It all happened in a night. A night of dreadful darkness. So deeply dark that one could not even see the limbs of his own. And unfortunately, I was plunged into that ominous darkness while being a member of a mountaineering mission- trekking towards Reni, a picturesque hamlet of Garwal Himalaya to camp there overnight.
We were onto our feet since the sun peeped half in the sky. It then went down for the day. But we did not. With pains of blisters, we were crippling. I was the worst among all with blisters ballooned in both my toes. Hanging the boot on my shoulder, I dragged my painful legs like a staggering drunkard. Others were ahead. Straggling much behind, I arrived alone at a point of a twin ways. And in the light of the twilight I chose the wrong way and was lost in the dark jungles of Kumaon Hills– the land of the past human blood-thirsty tigers called man-eaters. The die was cast.
Misfortunes don’t come alone, they come in chain. Rain came. Then came the storm. With all these, the sky was roaring. Darkness came amidst darknesses. In the flash of lightning, I could see some rain-drenched monkeys grabbing the branches of a tree like some wailing infants coiling around their mother’s feet. Trembled and terrified, they were dumbfound like frightening lambs. Perhaps they prayed God. Perhaps they did not know.
The lightning from the sky showed me the strides of my strife on earth below. Strides followed strides. Without lightning I was stiffed like a born-blind. The night was alive-full of life. The giant owl-like nocturnals seemed searching for their preys cast their greedy eyes on me. I felt myself like an endangered forefathers of our antique ancestry. The shocking shout of the wild beasts brought by the lull after the rumbling of the sky made me mute. I prayed God: wished the sky to be more rumbling. But the prayer of an endangered small fry is too feeble to be heard by the creator of this endless universe.
The Nature gradually grew rowdy with the cruel cacophony of the jungle beasts. My fear-filled self did not know what to do then. Panic robbed my sense and my courage. Only of me I felt, was my heartbeats hardly alive like the fading sound of a fast-moving train far away. Rain turned into hailstones. Storms into hurricane. Yes, ill fortunes come not alone.
Suddenly a gust of storm swept me aside. In a flash fit of what-to-do-or-not I tried to grab the trunk of a huge tree and stood like Christ in the cross. An ominous silence held me for a while. Then suddenly an instinct of intuition had brought my sixth sense out. The birds flew-off from the tree to the sky. Heads down, starring at something in panic they hovered over the tree and had shrieked non-stoply. The sound of howling hurricane and the fearful cries of the birds made me terribly frightening. And a moment later in the light of a lightning, I saw an abysmally awful object that waved a shocking sensation through my nerves. My heartbeats were sounding fast like the last blows of a dying lantern. A macabre mouth of a large python with its long lively tongue was swinging above me like a muscular pendulum. I became mum as if I was mesmerized. But in the split second I could grasp the reality and cried like a man falling in front of a speeding train. I cried and cried. But there was none to hear me. It echoed in the mountains. It seemed that someone mimicked my cries by throwing them back to me. What I remembered last was a deafening clap of thunder, shaking the earth around.
I got my sense back when another stroke of thunder shook the whole jungle with me. I found myself lying under the tree upward like a just-born baby. The roar of Nature woke me up alive. With muds mingled, I stood into my legs and ran like injured stag. But misfortune was still mastering over me. A bad star pulled me again. A python-like thorny mountain creeper with its needle-point fangs pulled me back to a halt. I could feel myself at that instant like a pearl diver tumbling in the deadly grip of an octopus. I fought hard to get rid of myself from the carnivorous creeper. Blood oozed out from my spike-holed face like that of a goat, sacrificed before a goddess. The hurricane was at its peak. There were sounds of breaking trees all around. Everything seemed to be destroyed but me. As if I was left alone to be tortured and tormented. The destiny was not kind to me.
Lust came for my life. I fought untiringly till I freed myself from the plant-python and ran towards darkness. The darkness that reigned this planet for ages. Darkness and darkness all around. I ran and ran and had come across a dark cave. The cave was terribly grave. A tense tranquillity ruled the roost. The lone sound I then heard, was the faint strokes of my little pendulum. The sound of time seemed to go so slow. As if it was stagnant and gone back. As if I was travelling in Well’s Time Machine. As if I was lost in eternity like an age-won Egyptian mummy.
