnath narrated how Veer Surendra Sai fought with the British from his hide-outs in Bhatli fort. I didn't want to miss a life-time chance to be a part to the trip to Bhatli fort.
8:15PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: The very next day, on 14th January 1993, at around 5.00AM, myself-Pulu, yourself-Niranjan and Bhegnath-Shashikant left hostel campus riding three cycles. Burla town was yet to wake up for the day’s activity. With almost no traffic, we crossed the town at ease. The uphill road to Gandhi Minar (Tower) made us sweating beneath sweaters we had put on to beat the January morning chill of Burla. Half way through, had to take off sweaters and hang them at back, with sleeves wrapped around our necks.
8:20PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Reaching foothill of Gandhi Minar completely wiped the morning sickness. It was fun ride thereafter with descending slope on a narrow dusty road along the right dyke, contouring the huge reservoir water of Hirakud Dam. The first multipurpose water valley project in Independent India that took almost 10 years for completion after work commenced in 1947. It also holds the record of being the world’s longest earthen dam.
8:26PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: After riding for nearly 15 km, we reached Debrigarh Forest Range office. The staff there were exalted hearing about our expedition to Bhatli fort. With friendly gestures they assisted in all possible ways, even offering the morning tea and providing every possible guidance.
8:32PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Our acknowledging about only carrying a kitchen knife for cutting fruits, they were bit apprehensive about our safety. They took all the pain in picking up six thick bamboo poles and sharpening one end for our use at exigency in protecting ourselves from jungle animals, especially wild buffalos, which were abundant along with occasional bears and panthers. After a brief pause of ten-fifteen minutes, we left our cycles there in their custody and went ahead towards the forest.
9:16PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Perfect, I have forgotten a lot.
9:17PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Bhegnath, being a local lad was the guide for the expedition, the Raju Guide led from the front. Shashikant a voracious reader whom, even our teachers respected for his vast knowledge, the Google.com of our batch, followed closely behind. Pulu, a pampered brat of a highly placed State Government servant had an imported wrist watch with a magnetic needle was third in the row, being the navigator.
9:17PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Following were Banaj, Niranjan and myself, casual as usual.
9:20PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: As per Bhegnath's suggestion on the previous night i.e. on 13th Jan 1993 we had bought day’s ration, Bananas, Apples, Oranges, Breads, Maggie packets, Onions, Chocolates, water bottles and few cold drinks bottles. But very less in quantity as one need to travel light when trekking, as dictated by Shashikant.
9:21PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Sounds about right. I think took some rice as well or not?
9:23PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): But very less quantity of ration as we had to travel "light" when trekking, as per Shashikant.
9:26PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Yes, you are right my friend! We had to travel light but without rice. Ha ... Ha ...
Leaving Forest Range Office followed a narrow footpath, through the lush green surroundings. A serpentine road, meant for the Forest Department guarding vehicles crossed our traversing path often. Nevertheless, the group decided to traverse the footpath, running among waist high grass and bushes around. Initial couple of hours of was joy walking by the side of nature.
During a little drink break, with help of Pulu's watch with magnetic needle, Bhegnath suggested to climb a small hill ahead so as to reach our destination well before time i.e. before evening. After thoroughly examining the map, carried from hostel, Shashikant agreed to the proposition.
The group was all set for a real mountain trekking than reaching our destination through a comfortable road walk that we took up till then.
9:27PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Changed our direction and moved through the lush green field that was between us and the hill. As we were approaching the bottom of that hill, it didn’t seem that small as it was appearing, before we changed our direction some half an hour ago. But the group was upbeat in taking its first challenge of real mountain trekking of that single day expedition.
Initially we enjoyed clearing our path with help of bamboo poles that we carried from the Range Office. But every step we scaled, up the hill and deeper into the jungle, the bamboo bushes, for which the Debrigarh Reserve Forest is famous for, got more and more dense. The bamboo trees and its branches were so intricately entwined that, often we had to change our course than challenging the obstacles.
As we made our way up the slope and deeper into forest, the resistance from the crisscrossing bamboo trees increased. Stones embedded in loose soil often making someone slipping few feet down became regular phenomena. We were unanimous that the back-pack which till then was an individual’s signature style was getting heavier with our every step up and deep into the forest. But the hill now seemed never ending and each one of us was falling short of energy.
9:30PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Droppings of bear, I could recognize without fail, being from Keonjhar district, famous for bears. The group had mixed feelings of our chances of coming across a bear in remaining half day’s journey. Anyway, we were obliged to the staff at Range Office who had ensured our carrying weapons with us, the sharpened bamboo poles, which were used then for dragging one up the stiff path.
9:32PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: In that midst of our struggle to win over the first obstacle, Banaj shouted "Sapa(Snake)", we all turned at his pointed direction and saw a small snake crawling its way, slipping beneath the dried leaves.
9:34PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: After couple of hours walk everybody was eager to have something to eat, not because we were hungry but everybody wanted to lessen the weight of backpack that was the main hindrance to climbing mountain.
9:36PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: In the first break, we consumed the Bananas, Apples, Oranges, bread loafs with jam spread quite lavishly and gulped down cold drinks stomach-full. It was a real royal lunch in the jungle.
9:37PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: Took little rest and re-started climbing the next hill as directed by Pulu, the navigator and duly agreed by both Shashikant the google.com and Bhegnath, the Raju guide.
9:40PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: After an hour’s trekking landed into a big valley, full of dried grass, stretched endlessly. As we passed through that valley in a row led by Bhegnath, everybody down the row was taking all efforts to maintain minimum distance from the immediate predecessor, so as not to drift away from the path and getting lost. The grass at times was taller than us, as we progressed through the valley. At that point Bhegnath our guide seemed bit disturbed. He pensively uttered, "Kana gute bhul hei gala … kain bo! (Might be something went wrong … I am afraid!)"
9:42PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: For next half an hour we walked through that high rise grassy land as per the direction pointed by Pulu. The surrounding grasses were too high to have a clear view of the endless stretch of that valley at left, right, front and back.
9:44PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: March continued till the point when our navigator purred sheepishly with his natural soft tone which was really worrisome for all and made me recall cartoon character Mowgli, the jungle boy. But what were his words?
Banaj, do all these make any sense?
Let’s wait for Banaj’s response before proceeding further.
9:45PM, May 11 - GIRIJA PANDA: Aurobinda and Banaj why did you stop?
9:45PM, May 11 - Surjit: I knew it ... Ekta Kapoor serial bhali, break nei gala ... (Like Ekta Kapoor serial, took a break...) ... Serial killer ...
9:46PM, May 11 - BANAJ(UK): Honestly ... Umm ... No idea ... Please don’t elongate the suspense ...
9:48PM, May 11 - AUROBINDO: "Abe bodhe mo ghanta ta kama karuni … Magnetic Kanta ta glass re letki jai'chi na kana! (Hey, might be the watch is not working … The Magnetic needle seems to be stuck to the glass!)"
(To be continued ... ...)
[My college WhatsApp group encouraged me to post the above story at length, spread over few days. The Lockdown gave me space to retrieve the chat from email received from Manoj, batch mate from USA, soon after the story was finished. When this story was put into words, three of the expedition members namely Niranjan, Shashikant and Pulu, staying in UK, USA and India (Odisha) respectively were not added to the group. Our Raju guide, Bhegnath took an unfortunate heavenly adobe. Knowing the hold in English by Shashikant, literary bent of mind of Niranjan, literary giant Bhegnath and a friend in need- a friend indeed Pulu, their contributions would have made it a masterpiece.]