Shobuj Bon, Shobuj Pahar (Green Forests and Green Mountains) by Sukhendu Dutta
Swapnadeep Publishers, 1986
TRANSLATED EXCERPT by Ananya Sarkar:
Behind the bungalow, through the window a green mountain comes to sight. It was a beautiful view! Many a lazy afternoon have I spent by the window gazing at it at a stretch. I’ve grown fond of the distant, forested mountain which is so soothing to the soul.
One day, I decide to go and explore the mountain. I’ve watched it from afar often enough. Now, it was time to go up close and get to know it.
Well, little did I know that the process of knowing it would be way too thorough! The experience was unforgettable indeed.
That afternoon, I set out to explore my beloved mountain. My guide was Rajat, the station master’s son. An alert, feisty lad. He had passed his Higher Secondary Examination that year. I was surprised to learn that though he had been living in that city for years, he had never accessed the mountain. Rajat’s home was not far from the mountain and yet, any reason or opportunity had never arisen. His family had lived year after year simply appreciating the beauty from afar. The mountain was not truly known to them in that sense. When he came to know that I was interested in visiting the mountain, his enthusiasm soared and he happily agreed to give me company.
Once we started walking on foot, I realized
that the distance was by no means short. From the city, the mountain had
appeared to be quite near, but in reality that was not the case. The bright,
red pathway was uneven and had meandered its way towards the mountain. On
either side of the road were green valleys, gravelly soil and small hillocks.
From time to time, we could see bushes, trees and even hamlets. On crossing
these, the trees along the path grew thicker and we entered a lightly forested
area. The pathway ran within the forest. When we reached the end of the road
and the base of the mountain, the evening sun was shining on the treetops.
I saw that a narrow winding path had made its way up the mountain. Rajat and I started climbing the path. This craggy road was full of red pebbles and also boulders here and there. As a result, it took time for us climb our way. On reaching a certain altitude, there was another hindrance – thorn shrubs and dense growth of weeds.
While we were making our way up, we spotted a group of Santhaal men and women descending with dry twigs and branches atop their heads. It was evident that they had spent the entire day on the mountain gathering firewood. On seeing us, they seemed surprised. Perhaps they thought to themselves, 'Look at these Bengali babus! God knows what they want to see up on the mountain?!'
At the time, the sky had only the vestiges of light. The mountain top was filled with the sunrays. When we reached the top, the setting sun's last rays glimmered in the leaves. Looking below, we found that the lower part of the mountain was already shadowed in darkness.
Now that we had reached the peak, we explored the mountain a bit. There were lots of dwarfed trees and not one large tree! The mountain had seemed pristinely green from afar but on coming here, I found the reality was quite different. The trees were far spaced and in between, thorny shrubs and creepers abounded. Also, rocks and boulders of various sizes lay scattered everywhere.
The sky had begun to darken now. We continued walking here and there till tiredness got the better of us. Sitting on a boulder, Rajat and I watched the sun slide towards the west. Peeking below, we found that all the different trees like sal, segun, mahua and palash seemed to have joined together into one big cluster. The light had grown so dim that even though there were different trees, they could not be distinguished separately.
Gradually, the shadows grew thicker on the mountain top. In fact, it grew so dark that the sky seemed to have been covered by dark-bellied rainclouds! In the fading light, we saw a group of chattering birds in flight right above us. In the distance, we found that the sun was now no longer visible. Amid the distant mountains and trees, it had set ever so gently. The evening had settled on our mountain now, creeping into all corners. It seemed as if the darkness had spread its wings over the mountain.
In contrast to our plan of returning home by evening, here we were, still on the mountain, when it was evening! We decided it would not be right to delay our return any further. Actually, we should have set off from the city much earlier. Dusk generally falls on mountains in a rapid manner, with little time to prepare.
Rajat and I stood up. Soon, the darkness had blanketed the entire mountain. The colour black stared at us everywhere. We hurried our steps. The darkness seemed to be engulfing us. The distant mountain that was earlier visible had now disappeared. It appeared as if the darkness had conglomerated into a strange being altogether! And all around us was an eerie silence. Not the faintest sound anywhere!
We started descending the mountain directly, in the hope that it would reduce time. But alas, we were unable to do that quickly! Despite stumbling from time to time, with the help of the extending branches and vines, we continued the downward climb. In the darkness, we experienced the pricking of thorns against our skin. In grabbing onto the thorny bushes to hasten our descent, we bruised ourselves. But that was the least of our worries. Where exactly was the path that led downwards? There was no difficulty when we came up. But that same path had now turned so difficult to traverse. And to make matters worse, the darkness seemed to clamp in on us from all sides.
"So, Rajat," I spoke up, a furrow lining my brow. "Which way should we go to reach the bottom of the mountain?"
"I can't find the path in this darkness," he said. "There are thorns ahead in front of me."
His words alarmed me terribly. Rajat moved back two steps with a pale face. "We cannot climb downwards this way. Rather, let us go back up and try to find our original path."
