Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The Conservationist

By EMN Updated: Nov 19, 2013 10:19 pm

Khekiye K. Sema 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have lately spent much time trying to reason with AK-47. I think I deserve a breather. So let me relax this time on a more leisurely subject of hunting. This is a true story.
During his vacation as a Pre-University student, Chishi got mixed up with a picnicking, hunting expedition at Intanki reserved forest. It was a very lively bunch of around 23 people, consisting of professional hunters intermixed with equally non-professional roadside bird shooters and their families. A makeshift camp was set up near the river bank by the late afternoon, for a two-night outing.
After light refreshment, the ladies began their leisurely arrangement for dinner while the professional hunters charted out plans for the night hunt. The bird shooting category of hunters were the first to leave camp to try their hand on the abundant wild pigeons along the various well used jungle tracks in pairs.Chishi eagerly picked up his .22 rifle with sufficient ammo and headed downstream on his own. The meandering river was relatively shallow with wide sandy shoreline. Chishi did a steady walked downstream, keenly exploring the shore and its surroundings. The sun was on its last leg into the horizon, and the time was just about right for jungle fowl to be playing in the open. That was just what Chishi spied some distance downstream. He tactically crouched low like a guerilla on a war zone and quickly made his way towards his target.
Peering through the foliage he lay prone and watched a male and a female jungle fowl scratching the sand and pecking its food without a care in the world. Chishi had well and truly outfoxed the fowl. He focused his attention on the male fowl. He took careful aim, held his breath and pressed the trigger. Strangely, it was the female fowl, which was thrashing around in the sand dying while the rooster promptly flew into the jungle. ‘A kill is a kill’ thought Chishi to himself and smugly crossed the shallow river. He retrieved his kill and was about to head for the camp, when the rooster crowed from a very close distance inside the jungle. Chishi quickly found a twine, tied the dead female foul to his belt, crouched low and decided to hunt for the rooster as well. With all the stealth he could master, he made his way to the edge of the jungle and scanned the undergrowth. He just couldn’t sight the rooster. Chishi had no intention of venturing too far into the jungle, knowing very well that his professional skill in the ways of the jungle was as good as minus zero.
He patiently waited at the very edge of the jungle in the hope that the rooster would crow again and show itself. It did not happen. His patience was wearing thin but as he was about to head back to the camp, the rooster crowed so very close by him. Chishi couldn’t resist the temptation of another kill. He completely forgot his hunting prowess and began to slowly crawl into the jungle towards the direction he had heard the cock crow. Subconsciously, he made a professional calculation that the river was behind him and all he had to do was just turn around and walk straight back….simple enough. There was a moment of lull and then the cock crew again from a short distance ahead. Chishi silently made as much ground as he could and peered through the foliage for a sighting. He did not see a thing. The crowing was heard again from a close distance ahead. Chishi slithered further forward into the jungle like a tiger on the hunt but could still not locate the target. By now, this ‘tiger’ was beginning to feel exceedingly uneasy. He nevertheless slithered further into the jungle following the sound.
The rooster was not showing itself but was continuing to crow at regular intervals, each time a short distance ahead leading him further into the jungle all the while. This cat and mouse game went on for quite a while. As it turned out, the jungle rooster was the cat and good old Chishi was the mouse. The level of unease began to torment Chishi rather seriously and so he finally made up his mind to throw in the towel. He abruptly stood up in frustration to leave but even as he did so, the rooster jumped on to a tree stump. The last rays of the sun, which was barely able to penetrate the thick foliage by now, clearly picked up the red comb on its head. Chishi smartly swerved his .22 rifle in that general direction and pumped off the quickest shot of his entire life…and missed. Suddenly ten fifteen wild fowls flew out from the bushes all around him and disappeared into the jungle. Chishi was a very nervous adult by now. That he missed the rooster was no longer an issue.
He cursed himself, did an about-turn as he had earlier conjectured in his mind and began his walk back towards the river. He went as far as his eyes had located a marker ahead of him in the first leg and then discovered that the thick jungle was looking the same in every direction thereafter. By now the stories he had heard about people getting lost in this Intanki forest in the past was flooding his mind and wrecking his nerves. Without a sense of direction Chishi started to walk as fast as he could towards no direction. He was unsure whether he was headed the right way but his walk developed into a jog and then to a fast trot. After a while he suddenly came across a very small streamlet. It dawned on him with a crushing sensation that he had not crossed any streamlet while following that stupid rooster!