From the long breathings longing for life I could feel the presence of some other creatures in the cave. The peaceful silence that prevailed over the cave had hope for survival. Everyone had a hope. A hope to survive.
The darkness of the cave inside could not be disturbed by the eye-blind lightning from the sky outside. Gradually, I got my pulse back. Felt my existence and had rubbed the overhanging blood-drops from my swollen face. With the pleasure of a marooned Bedouin finding water in desert, I tried hard to light a fag found in a pocket of my windcheater, not wet but broken. And in the flashlight of the matchstick what I saw, would firmly be anchored in my mind for ever. I could not believe my eye. I felt as if I was hallucinated when I saw two leopards standing in my right and left like a pair of pet cheetahs of some old-time Indian Maharaja. Also, were surrounding us, a flock of wild goats and a few stags quite oblivious to their fears. Calm and quiet all they were, looked exceedingly beautiful. But sermon to a starving beggar alike what beauty was to an endangered man. I felt myself as if I was caged with a tiger. Never did I see the dreadfulness of death so closely. All the hopes and dreams of my life seemed to be faded away from my mind.
Pressed by panic, my inner eye could see a ghastly end stored for me. ‘Death’, I pondered, ‘If it is must, why then not I prefer it in peace.’ Shutting my mouth closed and pressing the nose I tried to kill myself–an ugly profile of a human nature. Yes, when we cannot struggle hard and face the realities of life, our innocent souls suffer suicide. But I could not as I did not have any power over my life and death. I did not create myself. So, I could not take it too. I could not kill myself.
When the thought of death disappeared, the lust for life rushed into my mind. I put my hands on my chest and had felt the heart-beats alive. Where there is life, there is hope. A ray of faint hope came in through the darkness and in that dark light I budged my body out very carefully and cautiously. Pressing and dragging my back on the cave wall, I came out to a world that had gone wild. Elders say, ‘where darkness ends, light begins.’ Yes, there was light for me. Counting my heart-beats, I stepped out and had looked back to the world I left. Only a frightful darkness left behind with a tranquillity of a world of million years back.
The fury of Nature became more furious. The sky-high snow-crowned peaks of the Himalayas sparkling in the flash of lightning steadfastly stood like the age-old pyramids. The dazzle from the snow–capped peaks and the light from the frequently flash of lightning enlarged my visibility to a few paces more. And in such a light, I came to see some little huts stood like hutments of some deserted soldiers. Moments later, I could grasp that it was nothing but an illusion of my mind.
Nothing could I feel in my body but some feeble sounds like the far-flung sound of a train about to die down. Coming out of the cave I was falling in between the devil and the deep sea. The world of darkness inside and the world of wilderness outside. Sheltered on the ground on all fours, I felt like sitting on the mouth of a smoking crater. And in that hellish moment, a divine sensation waved through my head. The disappeared rain-drenched monkeys reappeared in my mind. I made a mould in my mind, an ancestral picture of our immemorial time. The picture of our cave-dwelling forefathers who had to confront life and death fight against the Nature and the cruel beasts. Not for a night like me but for nights of infinity.
The earth moved on and the time passed by. With their newfound weapons in hand, the cave men came out of the caves and shrubs. Standing straight with heads high, they looked to the horizon with newborn courage and confidence. They lighted fire and gradually made themselves enlightened. The warmth of the fire kept them strong and stable. Around the fire, they gathered together and bound themselves gregarious. The beast that chased them once to caves were now being chased and tethered in the cages. One after another, untold secrecies of the Nature had been unfurled. The huts became skyscrapers. The stars were coming closer and closer and the planets were kept captive in the planetarium.
