From the Woods

Mrityunjay heard something move in the bushes. It was unusual at this time for anything to move there for his village was a blend of nature where everything was in bounty for everyone. Surrounded by forests on all sides, the villagers lived on livestock and farming. The cycle of sunny bright happy days with men and women toiling in the fields followed by evenings of refreshment where people of all ages would sit down and elders would tell them stories of yore, ending in peaceful sleep at night had been going on and on since centuries in the village.

The village boundary was vaguely demarcated by the beginning of dense forest and the edges of cultivable land were guarded at night by the men on watch. Two young men posted on rotation everyday would serve as sentries at night and were excused from toil under sun the next day.

It was Mrityunjay’s turn at watch tonight and he knew for sure it was a predator. The winter fog had made vision poorer at night. He heard it move again. The leaves were being crushed softly but it was hard to judge where and what exactly was there. Mrityunjay alerted his companion, Sudarshan and they both stood poised with hands steady and spears bent forward for a defensive bout with the beast.

The fur became more visible as it walked into the open clearing- it was a leopard. The golden green eyes glowed like jewels from the hell itself. He circled the sentries silently as if savouring the smell of its food tonight. Mrityunjay and Sudarshan stood still, breathing the cold air into their lungs and feeling the warmth of their breath on lips.

As he bent its hind legs for a leap, the forearms of the sentries stiffened. Whose blood would make the people jump in the morning when they’d come to farm? If the sentries died, the people would demand that all wild animals be killed. If the leopard died, people would celebrate its death. But was either justified? Hadn’t the elders managed to live peacefully within the forest?

Suddenly the leopard leapt forward with steel claws and glimmering teeth as if they were knives for his meat. Sudarshan attacked instantaneously with his spear missing the beast and brushing past his ear. The beast was starving and he had nothing to lose. He soon landed and turned around for another jump, green eyes a little bloodthirsty red this time. Just as he pounced, Mrityunjay jumped for the torch and waved it to shoo away the man eater. The leopard, sensing the heat, ran away into the wilderness.

The latter part of the night passed uneventfully. The morning was full of hustle and bustle. Few suggested the boundary be fenced with sharp walls, others suggested a team to find and kill these beasts. Humans have always been territorial in nature. They even perceive other men as a potential threat and this was just an animal. There was no reason to not slaughter the animal and celebrate another self-proclaimed victory over a hungry beast.

The following night saw four sentries on watch. Four young well-built men to protect the village from the same hunger that made them cut trees, destroy wildlife for their own farming. Yes, that same hunger in someone else was a potential threat. But this night had more gifts waiting for them. A pack of wolves howled around the boundary the whole night. None ever showed up, just howled as if they were playing bugle for the beginning of a battle. Two snakes were spotted. The four strong men killed the poor slithering creatures with stones and sticks. There was a dark silence after that, only crickets made sounds as the moon flew from one side of the horizon to another and the stars twinkled. A silent night.

There was more chaos this time in the village but they had a grand celebration after a proper burial of the snakes. *As if* proper burial after a murder would take away sin and atone for the killers probably.

Mrityunjay at the celebration spoke, “We need to protect our village by increasing the land under our control. The animals have started encroaching our lands and will soon come for our families. What do you say?”

Everyone agreed in unison except Sudarshan who felt it was they themselves who had encroached into the wild. But nothing could be done about it. The survival’s contest has only made animals more violent, human beings more territorial and nature more merciless. Evolution seems like a process that started from nature’s fury inside a world of ocean and would end in nothingness back into that ocean.

But Sudarshan was neither the priest nor chief, so he decided to take a different course and walked into the wild with a few of his best friends. They went too deep inside the woods and meditated there to learn languages of the beasts and the birds and visited the village every fortnight. As time passed they started hearing the mother Earth talk to them and eventually gelled so well into nature that no one ever heard about them again.

It has been over five decades since they stopped visiting village. Mrityunjay is now the oldest man and is considered to be very learned. Tonight as they place with the fire in the center, Mrityunjay stands and completes the story he had been reciting, “Sudarshan and others did return but as voices. The voices at the back of our head that we call intuition. The closer one is to nature, the stronger this voice in him becomes. These voices know everything and guide every human till date. These voices have kept us safe since then for those who listen, prosper and others, perish.”



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