Thursday, August 28, 2008

PRADAN Memoirs- Alone in the forest in a scary night

It was a rainy night in October 2002- and I was returning from village Chaapu (some 16 kilometers from Sironj, where I lived during my stint with PRADAN). I had gone to Chappu to try for the revival of a Women Self Help Group constituted of very poor women of Gond Tribe. I had a very bad time in convincing them to come for the meeting and was only partially successful. It was late already about 10 in the night and I was in a very foul mood that day. It was drizzling, and my host in Chaapu- Umarao Singh asked me a to stay overnight as the rains would have ruined the dirt tracks of villages that connected it to highway- some 10 kilometers away.

However, highly pissed that I was, being unable to convince the women of village to run the SHG smoothly; I ignored his suggestion and decided to go back, taking the route through Ricchan village. Umrao Singh did not agree but he had no option but to agree as I had decided to go back, come what may.

He accompanied me on my bike (a 100 CC Hero Honda Splendor) till Ricchan as there was a big, half dug irrigation well next to the dirt track in Ricchan and Umrao feared that I may drop into it with the bike in the night- as it was drizzling and visibility was poor. He went back from Ricchan after explaining me the way from there to the highway- and I only 24 at that time could have cared less for the rain, night and mud on the dirt track. I took the way he told me and reached a part of forest- mostly scrubs and some trees here and there- deserted for almost 3 kilometers on both sides. It was almost 10.30 by now and there were no lights other than the headlight of my bike.

The drizzle had converted into downpour and I had to drive slowly to avoid the bike slipping into to mud. Suddenly, in the middle of no where, I realized that the front wheel of my bike has gone immobile.

Imagine- 10.30 in the night, heavy rains, alone in the forest and then this happens! I must confess that I got scared thinking it to be some super natural phenomenon. Thank God that I did not loose my presence of mind. I stalled the vehicle on the main stand while keeping its engine running and tried to have a look on the front wheel in the dim light reflecting from the ground.

Mud had filled the gap between the mudguard and tyre of the front wheel, and there was no room for the wheel to rotate. Thus, it had seized. I relaxed- so there were no ghosts after all, just some mud in the wheel! But then, there was night, there was heavy rain and the fact remained that I was in the middle of a degraded forest with wildlife at 11ish in the night.

I thought about breaking the mud guard with a stone, but then realized that it would cost me a good 700-800 bucks to replace it- and being an apprentice with Rs 8000 p.m stipend, I could not have afforded it.

"Think of something economical"- I told my self!

So glad, Hero Honda guys keep something called Utility Box just above the engine- i rushed for it and opened it. There was indeed a tool box and a first aid kit inside- and under those circumstances, I would have needed both of them dearly!

I took out the tool box- under the illumination of the headlight I got what I needed - a screwdriver and a wrench. I tried to scrape the mud out of the wheel but it was not successful. Even if it had, I had to go another 5 kilometers minimum in the muddy dirt paths and could not have afforded to get the wheel seized in mudguard again. I decided to go the rural way- take the damn thing off!

So, bending down on my knees in the heavy downpour, I started unscrewing the nuts holding the mudguard. There were some sounds coming from nearby bushes and it took a lot of my will power to convince myself that this is something like hare or wild fowl and nothing dangerous creatures. I learnt the patience and working with a cool head that night in the middle of nowhere, 11 in the night, alone in a degraded forest.

I cooly took the mudguard off, kept it on my shoulders and started driving the bike towards the highway. Without a mud guard all the mud from ground was getting splashed at my face and chest, but I was glad that I was going to get out of that scary place. After struggling for another half an hour or so, I would the road going to Sironj and drove slowly to my residence well pat midnight. I parked the bike in the front yard and went to sleep after a shower and change of clothes.


Next morning, my landlady called me down from my room on the first floor. rubbing my sleepy eyes I cam down to find her staring at my bike. No part of my bike was visible save for a thick layer of mud from the handle to rear brake lights.

"Had you fallen into a pit filled with mud last night?"- She asked, with bewildered looks.

"Something of that sort, yes"- I said and went back to my cozy and dry sleeping bag.

Me on my faithful Hero Honda Splendor - An Awesome Companion (2004)

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