Nobody is Alone in the Forest
Nobody is Alone in the Forest
By the time Ganga Ram reached the edge of forest, it was late evening. From here it was going to be a long walk of 40 km in the forest. As there were no buses to his village after 5.00 in the evening, he had to trudge the forest on foot which will take better part of the night. If he remembered correctly there was a reasonably good dirt road in the forest.
He was not at all disheartened by the prospect of a long walk, rather it will be a good time to exercise his limbs. A long journey by train, followed by sitting in a rickety bus for part of the journey and finally travel in a crowded tempo had deposited him here. He was quite used to walking on this route, but that was years ago. He hoped that much had not changed during these years.
He had received a message that his father was not well and wanted to see him. He was not sure if he should travel to see a person who had abandoned them when they needed his support. Initially he had not given much thought to this, but the messenger had insisted that his father had changed and may not live long. After mulling over it for quite some time, he had decided to go.
His father had abandoned his mother when he was very small, about six years of age. He had three other younger siblings. His mother had supported them by working on daily wages. After a few years, he had started supplementing her income by doing odd jobs for other villagers. But they never had enough money to eat three meals a day.
At the age of eighteen he had left the village for a big city. After an initial struggle of a few months, he was able to get a job in a factory which provided him steady income. He could even send some money every month to his mother. He believed that the standard of living of his family had improved after he took up a job in the city.
He was now twenty five and well established in the factory as a regular employee. Two years ago, he had learnt that his father had come back home. He was sick. Although had Ganga Ram been there, the man won’t have been welcome. His mother had, however, accepted him back.
He had ambivalent feelings for his father, yet he had decided to come back to see him. Getting leave was not a problem as he had rarely taken any leave during the last seven years.
As he commenced the journey in the forest, he could see that the dirt road was in much better condition than he remembered. For the initial two-three kms, there was not much forest cover. But after that the road had trees on both sides. At most of the places trees had formed a canopy on the road. This had led to the path becoming very dark.
By the time he entered into the forest, where even road was covered by canopies made by branches of thick trees, it had already started becoming dark. He had walked on this trail so many times earlier that he was not scared of anything. There were some big animals in the forest but they rarely attacked humans. As it is their population had reduced drastically over time. He assumed their sense of self-preservation would also prevent them from attacking humans.
The other danger was from ghosts. Although he had not encountered any ghosts so far, yet he had heard many stories of encounters with ghosts from fellow villagers. He was generally not scared of ghosts, but being alone in the forest did cause some fear in his mind. Since there was no option, he continued to walk on.
He had started around six in the evening and it was already ten o’clock. He decided to take some rest and eat something before recommencing his journey. He ate the food he had brought along, being aware of a long walk in the forest. He had enough food for eating later in case he felt hungry. He drank water from the bottle after finishing the meal.
He woke up with a start. He did not remember when he had fallen asleep on the boulder he was sitting on, after finishing eating. He looked at this mobile, there was no signal, but it did display the time. It was 11.30, so he must have been asleep for a little more than an hour.
He had still a lot of distance to cover. There was no point in wasting further time in resting. He got up and recommenced the journey.
While forest looks alluring during daytime with its greenery, it looked quite forbidding during night with darkness shrouding it. The road itself was sheathed in complete darkness due to tree cover at most of the places. He had to use the torch of his mobile once in a while to make sure that he did not step on some snake. Many other dangers also lurk in the darkness. So far he had not encountered any one.
It was still dark when he felt someone joining him from behind. Perhaps it was someone like him who had to make this journey in this darkness. He slowed down a bit to let the person join him. From the little light on the road he could see that the person was wearing white dress. It was the dress of lungi and kurta which most of the older people wore in this area.
As the person drew nearer and he could make out the face of the person, he recognised him as his own father. Although he was seeing him after almost two decades, he had no problem in recognising him. He tried to suppress the loathing he felt for the man, but found it difficult. He did not appear to be sick, although he was walking slowly.
They walked together for some time as he found it difficult to converse with a person who had been cause of so much misery in his life. Then he heard his father say, “Son, I knew you will come to see me after receiving the message.”
He asked him, “But I thought you are not well. How come you are walking in the jungle?”
His father replied, “I thought I will come to receive you. I started early in the morning to greet you.”
He wanted to ask him, ‘You were walking behind me, I did not see you coming from village side,’ but kept quiet. He did not want to tire the old man.
They walked together for almost two hours before they could see the outline of the village. He looked around to see if his father was walking along side, but he seemed to have disappeared. ‘Perhaps he has rushed home to announce my arrival’, Ganga Ram thought.
The sun was yet to make appearance when he reached home, but there was enough light to see around. He could not have forgotten the location of his home even after so many years.
As he entered into the house, he saw a person lying on the bed in the corner. The person appeared to be in emaciated condition. Since his father had accompanied him in the forest, he was wondering about the identity of the person lying on the bed.
As he came nearer and the person’s face turned towards him, he was shocked to see that it was his father.
He went to his father and after asking about his health, he asked him if he had been anywhere outside in the morning.
His father replied in feeble voice, he could not make out the words. By then his mother had entered into the room and heard his question.
His mother was very pleased to see him. It had been a long time since she had seen him last. She enveloped him in a hug.
She told him, “Your father has been lying in the bed. He was not in a position to go anywhere.” Then she turned to look at him, “Why are you asking this question?”
He kept quiet and collapsed on the lone chair in the room. He was certain that someone had accompanied him in the forest. If it was not his father, then who was that person?
He knew that that question would remain unanswered. Maybe his father will be able to answer the question some time in future.