The fast fading daylight in this wilderness was steadily gnawing away his bravery. Whatever little reserve of nerves he had went out through the window. At this point ‘cool thinking’ was no longer in fashion and catching the train as fast as you could, becomes the absolute priority! Shutting down the rational compartment of his brain, Chishi began the fastest marathon obstacle race of his life with a .22 rifle in his hand crashing and bashing through thorny bushes, jumping over fallen tree trunks and boulders, registering bruises and scratches without a care. The good old fowl that Chishi had earlier shot, tied to his belt was flapping and slapping his thigh with every jump he made and still hanging on. In his mad directionless rush, Chishi jumped over the little stream once again that brought him short. It was now decidedly darker and the visibility was getting even shorter. The .22 rifle in his hand was beginning to feel like a pea shooter. Chishi retrieved his nerves and desperately decided that he must cool off and think. He made a very honest admission that he was hopelessly lost. Plucking up the last of his courage he sternly admonished himself: “Stay where you are! Running around the jungle wildly will not solve the problem!” He had to find a solution and find it quick. Solution…solution…solution…He finally found one simple elementary solution. He stood with his legs partially spread, leaned backward in a half crouch, looking up toward the roof of the jungle in the darkness and in the likeness of Tarzan, made the loudest broadcast that would have put the best of the public address system to shame : “ OOOHH UNCLE (so & so)!!”… He held his breath after every exhalement to see if there was any response but none was forthcoming. Receiving no response, he changed the caller ID: “OOOOHHH AUNTY (so & so)!!”… (ID being concealed). Chishi took the deepest breath his lungs could master and continued a consistent broadcast naming every Uncles and Aunties he could remember in the camp.
After a very long interval that seemed like forever, with his throat going dry and his voice beginning to crack, he heard a calm quiet voice saying, “Oohh Chishi, please stop making so much noise”. Instead of being relieved, Chishi’s hair stood up as an immediate reaction! From nowhere he recollected the law of the jungle that you should never respond to anyone calling your name in the dark until it was repeated three times. Chishi stood very still for just a while but his nerve had already deserted him. Jungle law be damned! He found himself yelling out at the top of his voice for the other guy to make a noise again for him to hit the right direction. On being obliged, Chishi crossed the entire jungle barrier between them within a fraction of a second and met up with his saviour. Mercifully he was one of the professional hunters in the camp heading out for his night escapade. The hunter saw the dead fowl hanging by Chishi’s side and helped it off the belt and coolly put it in his hunting bag. At this point Chishi was gratefully wallowing in his being rescued that he did not even bother that his kill was being relieved of him. The hunter then confidently led Chishi towards the river’s edge and told Chishi that the camp was in the upstream and that there was absolutely no way anyone could possibly get lost even if one tried. Before he left, Chishi heard the hunter musing aloud as to whether he should even bother going for the hunt at all after all the ruckus Chishi had raised. All the animals would have migrated to another planet.
Chishi was crest-fallen when he slinked into the camp. He had nothing to show for his effort because the hunter had taken his only kill. To avoid the bantering questions of what the broadcast was all about, he withdrew to the darker corner of the campfire, listening to all the jokes in the camp with Chishi at the butt end of it all, for the rest of the night.
Chishi felt miserable but was determined to make amends to his ruined reputation. While brooding over his predicament, one of the sympathetic hunters sauntered up to him and informed Chishi that there was an open cultivated area near the camp where the black pheasants feeding was evident. Before leaving, he also made a pointed remark that there was no way for anyone getting lost. Though this did hurt his ego just a little bit, Chishi made a very serious note of this and decided to prove his worth as a hunter the next morning.
Before the camp was fully awake, Chishi quickly picked up a double barrel gun and headed for the location described to him. He climbed a tree and settled down between the branches, cocked his double barrel gun and patiently waited for the sunrise and the pheasant. The hours passed by. The sun slowly rose higher and higher and still no pheasant appeared. Finally running out of patience, Chishi decided to call it quits and started climbing down the tree. Being the experienced hunter that he was, Chishi had not remembered to neutralize his gun before climbing down the tree. Halfway down, the gun slipped out of his hand and fell to the ground, barrel facing upward. As it hit the solid ground, the gun went off! The Gods must have been in good humor that morning. The barrel of the gun was angled away from Chishi and he reached the ground unscathed. Chishi sat stunned for a very long while under the tree with both his hands supporting his head between his legs wondering what might have been. After thanking his lucky stars he picked up his damned gun and began his long short walk back to the camp.
Chishi suddenly realized he had no answer for the fired shot that the campers would have surely heard. Chishi cursed his luck for having come for this hunting expedition. It was a natural question for the campers wanting to know what Chishi had fired at. Chishi concocted a story that the pheasants did not appear until he had given up and was climbing down the tree. He told his listeners that he had taken a one handed pot shot at the pheasant like the good old cowboys, just to express his annoyance at the delayed appearance of the pheasant.
Chishi quietly accepted the fact that he was not cut out to be a hunter and made a stern resolution that he would never go on a serious hunting trip ever again. He had at last acquired a matured hunting sense to last him for a lifetime. No more hunting. Chishi chose to become a conservationist by circumstance, rather than risk getting himself killed.
Who was this guy? Guess you’ll never know… but come to think of it, how did I get to know Chishi’s story so intimately? Ahh let it be. Just sign your story and be done with it.
The writer retired IAS officer

By EMN Updated: Nov 19, 2013 10:19:31 pm