I WAS FEELING thirsty. Though I asked for water... but could not hear my own voice. The red painted sky ignited the dark face of the evening. I could see Lalla, who was weeping with face hidden in his hands. I could not understand why he was weeping and how come I became so weak. I could see myself. My clothes were soaked in blood... and it was spurting out like anything.
“What is this Lalla?" Lalla was not answering or may be I was not able to hear anything. I did not hear the sound of forest as dry leaves struggled with wind to hold on to the ground; the singing of cuckoo and that mystic music of Saryu River. I could see my AK47, lying there silently like an innocent orphan. Lalla and my gun were my true companions.
The pockets of black clouds were covering the sun and looked like dark patches on red sky. And I could see some one through that coming near to me and dressed like yamdoot, as my Grandma had described. The archives of my life started reeling. I could see my Grandma and she was whispering in my ear.
Long time ago when I was able to see the world and got ability to hear anything of surroundings, I saw Farenda, a dense forest of Gorakhpur alongside the Nepal border. The wind, which passed through leaves and bushes, produced its own rhythm. Sound of Saryu River, which comes from Himalayas and flows through the Farenda jungle used to fascinate me.
Every night before taking the bed, my grandmother used to tell me stories of Farenda. They were not fairy tales. They were stories of Farenda. They were stories from history that never became part of the books compiled by historians and scholars. They were stories of human beings, stories of nature.
I could see grandma and could hear her stories. She used to tell me that Farenda was very dense and that much that no single ray of sun could dare to reach the ground. There were lions, tigers, panthers, elephants, bear, deer and so many wild animals. And there was a king who had beautiful fairy princesses. The King and his army were very cruel. They would visit villages, burn the houses and whip the people. They used to take away crops and young girls. People, because of fear would take shelter in forest to escape their wrath. Sometimes they would resist and king’s men would kill them and would throw them in Saryu River. And Saryu would flow with an usual sound and cuckoo would continue singing even after witnessing all this.
Once there was a brave man in the village. Grandma told me that he was our ancestor. He raised his voice against King and his cruelty. He fought with King’s army. He gathered people to protest against the King’s cruelty. For many months, king’s army was not able to catch him. As long he was alive, king was not able to do anything in the village. Grandma used to sing a folksong that depicted him as godly. His statute still adorns the entrance of the Village. Folklores have his name. As an epic god, he is worshipped in every ceremony of village.
Then there were Whites who were well received and treated by the King. They were as white as milk and they had come from far-off lands. They had come for business and hunting was their best sport. They killed a large number of animals and for just fun. They would use villagers to corner the Lion. Sitting on a machan and protected by local sharpshooters, they would fire the gun. When death of Lion was confirmed, they would land from machan and used to take photograph with one leg raised over dead Lion. The photo would adorn the wall of their bungalows and memsahib would see it as bravery of their gentlemen. Then they became rulers and many of our men patronised them. They were Goras and were no different from the cruel king, though the method of cruelty was different, may be it was a more civilized way of being cruel.
Indian officers at that time were like King’s army. They would come with Gora and do anything for Gora. They would kill people. They would take away all crops. And they laid railway lines, set up post offices. They opened factories and pushed our people to far end of the jungle; stripped Farenda as they used to strip village women. Nothing was left in Farenda jungle.
Grandma would tell that once Saryu River became upset. There was famine. Nothing was left to eat. People were dying with thirst and Hunger. But Gora and his Indian men would dance and dine as usual. Grandma also told me that they took people across the seven seas, to work there. They would capture them, handcuff them, beat them with whips. These poor people went thousand miles away and never returned. They built states like Mauritius and Fiji. Then Gandhibaba came. People suddenly woke up. They started gathering and protesting - "Go back Goras.” But Goras were strong and they used our own people to crush each other. Once my Grandma saw the Gora’s army. She saw with her own eyes how people died like insects when they ruthlessly opened fire. The Goras would go in forest and hunt for men. There were no lion, there were no tigers, no wild elephants now and it was men to be hunted by men. The brave man rose again. He rebelled and took to arms. He roared so wildly that Farenda was shaken.
Farenda hero would come from forest; he would rob all rich men, Gora’s men and distributed the money to poor. He killed as many police as Goras. Grandma told me that he was blessed by Saryu River. Goras called battalions from far off places to catch him. They were there for months. But the brave man was the son of forest. They were not able to reach even his shadow. Grandma used to sing folksong all the time. Grandma told me that cuckoo always take the hero’s name and the sound of river will have him. Gora labeled him, as Daku but the villagers would worship him. Playing through my hair, grandma used to tell me and I could feel the tears from her eyes dropping on my cheek. Once there was a fierce battle and he was alone. They were in hundreds. He killed many of them before dropping to ground and never stood again.