So, both of us climbed back on the mountain top. We ransacked the darkness for our previous pathway, but to no avail. No matter which direction we took in the hope of climbing downwards, we were restrained by thorny bushes. No sign of our path!
It now dawned on us that we were lost in the mountain. Another frightening discovery was that the darkness had grown dense everywhere. And wait, there was one more danger. In addition to the darkness, was a bone-shivering cold! In fact, the cold made our bodies seem ready to freeze.
We desperately tried to find our way amid the darkness. But how could we climb down? The thorny bushes seemed to have formed armour to make any descent impossible. With much difficulty, we still shoved our way through but as a result, our hands and legs were badly bruised. In fact, the cuts started bleeding too. Still, considering our lives dear, we ignored all that and moved forward. But where was the path? While trying to scan our way out, we found ourselves again on the same spot – the mountain top! It was as if the deserted mountain was mocking by pulling us again and again to the same place.
In regards to forests and mountains, this was a one-of-a-kind experience for me. Once we had lost our way, by no means could we find it back! Still, both Rajat and I tried our best to search for a way to climb downwards but no luck. Fatigued and despondent, at last we sat on a big boulder. Cold and tiredness gripped our bodies. Our limbs bore multiple injuries from the thorns and protruding branches.
So far, Rajat had been quiet. Now he said something remarkable, "It is impossible for us to climb downwards amid the darkness and thorns."
So what was the way out now? With the dense darkness all around, we looked at each other. "There seems to be only one way," I mustered. "To spend the night on this forest."
Rajat was close to tears. "But it's dangerous to be on mountains like these at night. Wolves and hyenas may roam these areas. In fact, bears may be seen too!"
His words gave me the jitters. We sat on the boulder in a pregnant silence. As I sat, I realized that there was no other way but to spend the night here, on the mountain. Well, if that was to be we might as well take some precautions against wild animals. It was best that we climb a tree and take shelter there for protection.
But on looking at the trees on the mountain, a fresh wave of despondency hit me. They were all dwarfed trees, merely about eight to ten feet tall. There was not one big tree in sight. Ah! There could another way though – to light a bonfire and stay awake the whole night. There were plenty of branches and twigs on the mountain. But how on earth would we light a fire?
In the cold, we hugged ourselves and sat in a huddle. As the evening lengthened, the darkness and cold seemed to close in on us with malice. And the silence was so final! Not one insect could be heard. It appeared as if we were lost beyond the earthly world.
Both Rajat and I gazed down at the darkness of
the trees along the slope. But from nowhere was there any sound whatsoever. The
deserted mountain seemed to be fast asleep. The entire universe was plunged in
darkness. Even the distant mountain appeared to lie beyond the world, an
evergreen kingdom of mystery.
By this time, I got goose bumps. My limbs were numb out of fear. Whether it was out of fear or the cold, I did not know.
While coming here, we had seen the huts of Saanthals at the base of the mountain, along the forest. Now, amid the darkness we spotted tiny lights in those homes like fireflies. I suppose the Saanthali women had commenced their evening household chores. While gazing at the scene, my eyes suddenly welled up. By now, our family members must have started looking for us. It would be beyond their imagination that we were so far away, on the mountain top, sitting in such a hapless condition. Oh, if only I'd bought Budho along! Had he been here, such a fiasco would not have occurred.
With a start, I looked around. No, it wasn't any wild beast. It was Rajat! The same alert, proactive lad who had passed his Higher Secondary Exam this year. He was tearing up now. Fear, desperation and tiredness had finally got the better of him! I felt a deep pity for the poor boy.
But why pinpoint only Rajat? I myself was also eager at that point to cry it out. The fact is that fear is contagious. Lost and blinded in anxiety, I too now let out a sharp cry. Now, it was Rajat’s turn to be surprised. He paused his sobs to look at me. Then he too joined in.
But whoever was there to listen to our frantic cries on this deserted mountain? The sounds seemed to bounce off the darkness. They returned as a sad echo. But now, we had something to do. Yelling at the top of our lungs gave us a strange relief. So, our cries refused to stop. It was as if our own raised voices provided us with a surge of courage.
Down below, in the Saanthali neighbourhood the firefly lights were still hovering. From here to there. At one point, the lights seemed to become restless. They clustered at one place.
Then, some of the specks of light started growing larger and larger. Those were not fireflies, they were actual lights! And they were continuously growing bigger. Where were the lights going? In desperation, Rajat and I cried out with all our might.
The cluster of lights seemed to move through the forest. Amid the darkness, their radiance seemed to grow brighter. The flames of light grew taller. That meant they were proceeding towards this mountain. When the lights drew even closer, we understood that they were torches!
Who all were coming? Did they belong to the Saanthal neighbourhood? So did that mean they heard our cries? We continued screaming and made ourselves hoarse. The torches continued to move forward. Both of us now screamed like lunatics. We were afraid that they might mistakenly take some other path and miss us!