The hills are afire.
Winds blow strong driven by thermodynamics. Lit and encouraged by human hands set to plunder the fire crackles forward. Sizzling and scorching all in its path.
Its moments before the flames swallow the Pine tree (Chir) driving off the motley bunch of five foresters battling the fast loosing foothold that they have managed to quell and secure. It now spreads in the opposite direction threatening to engulf them as well.The foresters retreat to regroup knowing in their heart of hearts that its a no win situation. Yet they flay with gunny sacks drenched from the rivulet a short distance away. They are nine hundred feet below in the valley. A good hour and more trudge uphill to the nearest road above. Its past six and the sun is lost in the depths of the valley. Their efforts look pitiable as they step back for their climb to the road. Cutting a different path up as the trail stands gobbled by the carnage. Their approach startles a Kakar (Barking Deer), crouched behind an outcrop of rocks, which high tails it towards the rivulet at the bottom.
The climb is languorous but achieved with the lopping gait of hills men accustomed to trudges long and hard.
Tika Ram grumbles that the ranger did precious little when he had complained that the sister seducer Dhan Nath was foraging his cattle in these parts. Temper rising Tika Ram gives vent to his feeling that Dhan Nath was surely to blame for this inferno. The others jest him and say he should have filed a written report in triplicate. No more heed is paid to Tika’s muttering which continues while all are plodding upwards.
As they crested a shoulder, more than half way up to the road, all sat down in a huddle by some un-uttered signal. Tika and Mangal light up Bidis (Indian hand rolled smoke) ignoring the admonishing looks of others. Dhekji is going to be rolling in millions quipped a voice from the huddle. He has the blessings of the upperwalas (high officials) dont you know said another. Just the carriage (Dhulan) is going to get enough money for Dhekji to marry his daughter to the fauji (army man). What is he to do he has five daughters reasoned Bohraji from the periphery of the group. Bohraji continued in a sonorous lilt these godforsaken Chirs should be all given away in PD (Personal Demand) and Hakk Chhapan (Felling Rights) to the Gram Panchayats (village councils) and save us from overseeing these forest which are anyway being overrun by the Chirs. Trouble started with Social Forestry programs encouraged by the Babus (officials) and Netas (political leaders) lining their pockets espoused Bohraji loudly.
These damn Chirs! Cursed Madan loudly. They will certainly overrun us all. Madan continued to bemoan the fact that there were actually Sal, Khair, Baanjh populating this area as his father had told him. Now only these Leesa (resin) bearing trees which are good for none except the Van Nigam (Forest Corporation) and Dhekjis of the area. Who will listen to us poor daily wage earners and tillers of the soil lamented Madan. All listened silently to young Madan out of respect for Kishan Daaju (elder brother) Madan’s father killed only two years ago by a vagrant Baagh (leopard) straying into his village. Madan benefiting from this calamity by securing a government job under compassionate grounds.
Heet. Heet. (move move) said Forester Bohra looking up at the fast dissolving twilight over the ridge. Baagh may cross our path he pointed. The rest tittered at this gloomy prospect not believing that any sensible Baagh would not have fled this conflagration.
At the road head they stop astounded by the sight of three vehicles with mobile phone wielding travelers, likely tourist, oohing and aahing at the lines of fire doing a Taandav Nritya (Dance of Destruction) in the forest floor below.
Madan takes it upon himself to reproach the one driver smoking a cigarette away from the group who quickly extinguishes it seeing Madan’s uniform. He walks back with a jaunt to his mates who have already set off for the gang yard in the Van Chetana Kendra (Forest Awareness / Sensitization Center.) erected only last year by their department.
The fires continue their holocaust into the pitch of the night, shooting finger like tentacles towards the scooting Kakars eyes filled with fear or Bohrajis with sparks of greed.