The celestial sensation that waved through me some moments before roused me to raise my hands from the ground. Unbending my back, I stood like a modern human– a Homo sapien. The devouring hurricane, earth-shaking thunder, dreadful shoutings of the wild animals and birds, roaring cacophony of the distant avalanches and the crashing sound of trees all around could not stop me. I jumped out from the mouth of the cave and ran from the darkness–the darkness that reigned this planet for ages. I ran and ran. Ran with a hope to find a light. A man was on his way to conquere the Nature.
I ran as if a jungle was burning behind. Often I shouted to the sky. A cry of a helpless and hapless creature. But there was none to pay heed. I ran and ran. Each of my escaping steps brought me near to some strange cry–cries of some domestic animals mingling with that of wild beings.
The sky was still rumbling and flashed with lightning. And in such a flash, my eyes caught the sight of a big, tall house that stood steely like a lighthouse in a turbulent sea. Some frightening creatures were sheltering around it. And in some moment of an extreme pleasure, I found myself one among them. I warmed my ice-cold baby from the warmth of the refuging creatures.
My escape was a great escapade. Its pleasure was so great that it said “no” to my hurt and hunger for a while. But that “no” seemed not last long as hunger was such a thing that it made a man mad and turned him to a slave of the Satan. Though I was wildly hungry, the strong hold of my inner sense of struggle to survive dared not the Devil to dictate me. I could not go in to the house through a window, found open where there were plenty of prepared foods. The human on me tamed my temptation.
Leaning on a sheltering sheep I stood like a drunkard. Trembling and staggering, I dragged my body to the door and had pounded on it with all my feeble force. Sometimes, some time became eternity. I was terribly impatient. And at last, after some torturing moments, an old man with a lamp in one hand and a gun in the other, appeared. Lifting the lamp up to his shoulder, he craned his neck towards my head in suspicion: “What you want?”
Before my blood-stained lips budged, he lowered his lamp down and turned back with his proud smile: “This is my house. I do not have anything for others.”
I was then deadly depressed and disgusted with my destiny. The death that has been spared by the barbarous beasts was then seemed to happen before a man–the super being of this planet! The messenger of death that dared not to enter the cave now seemed to trespass into a well-built house!
I became more desperate for my life than the moments of my stay in the cave. Anger conquered me and I lost my sanity.
Impulsively, I pulled my purse out, split the money in the air and cried: “Let me have something. Let me have something to eat. I will give you everything I have.”
Staring at the money flying in his sky, the man changed his nature. With a synthetic smile, he acquiesced me to follow him. Shouting the name of a girl, he hurriedly disappeared from my sight. Some moments, some agonizing moments after, a pretty young woman with a plate of food in hand arrived. She stood before me with all her tears rolling down to her cheeks like two long shrining spears. She raised her head like a just-married bride lifting her head before her mother to take adieu forever. I was surprised to see tears in her eyes for a man not seen before. An unknown man and that too– a lost wayfarer. Perhaps it was humanity– a feeling for fellow for fellow being in distress. Perhaps it was love- love at first sight. Perhaps it was platonic.
I felt myself like a beggar getting food after long starvation. I thought….how it was hard for a starving man to talk about humanity, compassion, patience and principle when his stomach was empty. My stomach became full and the empty plate was lying between me and the young woman. A blurred reflection was dancing on it with two little twinkled stars. She came very close to me. The reflection was then crystal. A single star was dancing. There were no languages and we spoke no words. Our eyes, our emotions and our souls spoke. We became one– a bright little star.
There is no heaven in this earth. Moments later a few harsh words waving from the far end, disturbed our dreamy land. The angry waves shook the young woman and had swept her away from me. Creation was set aside and destruction was silently shaped. And I mourned for the death of love and humanity.
The sky was still rumbling and the earth dazzled with lightning. At the mid of the uproar of the sky, a sudden suffocation made me woken from my ominous slumber and in utter shock, I saw the old gunman standing before me like a ferocious maneater. My hands were tied and my mouth muffled. All my “Whys” were murmuring within me. The outcomes of the occasional outlets were slaps and kicks. I was totally robbed. Nothing was left except my celestial suit– the nudity. Robbing everything by drugging, the man-turned-monster dragged my body out from his house and had pushed to the violent Nature.