Till my grandma was alive, she would tell me stories of Farenda. How brave men had revolted and Farenda forest provided them cover and shelter. I used to dream and go very far in the forest. My grandma told me there were many good souls and they will save village whenever there is a danger. But she could not understand whether the danger was in the form of nature or directly comes from human.
While in school I used to go with Lalla, my friend, in deep forest without telling anyone. My father assured me that everything was fine then. Goras had gone back. There were no kings. I remembered every day we would stand up in school to chant Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jai Hai. I learnt India is a democratic country; we select our leaders. Every five years I used to see them and Lalla and me would run after their jeep. They would speak about prosperity. They would go to village office and would meet everyone. They would wear white dress and put on white caps. They are our leaders and they work for us. Many times a white ambassador will come with red light spinning over it. Father pointed to them and said that one day I will be like them.
Later, in my life I would see a lot of trucks entering the forest with loads of trees and wood. I wondered why God did not chop their hands, as my grandma told me that will happen to anyone who would cut. Time was flying and I was growing fast. I used to visit our Tehsil with father. Once I saw him pleading with officers for small quota of fertilizers. I saw him, spending many days in front of that small government office for sanction. I was growing up and remembered my grandma’s story, that. there was a cruel king. There were Goras. In school and college I came to know about government. We were after all free. Teacher would tell us about 15th August and 26th January.
I still remember the day when they came in a jeep and shot Lalla’s father. Nobody knew why? We read in newspaper that he was a Daku. I never saw him even carrying a knife. There was nice bungalow within a year on his land. I saw so many bungalows and farmhouses sprouting in Farenda’s jungle. White car with flickering red light would often be seen. They would hunt the birds and now police would take away some girls from the nearby village. They would dance and dine like Goras.
The day my name was in electoral list I was so much happy. Lalla and I were very excited that we were going to cast our votes. We were in queue but suddenly one group came and everybody started running. Lalla pulled me and we also fled. There were gunshots, far away and that was my first time experience as voting for free India.
There was a minister who visited my village in his white car and followed by a number of jeeps and policemen around his car. He brought road for village, which goes to his bungalow. He built a big farmhouse and that makes the village look too small. My father told me that he is Minister, that he is government. I was young but I could understand that government was my new King. The new King informed us of a new law. We were not to take the wood from forest. They have invited Gora’s again. The Goras build their factory with giant machines in forest. They promised us fuel for our use but that never reached our houses. I saw my father pleading with the government man for kerosene. He would show the certificate, which was given to us for my grandfather who died while fighting with Goras. But they showed no respect to the paper, to the sacrifices our family made. I saw them beating villagers who used to collect small piece of wood from forest. I always wondered why they were not catching the big trucks going loaded with wood.
One day an officer came with police to our house and they talked to my father. Government was going to take our land to build a rest house and that too for a foreign firm. My father touched the official’s feet. He was pleading; he said about the sacrifice of our family in freedom struggle. But the official did not listen at all. My father ran to meet the Minister. He touched his feet and was pleading. My father had supported him in elections to get the village votes. He was sure that the minister would listen. However, the Minister was busy and did not even dared to look at my father. Police took away my father. He was pleading and the least of it to give a job to me as per rule. But he was just crying and shouting and everyone was dumb and deaf. That full night, I saw my father’s plight. He took the jewelry from house and gave it to the officer. The officer grabbed it and next day the worst thing happened. The officials arrived with a bulldozer and labor. I witnessed the entire show and with me was my friend Lalla. Grandma’s words were ringing in my head: There was a cruel king, there were cruel Goras and now I was watching them. I lifted my eyes and looked at Farenda, the stories my grandma used to tell me; of Farenda that gives shelter to brave men who fought for justice.
Then there was silence interrupted by a gunshot and the Minister was on ground. I was running towards Farenda, holding the hand of Lalla and carrying a gun in my other hand. Farenda embraced me and took me in. Hundreds of policemen came up with torches and searched for us. But I was the son of Saryu River and felt neither the fear nor remorse.
Farenda gives shelter to brave person who rebelled against injustice but it was not the same my grandma had described. There are bungalows, farmhouses and factories and not the dense forest, scattered dry leaves and noises made by the forest animals. Farenda is no more what it used to be and I will tell this to my grandma.
On this day I lied on the floor with the thoughts of the forest and the agony deep within. I looked at Lalla and he was still crying, knowing the fact that I may be gone tomorrow. Lalla, with the spirit to fight for our glorious Farenda took the Klashinkov and fled to the forest. As I lie I am happy and proud to share the fate of Farenda. The brave man of the forest whom grandma used to talk about was her husband and she will be happy to know that the great men in forest still live...