While I was crawling in the mud to survive, a muffled voice waved into my ears. The mumbling voice rushing out from the house was seemed to be of someone inside being forcibly tied and tight-lipped. It was the faint voice of a young woman. A voice–suppressed for centuries. It was a voice of woman in teen. A voice– oppressed by cruel aging husbands for ages. And it was the same terrifying voice of helpless women being dumped in the burning pyre with their dead old husbands. As moment passed by, the muffled voice of the house merged with the thunders of the sky.
Tortured and tormented by the man, I was grappling with the Nature again. Grappled to survive. Blood oozed out from my wounds and mingled with the mud. The just-passed memory of the rain-drenched monkeys, the swinging python, the unmindful leopards and the thorny mountain creeper all those that being embedded in my mind a few hours back seemed then to me some epitaphs of ages back. Trembling and staggering like a newborn calf, I stepped ahead in darkness with a hope to find a shelter to survive. I had then nothing in my mind than the cave from which I fled.
When I retreated towards the cave, I felt myself again as an endangered cave man of our ancestry. This time not alone, but armed with their guts to fight. I did not know what the time was. Of course, I need not to know what the time was. Perhaps it was midnight. Perhaps it was eternity.
Amidst darknesses I was bravely waiting for the light.
The light came. It was the light of the twilight after a dark dreadful night. The earth became calm and quiet. I looked at my body and had closed the eyes. Moments later, I opened them again. But amazed. There was nothing. Everything was fine.
The first feeling came to my mind was the hunger– the first and the foremost need of a living being. This hunger is the harbinger of many upheavals of human history whether it is hunger for the food, wealth or for the power. I was then so hungry that I did not have anything in my mind other than eating something to fill my belly full. Suddenly I happened to hear some fearsome cry presumably from some wild creatures nearby.
I stepped ahead and had stopped to stand beneath a big tree, looked up and had seen some monkeys shouting at me in anger by jerking the branches and while doing that some ripe fruits had fallen to the ground. Taking a ripe fruit on my palm, I raised my head overhead to the angry primates and thought….if it had not harmed them why then me! Anyway, I had no way out than to eat else I would have died of hunger. I was so voracious at that moment that I took almost all the fallen fruits scattered on the ground around.
I felt a sigh of relief after my wild urge for hunger had gone. I conquered the first crying need of the mankind– the indomitable hunger. Then my sense became very hare-alert for the next need of my survival–the shelter and security. Suddenly, I felt something very grave about that place as if some imminent danger was waiting in store for me. It was lull before a storm. Probably it was the sixth sense, a man inherited from the Nature. Amid that ominous silence, a frightening sound of some wild animal had shaken me terribly and moments after, a wild boar chased by another bigger one appeared running suddenly towards me. The horn-like pointed white protruded tooth of the chasing boar was looked like the charging spear of the matador in bullfighting. Instantly, I jumped a step back and was escaped by an inch not to fall in the line of their speeding charge. That bizarre incident made me so frightened that I was dumbstruck in standstill where I was.
The nightmare was over. The night before, I was undressed by man. And night after, I was dressed by the Nature. Dressed nakedly with courage– courage to fight and fight to survive. Alone with myself in that dark and deep woods, I looked around with new confidence and had hopefully witnessed the great divine light rising up in the east with all its pristine pride. The light–earth’s friend, philosopher and guide. The light– a dawn of a new civilisation to enlighten.
Scanning my eyes everywhere with sixth sense alert, I came back carefully towards the cave from which I had fled. The cave which is now a safe home for Homo sapiens to survive.
Yes,…it all happened in a night and may happen in the nights to come.
The author has his credit of publishing six books and about four hundred articles both in Assamese and English in the premier newspapers and magazines of Assam. Basically a college faculty and a well trained mountaineer and skier from HMI, Darjeeling, WHMI, Manali and IISM, Gulmurg–the author has the distinction of becoming one of the first two mountaineers from Northeast India to climb a major peak in the Himalayas. Presently busy in writings.